Cover image for Searching for America's heart : RFK and the renewal of hope
Searching for America's heart : RFK and the renewal of hope
Edelman, Peter B.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin Co., 2001.
Physical Description:
viii, 262 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


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HV741 .E34 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Peter Edelman has worked as an aide to Robert F. Kennedy, a lawyer, a children's advocate, and a policymaker. He has devoted his life to the cause of justice and to ending inequality. But in 1996, while serving in the Clinton administration as an expert on welfare policy and children, he found himself in an untenable position. The president signed a new welfare bill that ended a sixty-year federal commitment to poor children, and as justification invoked the words of RFK. For Edelman, Clinton's twisting of Kennedy's vision was deeply cynical, so in a rare gesture that sparked front-page coverage in the New York Times and the Washington Post, he resigned from the administration. The nation, he believed, had been harmed.
Drawing on Edelman's vast personal experience with the issues and many of the key figures, SEARCHING FOR AMERICA'S HEART shows that in an age of unprecedented prosperity, Americans have in many respects forsaken their fellow citizens. While we daily break economic records, we have largely given up our vision of social and economic justice, leaving behind a devastatingly large number of poor and near-poor, many of them children. Edelman shines a bright light on these forgotten Americans. Also, based in part on a firsthand look at community efforts across the country, he proposes a bold and practical program for addressing the difficult issues of entrenched poverty. Edelman focuses on novel ways of braiding together national and local civic activism, reinvigorating our commitment to children, and building hope in our most shattered communities.
Surveying the American landscape at the beginning a new presidency and a new Congress, SEARCHING FOR AMERICA'S HEART lays the foundation for a newly conceived politics, a vision true to the legacy of Robert F. Kennedy.

Author Notes

Peter Edelman, a former aide to Senator Robert F. Kennedy & member of the Clinton administration, is a professor of law. He has written articles & op-ed pieces for a wide range of periodicals, including the "New York Times," the "Boston Globe," the "Atlantic Monthly," & "Dissent." He is married to Marian Wright Edelman, who is the president of the Children's Defense Fund & a best-selling author.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Popular opinion has shifted dramatically during the second half of the 20th century regarding efforts to address poverty. Lawyer and political activist Edelman chronicles the moderate rise and dramatic fall of concern for the poor in this blend of policy history, autobiography and call to political action. The first third of the book finds Edelman going to work for Robert Kennedy, and tells the story of the 1960s' war on poverty, especially welfare reform legislation intended to help the poor, through the eyes of a staffer in the thick of the fight. The middle third focuses on the conservative redefinition of "welfare reform," popularized by Ronald Reagan, to mean cutting back on assistance to the poor, culminating in Bill Clinton's welfare reform legislation that led to Edelman's resignation from the administration, where he served as an expert on welfare policy and its impact on children. To Edelman, Clinton's "goal was re-election at all costs," and he bitterly castigates Clinton's ability to elevate "shadow over substance in a way that has hurt poor children" and his general tendency to "make things worse for the politically powerless." The final third is a "where do we go from here" assessment of what needs to be done to rediscover an understanding of poverty as a condition to be ameliorated rather than stigmatized. Like Kennedy, Edelman thinks the key is improving the lives of children, and he communicates his vision through stories of people and places rather than specific policy proposals. Like all progressives, Edelman is an optimist; his experience leaves him searching for America's heart rather than concluding that it does not exist, and readers who have held on to their liberal convictions will find Edelman's take refreshing. 4-city author tour. (Jan. 22) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

Unhappy with President Clinton's proposals for welfare reform, Edelman resigned his position with the administration, sacrificing his career for his commitments. In this book, Edelman recalls his past association with Robert F. Kennedy and contrasts Kennedy's proposals for antipoverty programs with those of current-day Democrats. He sees Kennedy as an adherent of "new progressivism" that is largely absent from politics today and advocates an active federal government in correcting inequities in American life. Edelman criticizes Clinton and others for being more concerned about their political ambitions than the true welfare of poor Americans. Edelman examines how poverty has changed since the 1960s and advocates a strategy for greater economic and social justice, based partly on initiatives begun by Kennedy. He advocates government support for school reform and more community-based economic development initiatives. Pointing to troubling trends in U.S. society, from increased teenage pregnancy to the alienation of youth, Edelman laments the loss of belief in our ability to affect people's lives and calls for the resurrection of the "national commitment to economic justice and fairness." --Vanessa Bush

