Date Thesis Awarded

5-2019

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)

Department

Interdisciplinary Studies

Advisor

Claire McKinney

Committee Members

Caroline Hanley

Christopher Howard

Abstract

The project connects the rhetoric in Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign to the social contract tradition in American political thought in order to understand the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (1996). Using Charles Mills’ The Racial Contract, my analysis demonstrates that instead of a social contract, it is a racial contract that structures the relationship between the American people and government. I then examine how Clinton refers to a mythologized social contract to call for a modern-day revolution to create a “New Covenant.” However, by equating personhood with “responsibility” and “hard work,” the New Covenant creates a new racial contract that excludes individuals receiving welfare, characterizing them as existential threats to American exceptionalism. I use Louis Althusser’s concept of interpellation to argue that their exclusion from the contract reveals how Clinton’s new ideology of the “American dream” interpellates an ideal productive subject through the work requirements. By minimizing unproductive individuals, either through rehabilitation or erasure, the policy reaffirms the doctrine of American exceptionalism, both at home and abroad.

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