Sometimes a columnist has to stand up and admit he's been wrong, and today, it's my turn. Ever since Bill Clinton signed off on the welfare bill, I have written that he and the people closest to him are totally indifferent to the plight of the downtrodden. Boy, was I ever wrong.
Recent revelations have shown the Clintonoids to be compassionate in the extreme, ever eager to extend the hand of charity to those less fortunate than themselves. Just look at the speed with which so many of Clinton's associates rushed to the aid of Webster "Webb" Hubbell, a regular Joe Six-Pack falling behind on his mortgage payments. Recall that poor Hubbell was suddenly unemployed as No. 2 at the Justice Department just because he had bilked some old clients and law partners. Heck, it wasn't a matter of hours before the Clinton team pitched in to get him back on his financial feet.
None of that tough-love, sink-or-swim talk that we heard from these "New Democrats" when they were chastising welfare people down on their luck. No sirree, this time a friend was in trouble, and that's all that folks like then-U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor needed to know before they started calling with offers of help. "You're darned right I was calling," Kantor, a key coordinator of the Help Hubbell campaign, told the Los Angeles Times last week. "It was a family that was going to go in a lot of pain. I was trying to help."
I was beginning to wonder if Kantor still had it in him to feel that pain for a family in financial trouble. After all, he was the one member of the Clinton Cabinet who urged the president to sign the welfare bill that will put millions of families into pain. Even Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, a fiscal conservative, joined Labor Secretary Robert Reich in strenuous opposition to the Newt Gingrich-inspired legislation that has already removed food from the tables of the poor.
But there is pain and there is pain, and while the pain of a welfare mother cut off from 375 bucks a month may be easy to ignore, it's a world of difference when the pain comes to someone living in a mansion in your own neighborhood. You've got to put yourself into Kantor's mind-set: Hubbell was a homie.
"You can say what you want about Webb," Kantor allowed, "but he was a close friend. And he was tremendously loyal to the president, the first lady, as people were to him." The loyalty of someone who has admitted to cheating on his partners would make me a bit squeamish, but then again, unlike Kantor, I'm not a corporate lawyer.
Actually, poor people have also been quite loyal to Clinton, voting for him in overwhelming numbers, but his cutting them off welfare was defended as a necessary act of love for the poor who had grown dependent on poverty. It's different with Hubbell, who had grown dependent on wealth; his friends evidently couldn't bear the sight of his going cold turkey into a less-than-six-figure world.
Not to worry, Hubbell was soon the recipient of 10 paid gigs, and in the months before he pleaded guilty, he reportedly raked in several times what he was earning at the Justice Department. Kantor even found a job for Hubbell's son over at the Federal National Mortgage Association, which is run by James A. Johnson, an old political buddy. "You're darn right I called Jim Johnson to see if there was anything for him," Kantor said. "As I would, frankly, for the kid of any other friend. Look, when our children get out of college, get out of law, whatever, you call friends. You say, 'Gee, here's a bright young man, do you have a place?'
This must be the program that the president and Kantor had in mind for moving people from welfare to work.
Kantor also set about soliciting contributions to send Hubbell's other kids to college. I'm sure he would do the same for any family in need. If you know of any poor kids out there who are having trouble finding a job or scraping college tuition together, have them call Kantor. He can be reached at his new job at the Mayer, Brown & Platt law firm, where he is a partner, or at the investment firm of Morgan Stanley & Co., where he is a senior adviser.
You might also try Kantor at the Monsanto Co., where he has been appointed a director _ which is a good job because the company pays you for life after you put in five years. Which is not to be confused with the five-year lifetime limit on welfare eligibility imposed by the legislation that Kantor so fervently endorsed.
Although, if we could move people directly from welfare to corporate directorships, we'd finally solve the poverty problem.