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Giuliani: Welfare liberal?

Yesterday, Opinion Journal ran Steven Malanga's essay, "Giuliani the Conservative," originally published in the Winter 2007 issue of City Journal. In it, Malanga writes: "Mr. Giuliani decided to launch a welfare revolution, moving recipients from the dole to a job." So effective was Giuliani's "revolution" that by 1999 "the number of welfare recipients finding work had risen to more than 100,000 annually, and the welfare rolls had dropped by more than 600,000."

One would think that as a matter of course Giuliani strongly supported Bill Clinton's 1996 Welfare Reform Bill, which, as NRO's Ramesh Ponnuru says, "was only the most successful piece of conservative domestic reform since, well, maybe ever." Quite right.

But hang on. Ponnuru found a 1996 Giuliani speech in which he says, well, take a look:

Thank you. I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the Welfare Act that was recently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton. . . . There are aspects to the Welfare Reform Bill that, as just a matter of policy, I disagree with and I think could pose very serious problems, and although I do think the bill does some good, in the end I believe it does more harm than good.

You read that right: More harm than good. To be fair to Giuliani, who was very much a welfare warrior, he said he supported the core tenets of the law. One of his problems with it, however, was "a provision that attempts to reverse an executive order that New York City has had in existence since 1988 which basically says that New York City will create a zone of protection for illegal and undocumented immigrants who are seeking the protection of the police or seeking medical services because they are sick or attempting to or actually putting their children in public schools so they can be educated."

Read the whole speech. Then take a look at what Mickey Kaus wrote during Hillary Clinton's 2000 Senate run: "According to news reports at the time, Giuliani's administration actively lobbied President Clinton to get him to veto the 1996 bill." As a matter of fact, Kaus notes, Hillary's claim that "I supported welfare reforms. He [Giuliani] didn't" was true, if only when talking about the federal reforms.

If Hillary could get to the right on Giuliani on welfare back then - the one area conservatives thought Giuliani was a safe bet - then how hard would it be for the candidates in the Republican field?

Which is not to say Giuliani can't defend himself. Malanga's larger point - that Giuliani did a masterful job reforming New York's dismal welfare system - stands regardless. Still, so early in the race the Giuliani camp doesn't want to be defending his fiscal strengths with conservatives; he's going to have a hard enough time on the social ones.