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.

Jump to comments

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

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


What Makes a Story Great?

What makes a story great? The storytellers behind House of CardsThis American LifeThe Moth, and more reflect on the creative process.


Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.


Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.


Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.


The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air