Ten days before the most charity-soaked of holidays, a story appeared in the Washington Post, front page, above the fold, like the Ghost of Christmas Real Time: "Inside Welfare's New World," subhead: "Watching Reform at Work." In this, the threatened "First in a series of occasional articles," reporter Katherine Boo describes the lives of two Washington single mothers.

Elizabeth Jones has resigned from the welfare rolls and gotten a job. Her monthly salary, after taxes, is $ 1,374. But, because she is employed, her public housing rent has risen from $ 103 to $ 497, and her three children have lost their free medical insurance.

LaVerne Peeler is still taking welfare emoluments. She receives, tax free, $ 2,999 per month in public assistance, food stamps, and foster-care payments. Her public housing rent is $ 71, and Medicaid benefits remain intact for her six various progeny and wards.

Katherine Boo writes with nice dispassion. Facts and numbers abound in the piece, all of them seemingly correct. As usual, the Washington Post knows everything concerning the subject covered except what it's talking about. The point of "Inside Welfare's New World" is supposed to be that reforming welfare is painful. The real point is no such thing. When an Elizabeth Jones gets $ 1,374 for doing all that society says she should and a LaVerne Peeler gets $ 2,999 for nothing, welfare shouldn't be reformed, it should be vaporized.

If compassion for the hard-pressed is our motive for welfare, why is someone at the income level of Elizabeth Jones being taxed at all? Why is she further burdened by the regressive exactions of sales levies, excise charges, customs duties, import quotas, and agricultural price supports?

Or, if redistribution of wealth is our aim, why don't we have a negative income tax? And if what we really want is just to help the poor without getting involved in any messy questions of who's deserving, then how come LaVerne Peeler is poor? She has an income equivalent to a before-tax salary of more than $ 50,000. Her rent is minuscule. She has an 18-year-old niece and a 16-year-old son in the house who could contribute something. And yet she still exists surrounded by crime and squalor in an environment where $ 327 is stolen from her purse in her own home. "The money," Katherine Boo tells us, "was meant to forestall an electricity cut-off." Why isn't LaVerne Peeler living over in Georgetown with the liberals who voted her such largesse?

These are tough questions. I suppose we could answer them if we did a lot of difficult research and complicated thinking. But, like the rest of the nation, I'm feeling lazy in this respect. I'd rather do something more modern, more American about the welfare problem -- start a bunch of conspiracy theories, like . . .

. . . AFDC really stands for "All Forms of Death Complimentary."

. . . Why call them food stamps if the recipients don't get stomped on?

. . . You can't spell Medicaid without the a-i-d in AIDS.

. . . Welfare is a secret plot by liberals to exploit the poor. Call it The Poverty Plan. Welfare is so huge, so complex, it costs so much, that it must be related to Iran-Contra, the Vince Foster suicide, crashed flying saucers in Roswell, U.N. black helicopters, the Trilateral Commission, TWA Flight 800, the way the CIA invented cocaine and sexually transmitted diseases, and the fact that Tiny Tim has been silenced forever and cannot tell us what he knew about the Kennedy assassination

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Scenario #1

According to a crumpled piece of paper found at a small airport in Mena, Ark., welfare doesn't cure poverty because poor people vote for Democrats. The minute people quit being poor they vote for Republicans. Therefore the purpose of welfare is not to eliminate poverty but to subsidize it, to make sure that no matter how wealthy this country becomes there will always be some poor people left to vote for otherwise unemployable Democrats such as Bill Clinton.

This is why LaVerne Peeler gets lots of money, but only if she keeps acting poor. If she starts being married, employed, and on the lookout for an apartment near Pamela Harriman's house, she'll be cut off without a cent, like certain Arkansas state troopers.

(Wait a minute, this sounds too plausible. Maybe we should save it for the '98 congressional races.)


Scenario #2

The liberals behind welfare aren't really liberals at all. A careful search of Idaho Web sites proves that liberals are actually Communist traitors using social policy the way terrorists use bombs. Liberals want to prove that old- fashioned New Deal half-measures such as public-assistance payments and Supplemental Security Income don't work. Liberals want poverty to get much worse in order to convince a radicalized populace to destroy capitalism. America will be replaced by a Marxist workers' paradise.

Then Elizabeth Jones and LaVerne Peeler will both be sent to the salt mines. Elizabeth is an obvious bourgeois-roader. And LaVerne, making fifty grand a year, is a member of the oppressor class.


Scenario #3

The real purpose of welfare is to get rid of poor people entirely. Everybody knows welfare has bad effects; that's the point. Which is why poor people are so much more likely to be put on welfare than rich liberals. And it's no coincidence that poor people are also more likely to be the victims of abduction by extraterrestrials, satanic sacrifice, Gulf War syndrome, and lead-based paint. This is the direct outgrowth of a conspiracy so vast that it has included every president of the United States since FDR (except Ronald Reagan during his first term).

But why, you ask, would liberals do such a thing when it means sacrificing Clinton voters and Communist revolution? The answer -- provided to me by a highly placed source whose identity must remain a secret or my car will get keyed -- can be given in one word. And it is shocking even to the sensibilities of a hardened conspiracy-theory-type journalist. The answer is: gentrification.

Liberals want to live downtown. All over America -- in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Georgetown -- there are crowds of liberals living in the gritty, ugly, dirty neighborhoods sensible people are trying to flee.

No one knows why liberals want to live downtown. Maybe they are space aliens who feed upon the carbon monoxide effluents from passing automobiles. Maybe the large storm drains found in urban areas are intended for hatching their larvae. Anyway, liberals can't live downtown if conservatives are filling the city with business -- real estate prices will be too high. And liberals can't live downtown if poor people are there, because poor people will smack liberals over the head as soon as The Poverty Plan has been revealed -- and maybe even before.

But if welfare gets rid of poor people, why did Bill Clinton -- well known to be a secret liberal -- sign the Welfare Reform Act? Because the real truth (previously concealed from all but the innermost circle of Washington's all- powerful liberal cabal -- even Harold Ickes doesn't know this) is that welfare reform is better for The Poverty Plan than original welfare. Before, if people went off welfare, they lost all their benefits and got shafted -- like Elizabeth Jones did. But now, with welfare reform, people can stay on welfare and still lose all their benefits and get shafted like LaVerne Peeler will. This causes the Washington Post to run long front-page articles titled "Inside Welfare's New World." Then poor people read the articles, give up, collapse in a faint, and kick the bucket at last. And notice what Bill Clinton gets out of it -- a great big house right downtown. ,

by P. J. O'Rourke

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