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WHAT CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE BY RALPHRa ALPH LYNN Iwo developments on the welfare front bolster the thesis that we never tried rationally to analyze this problem and to devise the prac cal, long-term programs which alone could rid the nation of the b den of continuing our minimal rescue operations of the losers among The first of these developments is that “ending welfare as we know may mean little more than shifting the responsibility for administrati from the federal government to the states . The second is that some state legislatures, having no idea what to and no stomach for making the desired reductions in services, have ready contracted with some of our great private business corporations do the job. The Arthur Andersen accounting firm, Electronic Data Systems, a are among the leaders in this new opportunity for private profit off the t payers and the poor. That Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries have no slums and underclasses is proof that our problems are solvable. Granted: these cou tries have advantages we do not have They have largely homogeneou populations; they have no third-world nations adjoining them and a therefore not easily invaded by hungry people. And—I say it softlythey do not have in their heritages our nearly rel gious allegiance to nineteenth century, laissez-faire economic dogma. Perhaps we should begin an approach to solving our problems by com trig to terms with three probable facts. One it would be cheaper in pure monetary terms`to solve the problem than to keep on with our current sy terneven with the changes now being suggested. Two, some millions of our underclass are so old, so ill, so retarded, so addicted to drugs or alcohol, or so immune to self-discipline that they can never be productive citizens. But we cannot abandon them; we must be humane while maintaining order. Three, no program lasting less than a generation or more has any chance of being really effective. Assuredly we cannot solve our problem with a quick-fix domestic version of the post-World War II Marshall Plan. Each of the European countries aided by the Marshall Plan had its own natural resources and the skilled, self-disciplined workers ready to make effective use of massive aid. The realities of our inner cities could not be more completely opposite. Clearly, our task is to assure to our underclass the prenatal care, healthy food, adequate medical services, and the education and technological training they must have to cope with our complicated world. We must then arrange carefully regulated projects of cooperative corporation/government enterprises to furnish employment to millions of people with no work experience and little self-discipline. The aim should be to use government financing and supervision only until the new inner-city enterprises are established, competitive businesses. Nothing builds self-respect and responsible citizenship like the experience of making one’s own way as a productive person working in a competitive business. “An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay” is not to be despised. It will solve more social problems than all our elaborate, overlapping social service machinery. Perhaps the most consoling aspect of the heated exchanges attending the ve political campaigns of presidential election years is that it makes so little dif ti ference which party wins either or both the White House and the Congress, ur What are some of the results of the irresponsible charges and counter us. charges? How do I justify the claim that it makes little difference which it” party wins? Why is it good, not bad, that little changes whatever the out on come? What is the “little” difference which was just at stake, and why is this little difference important? And what is the net result? do Probably the chief reason it makes so little difference which party wins al is that all of the candidates are patriotic citizens with good intentions. to Neither party has a monopoly on intelligence, wisdom, stupidity, cupidity or ignorance. nd The presidential candidates spar like high school sophomore debaters. on They look frantically about for some inconsequential opening into which ax they hope to drive a “wedge issue.” Like staged debates in public schools, these presidential debates are no wars of half-truths. In the process, they are like Abraham Lincoln’s two n struggling drunks: each wrestles himself out of his own clothes and into s those of his opponent. re A final reason why it makes little difference which party wins: they must appeal to the same voters. And it is the general temper of this national constituency which determines who will win and what the winners will try to do once in office. That it is good, not bad, that the parties are so much alike seems easy to ly demonstrate. Even when we have something like a total turnover, the s losers suffer only the loss of powerand the chance to make money. It is good, also, in that we always know what to expect regardless of which party wins. Even now, after Gingrich’s “revolution,” nothing much has changed. The states will have the responsibility of administering a welfare system, which we cannot abandon. Despite these arguments, which party wins may make a significant difference to the forty or so million at the bottom of our economic heap and to the handful of the quite wealthy at the top. If the Gingrich types win, the masses of the poor may have a harder lot until our society is aroused once more to deal wisely with their problems. Meanwhile, the rich will get still richer off their lower capital gains taxes. It seems unquestionable that the net result of these sad , political campaigns is that the divisions among us will be deepened and sharpened. So irresponsibly do we conduct ourselves that any president must enter office with handicaps which make it difficult for him to discharge his duties in effective fashion. The partisan sniping, much of it uninformed and irresponsible, becomes so habitual that it is carried on after the election, not just in Washington but in every city, suburb, and hamlet in the nation. Perhaps the net result does contain one comforting thought. It may be that the widespread public apathy generated by the campaign is evidence that the masses of people—despite their endless gripingare relatively content with the status quo and have a modicum of confidence that the future will be much like the past and the present. Ralph Lynn is a member of the Board of Contributors, a group of thirtytwo central Texans who write regularly for the Waco Tribune-Herald. He is retired from the department of history at Baylor University JANUARY 17, 1997 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21