Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sidestepped By The Left, Encouraged By The Right

E.J. Dionne concedes hard-right GOP presidential hopeful (but I repeat myself) Rick Santorum" is broadly right" when he attributes a role to "the breakdown of the American family" to increasing poverty. He notes that, paradoxically,

one politician who agrees with Santorum is named Barack Obama. "We know that children who grow up without a father are more likely to live in poverty," the president said at a Father's Day event last year. "They're more likely to drop out of school. They're more likely to wind up in prison. They're more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. ... They're more likely to become teenage parents themselves." Growing up without a father, he added, "leaves a hole in a child's life that no government can fill."

How bold. Barack Obama believes children are better off with a father than without.

Dionne argues "Liberals should acknowledge, as Obama has, that strengthening the family is vital to economic justice. Conservatives should acknowledge that economic justice is vital to strengthening families." He has just the prescription: strengthen sick leave and family leave policies.

Santorum, on the contrary, believes the American family is threatened by gay marriage, a questionable proposition and one from which Dionne definitively dissents. Dionne argues "Rather than avoid the issue (a temptation for liberals) or pretend that public policy can do little about it (a temptation for conservatives), we need to make their plight a high national priority."

And then he proceeds to avoid the issue, supporting instead "a variety of work and education policies that could improve the economic situation of young men who are poor."

That will help and is an investment well worth making, though with the focus (pivoting somewhat, insufficiently, to job creation) in Washington on deficit reduction, it's unlikely that significant resources will be applied to improve the status of disadvantaged males. But there is a policy choice which, as Obama hopes for, would cut the number of children living in poverty, dropping out of school, winding up in prison, abusing drugs, and becoming teenage parents themselves.

E.J. Dionne prefers to avoid that issue, as he notes most liberals do, whether from a fear of being labeled "anti-family" or concern that minorities are singled out. Most cultural conservatives, probably including Rick Santorum, would enact policies exacerbating- probably intentionally- the problem. At last night's GOP presidential debate (transcript here), the former Pennsylvania senator and Virginia resident maintained

Ever since we’ve had the income tax in America, we’ve always taken advantage of the fact that we want to encourage people to — to have children and not have to pay more already to raise children, but also pay that additional taxes — we gave some breaks for families. He doesn’t do that in this bill.

And we’re going to — we’ve seen that happen in Europe. And what happened? Boom, birth rates went into — into the basement. It’s a bad tax for — again, it’s bold. I give him credit for — for starting a debate, but it’s not good for families, and it’s not good for low-income…

Santorum, who usually attends a Latin mass near D.C., probably can afford to raise the seven children he and his wife have. But all across the United States, Republicans, backed by a Christian conservative movement initially fueled largely by evangelical Protestants, are attempting to roll back the clock on reproductive freedom. Eighteen states have enacted significant restrictions on the right of a woman to choose an abortion while several states have reduced access to family planning. This may stem from an anitpathy to personal freedom or to the rights of women, but more likely from a decidely pro-conception bias. Santorum merely verbalized what much of the conservative movement holds dear- the idea that birth rates must increase and parents must have children, whether they want them or can afford to raise them.

Everyone is entitled to his or her concept of the perfect family or of the perfect society. But if anyone tells you that limiting access to reproductive freedom does not increase the number of children who live in poverty, commit serious crimes, or have children out of wedlock- and does not increase the number of dysfunctional families- hold on to your wallet.

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