IN signing the welfare bill that Peter Edelman deplores in this month's cover story, President Bill Clinton quoted a line from Robert F. Kennedy: "Work is the meaning of what this country is all about. We need it as individuals, we need to sense it in our fellow citizens, and we need it as a society and as a people." Edelman, who had already decided to resign his Administration position as the assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services in protest over the bill, saw it as a twisting of history that Clinton would misappropriate Robert Kennedy's words to justify legislation that Kennedy would most likely have deplored -- legislation that won the President's signature mainly in the service of his political survival. Edelman's reaction still resonates in "The Worst Thing Bill Clinton Has Done."
A liberal by weathered conviction, Edelman has grown skeptical about calls for government programs without accompanying emphasis on community and personal responsibility. Nevertheless, he shares the vision of the Kennedys, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and every other President since FDR, that the national government has a responsibility to provide a safety net for poor children.
Peter Edelman was born in Minneapolis and educated at that city's West High School, at Harvard College, and at Harvard Law School. He served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Arthur J. Goldberg before taking a job in the Kennedy Administration's Justice Department. This led him, of course, to Robert Kennedy. In the years after Kennedy's death Edelman held a variety of public-service positions before joining the faculty at Georgetown University Law Center. He has been the vice president of the University of Massachusetts and the director of the New York State Division for Youth, and has written many articles and op-ed columns on public-policy issues ranging from poverty to privacy. An essay he published in the Hastings Law Journal in 1987 bore the elegant, provocative, and stirring subtitle "Rethinking Our Duty to the Poor." In 1968 he married Marian Wright, now known as Marian Wright Edelman, the founder of the Children's Defense Fund. The Edelmans have three children of their own, but they have also managed over their distinguished professional careers to extend toward all children a remarkable degree of what they feel toward their own.
The Atlantic Monthly; March 1997; 77 North Washington Street; Volume 279, No. 3; page 4.