The latest in the Team Romney attack on Barack Obama’s executive order on welfare features an inspirational story … and a bit of a conundrum. Daniel Vargas grew up on welfare in Brooklyn, the son of divorced immigrants from Puerto Rico, living with a mother who could not read or write English well enough to hold a job. Vargas transcended his humble origins to become a business executive and community leader, and he saw the cycle of dependency all too well from his own eyes:
“President Obama is stripping the work requirement out of welfare. I think the problem with that is there’s been so many success stories since the welfare reform of the 90s. Where families that might otherwise have stayed stuck in that cycle of dependency that they actually saw a light at the end of the tunnel. They saw a different possibility. Taking it away brings us back to that situation. The unintended consequences of a well-meaning program of the 1960s was that families ended up getting stuck in that cycle of dependency.
“We just celebrated our anniversary recently. I got two great boys. I’ve been able to create a successful business, I’ve been an executive and I’ve been able to have an impact in my community locally. Only in America can that happen in one generation. And who knows what my children or their children will be able to achieve. And I know that if you’re born in the favelas outside of Rio or the shantytowns outside of Caracas—if that’s where you’re born typically that’s where you stay. There isn’t a whole lot of hope and opportunity to be able to get out of that environment. Here, the outcome may not be guaranteed, but the opportunity is.”
From the pictures and the biography provided, though, Vargas clearly grew up before the 1996 bipartisan welfare reform act that Obama’s EO weakened, and weakened unilaterally. People can point to Vargas himself and say, “If he can succeed without the welfare reform of the 1990s, why can’t others?” That’s the problem with arguing by anecdote rather than data, which in this case favors the Republican argument — and which is why Obama has been insisting that he hasn’t done anything to damage the future success of that reform.
This is a web-only ad, and probably one in a series. Perhaps the Romney team should find people who lived through that reform who can share personal stories of how the reform moved them from recipients of welfare to productive workers, and how that made them feel about themselves. Vargas’ story, while powerful and inspirational, may be better in a broader context than welfare reform.