I could sneer and say Shorter Douthat "honymoons end." But I won't.
There is one point which bothers me, but I'm not criticizing Douthat.
"the liberal left largely accepted that it had lost Clinton-era arguments over ... welfare reform,"
I think this is just plain true. However, "largely" doesn't mean universally and I'm not going to stop arguing.
Interestingly the New York Times also published some shocking news -- months ago in April.
During the recession up till April 2010 welfare enrollment had increased less than 10% while food stamp enrollment increased more than 40%.
It seems that a welfare reform which worked OK in the late 90s (when everything economic in the USA worked wonderfully) is creating huge suffering now. In 2009, the rate of severe poverty (income less than half the poverty line) was the highest on record (records only go back to 1975).
No one could have predicted -- except the liberal left which argued that just to get rid of the word "entitlement" the welfare reformers guaranteed a crisis in a severe recession. The Federal contribution doesn't increase automatically. States are squeezed. The program isn't there when people need it.
The assumption that any single mom who doesn't find a job in 2 years is a deadbeat doesn't seem to be valid when the unemployment rate is almost 10%.
So in the general political debate, it is still agreed that welfare reform was a great thing and that "the liberal left" was totally wrong.
Also, among people who know what they are talking about, there doesn't seem to be much debate
Ronald T. Haskins, who helped write the 1996 law as an aide to House Republicans, said, “There’s definitely a problem.”
“Many states have been too slow to take destitute families back on the rolls,” Mr. Haskins said. “In 1996, both Republicans and Democrats assumed that welfare rolls would rise during a recession as jobs got harder to find.”
But it's just agreed that the case was closed in 2000 and must not be relitigated.