U.S. politicians love to pose as defenders of family values. Unfortunately, this pose is often, perhaps usually, one of remarkable hypocrisy.
And no, I’m not talking about the contrast between public posturing and personal behavior, although this contrast can be extreme. Which is more amazing: the fact that a long-serving Republican speaker of the House sexually abused teenage boys, or how little attention this revelation has received?
Instead, I’m talking about policy. Judged by what we actually do — or, more accurately, don’t do — to help small children and their parents, America is unique among advanced countries in its utter indifference to the lives of its youngest citizens.
For example, almost all advanced countries provide paid leave from work for new parents. We don’t. Our public expenditure on child care and early education, as a share of income, is near the bottom in international rankings (although if it makes you feel better, we do slightly edge out Estonia.)
In other words, if you judge us by what we do, not what we say, we place very little value on the lives of our children, unless they happen to come from affluent families. Did I mention that parents in the top fifth of U.S. households spend seven times as much on their children as parents in the bottom fifth?
But can our neglect of children be ended?
In January, both Democratic candidates declared their support for a program that would provide 12 weeks of paid leave to care for newborns and other family members. And last week, while the news media was focused on Donald Trump’s imaginary friend, I mean imaginary spokesman, Hillary Clinton announced an ambitious plan to improve both the affordability and quality of U.S. child care.
This was an important announcement, even if it was drowned out by the ugliness and nonsense of a campaign that is even uglier and more nonsensical than usual. For child-care reform is the kind of medium-size, incremental, potentially politically doable — but nonetheless extremely important — initiative that could well be the centerpiece of a Clinton administration. So what’s the plan?
O.K., we don’t have all the details yet, but the outline seems pretty clear. On the affordability front, Mrs. Clinton would use subsidies and tax credits to limit family spending on child care — which can be more than a third of income — to a maximum of 10 percent. Meanwhile, there would be aid to states and communities that raise child-care workers’ pay, and a variety of other measures to help young children and their parents. All of this would still leave America less generous than many other countries, but it would be a big step toward international norms.
Is this doable? Yes. Is it desirable? Very much so.
When we talk about doing more for children, it’s important to realize that it costs money, but not all that much money. Why? Because there aren’t that many young children at any given time, and it doesn’t take a lot of spending to make a huge difference to their lives. Our threadbare system of public support for child care and early education costs 0.4 percent of the G.D.P.; France’s famously generous system costs 1.2 percent of the G.D.P. So we could move a long way up the scale with a fairly modest investment.
And it would indeed be an investment — every bit as much of an investment as spending money to repair and improve our transportation infrastructure. After all, today’s children are tomorrow’s workers and taxpayers. So it’s an incredible waste, not just for families but for the nation as a whole, that so many children’s futures are stunted because their parents don’t have the resources to take care of them as well as they should. And affordable child care would also have the immediate benefit of making it easier for parents to work productively.
Are there any reasons not to spend a bit more on children? The usual suspects will, of course, go on about the evils of big government, the sacred nature of individual choice, the wonders of free markets, and so on. But the market for child care, like the market for health care, works very badly in practice.
And when someone starts talking about choice, bear in mind that we’re talking about children, who are not in a position to choose whether they’re born into affluent households with plenty of resources or less wealthy families desperately trying to juggle work and child care.
So can we stop talking, just for a moment, about who won the news cycle or came up with the most effective insult, and talk about policy substance here?
The state of child care in America is cruel and shameful — and even more shameful because we could make things much better without radical change or huge spending. And one candidate has a reasonable, feasible plan to do something about this shame, while the other couldn’t care less.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 16, 2016
“The Base Doesn’t Care About Conservatism”: In The Battle Of Us vs. Them, The Donald Has Been Winning From The Start
I think Lindsey Graham is about to find out that his predictive powers are not better than Bill Kristol’s:
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), a supporter of [Jeb] Bush, said of Trump: “This man accused George W. Bush of being a liar and suggested he should be impeached. This man embraces [Russian President Vladimir] Putin as a friend. The market in the Republican primary for people who believe that Putin’s a good guy and W. is a liar is pretty damn small.”
