The hard truth about the welfare bill, soon to become public law, is that it is not a "reform." When we, Americans, really are serious about reforming something -- such as the nation's armed forces in the late '70s, the environment or the security of air travel in the '90s -- we first demonstrate our resolve by spending more out of our own pockets. When we are determined, we do put our money where our mouth is. By cutting billions from what Ronald Reagan defended as "the safety net" in order to shrink the federal deficit and get those shiftless 7-year-olds off the public dole, we may be scratching an emotional mosquito bite nationally, but we are not reforming anything.
And an even harder truth must by now be evident to the most dreamy of Democratic liberals: The last liberal American president was not a Democrat. The last liberal American president turns out to have been Richard M. Nixon.
First, let us define liberalism as the belief that government can be the national instrument of democracy, capable of promoting economic and social justice.
Next, let us look at the words of the only American president ever to champion a federally guaranteed minimum income of $5,500 for every family with dependent children. That plan, which required job training for parents and child care for children, was objected to by some because it provided far less for the rich states than the poor states.
Nixon responded: "We reject that argument because we are one country. Consider the name of this nation: the United States of America. We establish minimum national standards because we are united. We encourage local supplements because we are a federation of states. And we care for the unfortunate because this is America."
One American president made his "No. 1 domestic priority" a national health plan that would have required employers to offer insurance with standard benefits to all their employees. Dental care, mental health care and a free choice of doctors and hospitals were included. And after three years, employers (in what is now globally condemned as "employer mandate") would be required to pay 75 percent of the insurance premiums.
Not surprisingly, the president faced the all-out opposition of the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Medical Association. Under this plan, the same benefits would be available to the poor under an expanded Medicare. No, the president was not John Kennedy, nor Lyndon Johnson, nor Jimmy Carter and most certainly not Bill Clinton. The president was Richard Nixon.
For the first time, during the Nixon years, food stamps were guaranteed to all Americans who qualified for them.
Let it be noted that the Nixon welfare plan constituted real reform. Federally funded child care was to be provided free to mothers for the training and work required. The children of the working poor as well as of the unemployed poor were all to be included, which meant an expansion of coverage from 35 percent to 100 percent of the nation's poor children. To pay for all of this, Nixon publicly called for the nation to spend 131 percent more on the poor.
Before Richard Nixon's presidency, the country had no national program to preserve and protect the environment. It was Nixon who created the Environmental Protection Agency. It was the Nixon administration that increased national spending on health and on education by more than 50 percent and that saw the establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to make American workplaces safer and healthier for American workers.
No, Richard Nixon was no plaster saint. Yes, he did wrong and, yes, he abused his public trust. But his welfare plan did not put at risk the most vulnerable among us who have no power, no clout and few resources.
Let it be recorded and let liberals admit that the only civilian Americans of whom sacrifice is now demanded by the nation's elected leadership, both Democrat and Republican, are those too young to vote and too poor to make a "soft money" political contribution.
Finally, let us in fairness acknowledge and honor Richard Nixon as the last liberal American president.