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Fall 1991 marked a crossroads for Gov. Bill Clinton. Teetering on the fence of moderateness, Clinton’s promise to “put an end to welfare as we know it” raised both approval ratings and eyebrows. Fearing a tenuous hold on the Southern black vote, and with left-wing poster-boy Mario Cuomo breathing down his neck, Bubba was no doubt relieved to find that, as campaign aide Celinda Lake put it, “[t]he welfare message, worded correctly, plays extremely well in the black community.” In fact, Clinton’s welfare critique played extremely well in most communities, providing an all-purpose soothing ointment for the sundry irritating scandals that cropped up during his campaign. New York Times social policy reporter Jason DeParle naturally took special note of this promise—and then started digging. In order to chart the (in)efficacy of this pledge, DeParle chronicled the lives of an extended welfare-supported family throughout the course of the Clinton presidency. Limned with equal parts hard truth and compassion, American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation’s Drive to End Welfare not only supplies the kind of statistical evidence that gets the taxpayers’ collective knickers in a twist, but it also provides all-important historical and quotidian contexts—you know, the kind you tend to care more about when they mirror elements of your own life. Empathetic without being overly sympathetic, DeParle exposes failings at every possible level but never misses an opportunity to record the swells of ambition, hope, and strength that keep us all keepin’ on. He’s in town at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 17, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Anne Marson)