It takes a certain kind of determined myopia not to see in retrospect that George W. Bush was a liar of immense proportions. It’s also extremely difficult to ignore the disastrous consequences of his presidency:
“The war in Iraq has been a disaster,” Trump said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “It started the chain of events that leads now to the migration, maybe the destruction of Europe. [Bush] started the war in Iraq. Am I supposed to be a big fan?”
Despite all this, it might not be entirely accurate to say that the base of the GOP agrees with Trump’s assessment of our 43rd president. It’s probably more a matter of them not really caring much one way or the other. They’ve moved on.
I think it’s interesting that the Republican rank-and-file seem impervious to heresies against the Conservative Movement. Trump’s past comments calling for universal health care don’t bother them, nor do they hold his pro-Planned Parenthood funding against him. Was he pro-gay rights and pro-choice in the past? It’s no matter.
He makes a left-wing critique of the Iraq War and President Bush? Apparently, not too many people are offended.
You can go down a growing list. Trump calls for protective tariffs and opposes free trade. He uses eminent domain and strategic bankruptcy to further his business interests. He clearly fakes his piety in an unconvincing and frankly insulting manner. His private life is nearly the opposite of what the family values crowd espouses. He uses expletives and sexual innuendo (who will protect the children?).
What this calls into question is how much the appeal of conservative ideology has ever really explained the cohesiveness of the Republican coalition. Has it always been more a matter of tribalism and a team mentality? Could it be that what unites them is less free enterprise, retro-Christian values and a strong national defense than a shared antipathy for common enemies?
That’s been my working hypothesis for a while now, which is why I thought the Republican Establishment was deluding themselves when they said they’d destroy Trump once they began running ads about his record as anything but a movement conservative.
The people who support Trump are supporting him because he’s the kind of guy who will stand up the president and say that he wasn’t even born here. They don’t care whether he’s an economic protectionist or not. But they damn sure like that he’s willing to tell the Mexican government that he’s going to force them to pay for a Great Wall on the southern border.
In the battle of us vs. them, The Donald has been winning from the start.
Cruz is doing a decent job, too, but he’ll probably never be more than Trump’s caddie.
And, if Cruz does eventually outshine Trump, his appeal will be the exact same. It won’t be his adherence to strict constitutional originalism or his appeal to Christian Dominionists. It will be that Cruz convinces the base that he’ll do a better job than Trump of shattering the liberals.
By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 15, 2016
After a certain age, favorite holiday memories tend to meld into tales too good to be true. This is human nature. We want to believe we’re better than the evidence suggests. This is a good habit of our species, especially at the end of this year, in which we’ve seen so much of the worst in us.
There is no such thing as perfection whenever we add memories of past holiday experiences to the combustible mix of family and friends. Add booze and a couple of sturdy grudges and Grey Gardens has nothing over the drama unfolding in front of us as we shake our heads.
Nevertheless, with the passage of time, we will yet again enshrine these get-togethers as something magical. This speaks to something good in us. Most of us want to be people who love people, so we manage the willpower to love even the people who get on our last nerve. Which at least one of them surely will; we just know it.
You will note that I am laying blame elsewhere for all that might annoy us this holiday season. I employ this nifty trick of memory so that, at least for the duration of this column, we can all feel superior and terribly misunderstood. My gift to you. Merry Christmas, if you celebrate. Otherwise: Happy Solstice Week. Be sure to look out the window tomorrow morning. Already, the darkness is ending a teensy bit sooner.
This has been a rough year in our lives, even if we harbor no personal grievance because of what is churning out there all around us. Just this once, let’s not rattle off the list. Many of us will continue to stake out our own little patches of righteousness, but this is the time of year when we should at least try to acknowledge the truth of the matter: We are all in this together.
Former astronaut John Glenn, a dear friend, once described for me what it was like to hover 150 miles above the Earth and get a good look at the rest of us:
“On a map, every nation has a different color,” he said. “Well, the Earth looks much different from space. You realize our borders are so artificial. Some are political; some have developed along ethnic lines. But all those lines disappear when you’re looking down from space. And you can’t help but see all that we have in common and think about how much we foul things up by focusing on our differences rather than our sameness.”
