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Democrats Stuck in the 90s

The Democrats have once again discovered the family.  And once again they are recycling their stock panaceas — the same ones that not only failed in the 1990s but created the problem in the 1960s.

For the Democrats, the starting point is poverty, especially child poverty.  This is admirable, and even more commendable is that it has led them to the inevitable conclusion that child poverty cannot be ameliorated without strengthening the family. 

Unfortunately, the Democrats’ idea of how to strengthen the family it to expand federal programs that weaken it.  By undermining the family the Democrats create problems for themselves to solve.

John Edwards believes that “government alone cannot end poverty — families and communities need to take responsibility too.”  But his new “initiative to strengthen families” might better be called the “initiative to strangle families.”  Edwards wants to increase funding for child support enforcement “to increase collections by more than $8 billion over the next decade and ensure that payments benefit children.”

Barack Obama and fellow Democrats are likewise targeting fathers with their proposed Responsible Fatherhood Act, which claims that fathers, not government policies, are to blame for family dissolution.  But their bill will only ensure that more children grow up fatherless. 

Behind the high-minded concern for children is a non sequitur.  Child support does not strengthen families or fatherhood.  At best, it is predicated on broken families and fatherless homes.  At worst, child support itself breaks up families and drives fathers away. 

Like welfare, which it is being offered to replace, child support subsidizes single-parent homes, ensuring more of them.  Economist Robert McNeely and legal scholar Cynthia McNeely write that child support “has led to the destruction of families by creating financial incentives to divorce [and] the prevention of families by creating financial incentives not to marry upon conceiving of a child.” 

We now have unequivocal evidence that child support is not only exacerbating the destruction of families begun by welfare; by subsidizing divorce, it is spreading the problem to the middle class.  The beneficiaries of the Democrats’ compassion will be not poor children but middle-class divorcees.

Edwards, Obama, and the feminist bureaucrats they represent peddle the fallacy that expanding the child support machinery brings in payments.  This is nonsense, since most fathers’ pay voluntarily.  It is like saying that we can balance the budget simply by increasing spending on the IRS (and carries similarly authoritarian implications).  Or as men’s rights blogger Glenn Sacks puts it, like the collections department at Target being credited every time you buy something and pay at the cash register.

In some ways child support is much more damaging than welfare, which it transforms from public assistance into law enforcement.  It thus represents a dangerous innovation in the role of government, which no longer simply displaces the father as provider for mothers and children but uses its most formidable power — criminal enforcement — to eliminate its rival. 

Separating children from their fathers and then shaking down the fathers to pay for children they are seldom permitted to see is a peculiar way to strengthen families.  Yet that is precisely what passes for family policy among the Democrats — and some Republicans too. 

Written By

Stephen Baskerville, Ph.D., is assistant professor of government at Patrick Henry College and Earhart Fellow at the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society. His most recent book, Taken Into Custody: The War Against Fathers, Marriage, and the Family, has just been published by Cumberland House Publishing.

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