As I wrote in my brief reply, I actually agree with the sentiment – in retrospect, I do object to some of the phrasing – but my bet is that a lot of people would nod their heads in approval even as they strongly disagree with his likely proposal.
It’s a question of means and ends: I believe in the goal of promoting family values, but I believe that there are more moral and more effective methods than what statists like Sanders would propose.
I think it’s worthwhile to make another point here.
I believe economic hardship is never ideal, but unless it causes starvation and other forms of real deprivation, it’s not really “an attack” on family values. I don’t believe hardship is incompatible with either a close-knit family or the virtues that such bonds inculcate.
(Or should we claim that, because the children of the 80’s and 90’s were reared in households that were more prosperous by any objective measure, they were raised better than the so-called “Greatest Generation” who came of age during the Depression? Should we claim that Paris Hilton experienced more and better family values than Abraham Lincoln did? Should we condemn God, as the Bible describes Him, for requiring idolatrous Israel to raise an entirely new generation while wandering in the wilderness?)
But, certainly, all things being equal, prosperity is better than poverty.
Sanders seeks to address a particular kind of economic hardship with an agenda that is entirely predictable in its statism, and the details matter less than the two general approaches of the statist, where the government either coerces employers to implement its agenda or provides benefits directly from property taxed from other people.
(The Senator proposes both: the federal government would require employers to provide seven days of paid sick leave, require employers to provide ten days of paid vacation, AND guarantee 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave through a government-run pseudo-insurance program like the already-bankrupt Ponzi scheme called Social Security. )
I believe that such federal interference in the economy, with or without the employer as the middleman, should be opposed as blatantly unconstitutional, immoral in its overreach, and economically counterproductive in exacerbating unemployment and dis-incentivizing productivity.
But suppose I’m wrong on all those counts. Suppose the government really should compel business owners and taxpayers to provide certain benefits and fund new government programs for the sake of family values.
Is there anything else that the government could do that’s less intrusive, less coercive, less expensive, and more likely to be effective? Is there a policy that makes for a more organic fit with society as it already exists?
There is, and it’s rooted in the traditional conceptions of marriage and the division of labor between the sexes: a man and a woman make a lifelong commitment to each other, they raise their children in a single home as father and mother, and the husband works as the breadwinner while the wife works as the homemaker.
The intact marriage has long been denigrated as nothing special – and as patriarchal oppression by radical feminists – and stay-at-home motherhood has been given even worse treatment, stigmatized as a betrayal of the movement for equal rights and a waste of an adult life.
Still, the single best predictor of success in life isn’t how much paid leave one’s parents received, but whether one’s parents stay together; children without a father in the home are more likely to end up in poverty or in prison. And Christina Hoff Sommers has pointed out that, in societies that are more free and prosperous, men and women are evidently more likely to embrace traditional gender roles.
The government need not – and indeed SHOULD NOT – require women to be homemakers within intact marriages, but I’m not sure I see anything wrong with its encouraging such arrangements by pointing out that they tend to benefit everyone involved, with the adults being happier now and the children growing up to be more successful later. The government could and should give the union of man and woman the unique sanction of marriage, and at a minimum it should ensure that marriages and stay-at-home motherhood are not punished by the tax code.
Bernie Sanders laments when a mother cannot spend enough time with her newborn, but that would occur less frequently if more women were stay-at-home moms in families where the father was the primary source of income.
To my Facebook friend and his political allies on the left, I would ask:
In addition to enacting mandates on the employer and creating a new entitlement program, should the government gently encourage the traditional nuclear family, ideally with the father in the workforce and the mother at home? If not, why not? Is such encouragement an onerous imposition of one group’s moral views while additional regulations and taxes are not?
I also notice that Sanders criticizes a very specific situation, where the mother works “because of a lack of money.”
I wonder if my friends think the motive really matters, if it’s somehow benign for the cause of family values if the mother neglects time with her kids, not because of financial need, but because of her own personal wants. There are financially independent mothers who work because they want to, because they want to “have it all” or even put their career first.
If society should use government programs and regulations to ensure that mothers of young children need never choose to work because of financial difficulty, should we also criticize, however mildly, those who deliberately choose to work for less serious reasons? If not, why not?
I think the answers to these questions are obvious, albeit inconvenient, for many on the left. Their answers would show that they want the government to dictate what a business owner must do while even the civil society should be entirely silent on what the family should consider doing. They believe “family values” should be promoted only in ways that expand the state, tear down traditional institutions, or elevate the narcissistic focus on the self.
If that’s the case, then family values aren’t the focus, they’re just the excuse to do what they would do anyway.
For many Leftists, families aren’t the priority, they’re the pretext.
John R.W. Kirke is a pseudonym of a Christian husband, father, and engineer who has written elsewhere under other names, including “Lawrence” in the comments at National Review Online. He remains deeply moved by the unpublished memoirs of Professor D. Kirke (1888-1949). • (1186 views)