With Republicans facing the “too long in power” syndrome and the Democrats licking their chops each time their opponents shoot themselves in the foot, the GOP has an opportunity to regain the moral and electoral high ground and to do so in a way that demonstrates both a commitment to traditional conservatism and an ability to adapt.
The Republican renewal in the last election was occasioned by the assault on marriage. Marriage and the family have become issues of electoral salience for Americans, and beyond habitual Republican voters.
Gay marriage did not emerge from nowhere. It grew directly out of changes in family law over decades, whose consequences are only now becoming apparent. The most serious fallout is the decline of fatherhood, about which we have heard so much but whose full implications we have yet to understand.
While the devastating social effects of fatherless children are now well known, we are only beginning to see the political impact of childless fathers. For what the policy wonks have told us is fathers abandoning their children is in reality a tyranny of courts and government bureaucracies confiscating vast numbers of children from their fathers. What officials call “deadbeat dads” are more likely plundered pops: solvent and responsible citizens who are being looted by extortionate child support, coerced attorneys’ fees, and other government expropriations that — despite claims of it all being “for the children” —
border on thievery. Now the fathers are fighting back.
With some 20 million “non-custodial” parents (to adopt an oxymoron) having lost their children to divorce and separation, this crisis touches virtually every family in America. Many are African-Americans and other minorities who generally vote either Democratic or not at all.
These votes are available to candidates who address this destructive injustice and a natural constituency for any party claiming to champion the family. They logically belong to the party that opposes “judicial activism,” because family law literally brings home for Americans the realities of judicial tyranny, which is no longer a remote abstraction when it involves judges confiscating their children. Phyllis Schlafly draws this connection in the forthcoming revision of her book, “The Supremacists.”
Yet until now Republicans have not only failed to court these parents; they have seemed to go out of their way to alienate them. Republican politicians pander to feminist votes they can never win with demagoguery against “deadbeat dads,” “domestic violence,” and other questionable evils on which the public has never demanded any government intervention or expenditure. The beneficiaries are Democratic loyalists: lawyers, judges, social workers, psychotherapists, single mothers.
The ultimate boondoggle was the Violence Against Women Act, where congressional Republicans handed a $4 billion pork pie to feminist groups, ostensibly to combat “domestic violence.” In actuality, the measure creates a massive political war chest for leftist causes. Something is seriously amiss when Republicans are subsidizing their opponents with taxpayers’ money.
Republican politicians fear being labeled as defenders of deadbeat dads, wife-beaters, and pedophiles – the standard smears feminists throw at divorced fathers, both in court and in the political arena. This has silenced opposition and given feminists a free ride.
At the same time, no political party can forever ignore a voting bloc this massive. The roughly 20 million childless parents (about 10% are mothers) roughly doubles if one adds second wives, whose families are devastated by the shake-down of their husbands, and grandparents, who are cut off from their grandchildren and often forced to take in penurious sons. These family members are often more outspoken than the fathers.
Will millions really decide their votes on issues of child custody? These are parents who face ordeals of truly Orwellian proportions: Their children have been taken away without necessarily any show of wrongdoing, and they are suddenly told they can be arrested for trying to see their own children without government authorization. Many have been forcibly removed from their own homes, which are then confiscated and sold, again without any legal infraction. They face a panoply of other expropriations, including the attachment of their earnings for years to come with crushing child support burdens that reduce them to penury and even homelessness. They are forced to pay fees of attorneys, court psychotherapists, and others whom they have not hired and whose services they do not want.
These are law-abiding citizens who suddenly face indefinite prison sentences, without trial, if they cannot pay government-imposed “debts” and “obligations” they did nothing to incur. And they have been ignored by both parties. How would you respond to a candidate that offered relief?
The best indication of the electoral potential came in liberal Massachusetts in 2004, where a whopping 85% of voters defied the strident opposition of feminists and lawyers to approve a non-binding referendum providing for shared parenting in custody cases.
Every recent election has seen the specter of a new and supposedly decisive voting bloc (soccer moms, NASCAR dads). This is more than an emerging demographic, however; it is a political pressure cooker that has been building over decades by an extremist ideology that has used fear, hysteria, and emotional blackmail to build a bureaucratic machinery of Soviet proportions to oppress millions and intimidate opposition. The courage to challenge this machine will bring a windfall for Republicans that could influence elections for years to come.