Liberal or Conservative?


McClatchy has a piece on the Bush Administration's successes curtailing homelessness - a subject I've written about before. Because spending has risen even as homelessness numbers have fallen, the reporter describes the policy shift as "radical" and "liberal." Ed Morrissey basically concurs:

Was this one of Bush's more liberal policies?  I'd say yes. By providing a housing solution free of charge, federal and state governments had to cough up a lot of money.  As McClatchy notes, though, that saved money that would have gone to acute-rescue efforts like shelters and crisis treatment centers. Housing gave the previously homeless an opportunity to seek employment, creating a net revenue gain rather than a funding drain. Whether or not anyone wants to call it liberal, it certainly proved more cost effective than the other liberal plans in place during the previous generation.

The trouble is that this logic takes you halfway to describing welfare reform - probably the biggest conservative domestic-policy success of the post-Reagan era - as a "liberal policy" as well. After all, it merely replaced AFDC with a more "cost effective" program, TANF - one oriented, like the Bush Administration's homelessnes policies, around moving people from straight-up welfare into the paid workforce - rather than doing away with the welfare system entirely. It's true that at the national level, welfare reform reduced spending along the way (though Tommy Thompson's reforms in Wisconsin, the model for the national reform, boosted funding during the transition to workfare), whereas the Bush anti-homelessness push has required an infusion of roughly $500 million (less, I believe, if you adjust for inflation) over what HUD provided for homelessness policy in 2002. But the payoff in terms of conservative goals - reducing dependency, increasing workforce participation - has been pretty impressive. And responding intelligently to homelessness seems like exactly the kind of thing that a more minimalist, means-tested welfare state ought to be doing.

Morrissey goes on to wonder why the rest of the media isn't reporting on the Bush Administration's success. It's an excellent question - but it would be an even better question if conservatives were willing to take credit for the success, instead of disowning it.

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Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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