Library Journal Review

In 1996, Edelman resigned as Bill Clinton's Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services when the President signed the welfare reform bill that repealed the Aid to Families with Dependent Children, a 60-year-old safety net. Edelman here expresses his rage not only at the President's marginalizing the poor but for his "disgusting personal behavior" and for cynically misinterpreting Robert Kennedy, Edelman's role model and former boss, during the bill signing. For Edelman, Kennedy's legacy is racial harmony, the support and protection of all children, and the belief that one person can make a differenceDall with the cooperation of government. He has devoted his career to this legacy and advocates a new progressivism that calls for the restoration of the safety net while providing jobs with livable wages, transportation systems for reaching them, healthcare, civic renewal, and housing assistance. The numerous examples of programs aimed at achieving these goals become bogged down in detail. Yet this book is recommended for public libraries as an action plan for fighting poverty in this relatively prosperous era and as a differing view on the role of government from that found in Martin Olasky's Compassionate Conservatism (LJ 5/15/00).DKarl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Introduction On August 22, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed, with great fanfare, a law radically restricting the aid America offers to poor families with children-a measure colloquially known as "welfare reform." The event was the culmination of a backlash that had been growing for three decades, and reflected an even deeper change in Americans sense of communal responsibility and what it means to be an American. The long-building anger at some of our most powerless people had finally boiled over-ironically, on the watch of a Democratic president. President Clinton buttressed his action with the words of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. "Work," RFK had said, "is the meaning of what this country is all about. We need it as individuals. We need to sense it in our fellow citizens. And we need it as a society and as a people." I was then serving President Clinton as an assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, and had been Kennedys legislative assistant. I knew both men well. I knew what Kennedy envisioned was a national investment to assure that people actually had jobs. I knew that he also wanted to assure a decent measure of help for people unable to find work, and especially for their children. He wanted concrete help for all those having trouble getting by. He wanted to do something serious about poverty. President Clinton hijacked RFKs words and twisted them totally. Instead of assuring jobs and a safety net, Clinton and the Republican Congress invited states to order people to work or else, even if there are no jobs, and with no regard for what happens to them or their children. In the postwelfare world, no cash help has to be offered to parents who fail to find work, even when they are wholly without fault. By signing the bill Clinton signaled acquiescence in the conservative premise that welfare is the problem-the source of a "culture" of irresponsible behavior. President Clintons misuse of Robert Kennedys words highlighted a stark difference between the two young leaders. One pressed for social justice whenever he could. The other, originally projecting a commitment to renewing national idealism, ended up governing mainly according to the lowest common denominator. A proper invocation of RFK would have brought us full circle to a new commitment. Instead we completed a U-turn. I have watched the changing course of our attitudes from close range. In a small way, I have continued the journey Robert Kennedy was not allowed to finish. I had been headed to Wall Street before I went to work for him, but after he was assassinated that path no longer seemed right for me. Newly married to my wonderful wife, Marian, with her own passion for justice, which has brought her from the civil rights movement in Mississippi to the Childrens Defense Fund, I decided to pursue my personal memorial to Robert Kennedy by carrying on in his spirit. That my life should concern itself so much with the question of why we respond so unsatis Excerpted from Searching for America's Heart: R. F. K. and the Renewal of Hope by Peter B. Edelman, Peter Edelman All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. vii
Introductionp. 1
1. Robert Kennedy: The Man Who Loved Childrenp. 25
2. Robert Kennedy's Legacy: The Inner City, Race, Jobs, and Welfarep. 59
3. From Kennedy to Clinton: The Two Americas Diverge Furtherp. 95
4. Enter Bill Clintonp. 119
5. Life After Welfarep. 144
6. Rekindling the Commitment: Politics and Poverty in the New Centuryp. 177
7. Breaking the Cycle: Children and Youthp. 206
8. Finding America's Heartp. 240
Indexp. 253