I don’t expect us to link arms and sing to the heavens. For one thing, there’d be that unpleasant argument over which version of heaven and another over whose version of God would be listening. And that’s just among the believers.
Instead, I ask that, in the spirit of the season, we pause to consider what we still have in common with one another. It’s there, in every single person we can imagine.
I know, I know. Work through the wince. Breathe.
Three days before Christmas, I was about to start dinner, when my friend Jackie called. She and her wife, Kate, live just down the street.
“Go to the Square,” she said.
“Why?” I asked as I shut off the burner.
“I’m not telling you. Just go — and bring your camera.”
My husband and I threw on our jackets and began the short walk to the community park that greets everyone who enters our neighborhood in Cleveland.
Dozens of luminarias flickered on the ground around the gazebo. Two deer ventured forth as we walked among the lights and offered nods to the fat moon competing for attention.
I loved watching neighbors pulling in to the development after a long day at work and slowing their cars to a crawl to take in the sight of this unexpected kindness. I have no idea which neighbors made the effort to do this, but I know we need more people like them. I am grateful for the reminder that small gestures can ignite big hopes and that there are many ways to light the darkness.
To those who don’t celebrate Christmas, thank you for putting up with those of us who do. If you are struggling right now, may the holiday land gently.
Off we go, into the new year, where each of us will have the chance to do better.
By: Connie Schultz, The National Memo, December 24, 2015
“A Twisted Moral Value System”: In Lousiana Governor Loss, David Vitter Shows Just How Far A Republican Must Sink To Be Rejected In A Red State
As most Washington Monthly readers know by now, Democrat John Bel Edwards defeated disgraced Louisiana Senator David Vitter in his bid for governor to replace failed presidential candidate Bobby Jindal. Vitter was famously the center of several scandals, especially including a prostitution debacle in which he reportedly engaged in not-so-vanilla interests.
Vitter had been trailing heavily in the polls for quite some time, and pulled out all the usual Republican dogwhistle tricks, from scaremongering over Syrian refugees to his own version of the racist Willie Horton strategy, claiming that his opponent would assist President Obama in releasing “thugs” from jail.
None of it worked. Jon Bel Edwards isn’t the sort of Democrat progressives will croon over anytime soon: he is anti-abortion, pro-gun and opposed President Obama on refugees. But he’s the first Democrat to win major elected office in the South since 2009, and his victory will mean that a quarter of a million people will get healthcare who would almost certainly have been denied it under a Vitter administration. That’s definitely a good thing.
But it would be extremely premature to declare that this result bodes well for a Democratic resurgence in the South. Democrats fared far more poorly downballot from the governor’s race, proving that the John Bel Edwards’ victory owed more to Louisiana voters’ disgust with David Vitter than to sympathy for his own agenda. The example of Matt Bevin’s recent election in Kentucky shows that at least the voters who turn out in off-year cycles in the South are more than willing to deny hundreds of thousands of people their right to healthcare and other benefits. It was David Vitter’s personal troubles that hurt him badly enough to hand a Democrat an overwhelming victory.
And that itself is yet another indictment of Republican voters. David Vitter’s prostitution scandal is weird, creepy and untoward for a U.S. Senator. But a legislator’s fidelity and sexual proclivities have very little bearing on their job as a representative of the people, which is to protect the Constitution and do a responsible job providing the greatest good for the greatest number of constituents. Scapegoating refugees and denying medical care to hundreds of thousands are objectively both far greater moral crimes against common decency than a thousand trysts with sex workers. That the latter is illegal and the former is legal is a testament to the twisted moral value system perverted by puritan Calvinist ethics. Vitter should have been ousted for his overtly destructive public morality, not his far less consequential private failures.
But that’s not how Republicans roll. In their world, causing the needless deaths of thousands is fair game. Having sex with the wrong person, on the other hand, is unforgivable.
There may be a large number of people in this world who share that value system. But that doesn’t mean that those with a well-adjusted moral compass must respect it or grant it validity.
By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthy, November 22, 2015