CDF's welfarism

Mona Charen

February 08, 1993|By Mona Charen

THE one fact that aroused my suspicion about Hillary Clinton more than any other was the same fact that caused most of the press to laud her lavishly -- her chairmanship of the Children's Defense Fund.

The name of the organization carries an implied halo, and CDF has exploited the imagery to the hilt. Its emblem is a child's drawing and the words "Dear God, be good to me. The sea is so large and my boat is so small." That the CDF is working on the side of the angels is taken for granted by official Washington and by practically all of the press corps. Mrs. Clinton's involvement with CDF was taken as prima facie evidence of her good citizenship.

But the Children's Defense Fund is angelic only if your idea of heaven is a bigger and bigger welfare state, with less and less emphasis on personal responsibility and self-control. Indeed, according to a recent piece in New Republic magazine, Marian Wright Edelman conceived of CDF in 1973 as a way to lobby for welfare state programs with a new gimmick. "The country was tired of the concerns of the '60s," said Ms. Edelman. "When you talked about poor people or black people, you faced a shrinking audience. . . .I got the idea that children might be a very effective way to broaden the base for change."

The Children's Defense Fund has a capacious definition of what concerns children. It lobbies Congress (which basically grovels before Marian Wright Edelman, sometimes called "Saint Marian") not just on Head Start and WIC (the nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children) but on welfare, day care, housing and employment. In short, the entire social agenda of liberalism is transformed, in the hands of CDF,into a question of doing right by little children.

The CDF is right, of course, that children are affected by social policy in all of those areas, but what it does not concede is that what is best for children is often exactly the opposite of what it is proposing. Here's a shorthand way to understand the CDF agenda -- it is for big government. More funding for Head Start, more funding for housing, more funding for food programs, more funding for immunizations, and so on.

The trouble with this approach is that it puts the state in the position of parent. While greater funding for immunizations sounds terrific (and will undoubtedly sound so to the Democratic Congress), there is reason to be skeptical that such programs would be successful. As Mickey Kaus, author of the New Republic piece, points out, there are free immunization programs available now to inner-city mothers. They are only haphazardly successful. The trouble isn't money. It's the motivation, maturity and responsibility of the mothers.

By every relevant measure, children are better off when they live with two parents instead of one. Yet when proposals surface to alter Aid to Families with Dependent Children (the principal welfare program) so as to discourage out-of-wedlock babies, Marian Wright Edelman and the CDF are likely to brand them efforts to "blame the victim."

CDF has also weighed in heavily in the foster care area on the side of so-called "family preservation." What this means in practice is that whenever possible, a biological child is returned to his/her biological parent, instead of seeking to sever parental rights and put the child into an adoptive home. This philosophy does in calculable damage to thousands of children, who are returned even to abusive situations, in the name of family preservation. The truth is that the CDF has taken a position that is completely on the side of parents -- their "rights," their needs -- and not of children.

CDF is slick and clever. Its public relations cannot be surpassed. It publishes pamphlets for interfaith church services, reports on the state of America's children (which misrepresent some things) and guides for how to deal with the problem of teen-age pregnancy (which almost never mention adoption). Ms. Edelman even talks easily about parental responsibility. But the bottom line of CDF lobbying is always the same -- what's best for children is bigger government. Just keep signing the checks.

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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