Friday, February 22, 2013

Rhetoric matters...and this is what's wrong with Obama's

I'm sure I am supposed to be happy that President Obama, in his Chicago speech last week, included us within the definition of "loving, supportive parents."   According to Obama, that category includes "all kinds of parents -- that includes foster parents, and that includes grandparents, and extended families; it includes gay or straight parents."

But I can't be.

And that's because the thrust of his attention to families was to emphasize fathers and marriage.  And that, even though he referred to being raised by his mother and grandparents and noted that he turned out okay (an understatement by any definition), he said he wishes he had had a present and involved father.  As a statement of his personal feelings I cannot and will not fault him.  But I am not letting him off the hook for his conclusions and his policy prescriptions.  Here is what he said:

There’s no more important ingredient for success, nothing that would be more important for us reducing violence than strong, stable families -- which means we should do more to promote marriage and encourage fatherhood....
So we should encourage marriage by removing the financial disincentives for couples who love one another but may find it financially disadvantageous if they get married. We should reform our child support laws to get more men working and engaged with their children. And my administration will continue to work with the faith community and the private sector this year on a campaign to encourage strong parenting and fatherhood. Because what makes you a man is not the ability to make a child, it’s the courage to raise one.

(These latter remarks were underreported when he included them in the State of the Union address).

Marriage and fatherhood as the best way to reduce violence is way off base.  It was off base when Dan Quayle tried it in his 1992 "Murphy Brown" speech.  It was off base when Romney tried it in 2012 in one of the presidential debates.  For real information, read sociologist Philip Cohen, who responded directly to Romney and more recently expounded on the myth that violence can be laid at the feet of single mothers.  His research is drawing the ire of the "marriage promotion" movement, but that just makes him more precise with his rebuttal.  President Obama needs to read his blog posts and needs to stop blaming violence on single mothers and offering marriage as the solution...even as a throwaway line. (If it was that.  I think there is a good argument that no line by a sitting president is ever a throwaway line.)

As for the policy positions in this speech, tax reform that benefits couples who earn roughly equal amounts of income are a good idea, but what about eliminating the huge tax bonus that goes to families with a high earning spouse and a low or non-earning spouse?  The rest of us should not have to subsidize that family form, which is what we do now.  I don't know what child support reform he is talking about.  If it allows poor non-custodial parents to keep more income, when that income doesn't go to their children anyway (because it goes to the government if the child is on public assistance), I am for it.  And as for the private sector, strong parenting depends on employment policies that flexibly account for parental responsibilities.  I don't see Obama specifically refering to those policies (like paid parental leave and paid sick leave), which he should.  Those policies would help fathers and mothers raise children.  As for faith organizations, if their mission is promoting marriage, I say keep them out of it.

I hope other supporters of LGBT families are not lured by the inclusion in Obama's rhetoric to ignore so much that is wrong about it.

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