Dan Quayle Was (Almost) Right

Regarding The New York Times piece by Jason DeParle, called “Two Classes in America, Divided by ‘I Do,'” Rick Garnett says, “Maybe the piece should be called “Dan Quayle was right”? There’s no “maybe” about it. Dan Quayle was right when he said this in 1992:

Right now the failure of our families is hurting America deeply. When families fall, society falls. The anarchy and lack of structure in our inner cities are testament to how quickly civilization falls apart when the family foundation cracks. Children need love and discipline. A welfare check is not a husband. The state is not a father. It is from parents that children come to understand values and themselves as men and women, mothers and fathers.

And for those concerned about children growing up in poverty, we should know this: marriage is probably the best anti-poverty program of them all. Among families headed by married couples today, there is a poverty rate of 5.7 percent. But 33.4 percent of families are headed by a single mother are in poverty today.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Where there are no mature, responsible men around to teach boys how to become good men, gangs serve in their place. In fact, gangs have become a surrogate family for much of a generation of inner-city boys….

The system perpetuates itself as these young men father children whom they have no intention of caring for, by women whose welfare checks support them. Teenage girls, mired in the same hopelessness, lack sufficient motive to say no to this trap….

Ultimately, however, marriage is a moral issue that requires cultural consensus, and the use of social sanctions. Bearing babies irresponsibly is, simply, wrong. Failure to support children one has fathered is wrong. We must be unequivocal about this.

It doesn’t help matters when prime time TV has Murphy Brown – a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid, professional woman – mocking the importance of a father, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another “lifestyle choice.”

I know it is not fashionable to talk about moral values, but we need to do it. Even though our cultural leaders in Hollywood, network TV, the national newspapers routinely jeer at them, I think that most of us in this room know that some things are good, and other things are wrong. Now it’s time to make the discussion public….

Quayle’s message was derided by the usual suspects, of course. But Quayle’s remarks now apply just as much to whites as to the inner-city blacks whose behavior Quayle cites.

Indeed, DeParle focuses on the example of two white women, Jessica Schairer and her boss, Chris Faulkner:

They are both friendly white women from modest Midwestern backgrounds who left for college with conventional hopes of marriage, motherhood and career. They both have children in elementary school. They pass their days in similar ways: juggling toddlers, coaching teachers and swapping small secrets that mark them as friends. They even got tattoos together. Though Ms. Faulkner, as the boss, earns more money, the difference is a gap, not a chasm.

But a friendship that evokes parity by day becomes a study of inequality at night and a testament to the way family structure deepens class divides. Ms. Faulkner is married and living on two paychecks, while Ms. Schairer is raising her children by herself. That gives the Faulkner family a profound advantage in income and nurturing time, and makes their children statistically more likely to finish college, find good jobs and form stable marriages.

Ms. Faulkner goes home to a trim subdivision and weekends crowded with children’s events. Ms. Schairer’s rent consumes more than half her income, and she scrapes by on food stamps.

DeParle also hammers at inequality in a companion piece to the article quoted above:

An interesting pattern over the last four decades is that inequality has grown much faster for households with children than it has for households over all — an indication that changes in family structure (as opposed to wages and employment alone) have increased inequality….

While the decline of two-parent families is most striking in the bottom quarter, that is a familiar story and had largely occurred by 1990. Much of the recent growth has occurred in the second-lowest quarter, sometimes called the working class. In that group, the share of households with children headed by unmarried parents has soared to nearly 40 percent and the growth has continued in recent years:

The focus on inequality is perverse but predictable, inasmuch as DeParle is writing for The New York Times. Yes, DeParle eventually gets around to mentioning the choices made by the women in question:

College-educated Americans like the Faulkners…

Less-educated women like Ms. Schairer, who left college without finishing her degree….

[Ms. Schairer] got pregnant during her first year of college, left school and stayed in a troubled relationship that left her with three children when it finally collapsed six years ago. She has had little contact with the children’s father and receives no child support. With an annual income of just under $25,000, Ms. Schairer barely lifts her children out of poverty, but she is not one to complain. “I’m in this position because of decisions I made,” she said.

Why, then, the focus on economic inequality, which is an unsurprising consequence of the kinds of decisions made by Ms. Schairer and growing numbers of white women? DeParle eventually acknowledges the latter point:

Long concentrated among minorities, motherhood outside marriage now varies by class about as much as it does by race. It is growing fastest in the lower reaches of the white middle class — among women like Ms. Schairer who have some postsecondary schooling but no four-year degree.

But Ms. Schairer finds herself in “the lower reaches of the white middle class” because of her decisions — not because of a mysterious force called inequality, which has become the left’s all-purpose excuse for social ills.

The focus on inequality is surely meant to suggest that there is a “problem” about which government should do something. But the real problem is not economic inequality, which (though inevitable) is exacerbated by the rising trend toward broken families and one-parent homes. And that is the real problem, because its victims are innocent bystanders: the children of broken families and one-parent homes.

Rick Garnett asks, what “[c]an can law [i.e., government] do, if anything, about the challenges identified in [DeParle’s] piece?” The correct answer is that government should not compensate women like Ms. Schairer for the consequences of their bad decisions. Where government, through various welfare schemes, does compensate the Ms. Schairers for the consequences of their bad decisions, the result is to encourage more such bad decisions. (Economists call it moral hazard.)

The most that government can and should do is to cancel the perverse incentives that it has created in the past several decades: lax divorce laws; favoritism in employment and child-care subsidies that lure women into the working world, away from their children;  and, of course, the welfare programs that reward bad decisions.

Government can’t do anything about the real problem, which is the decline of Judeo-Christian values as a guiding force in the affairs of Americans. Government has hastened that decline, but anything that it might do in an effort to reverse the decline is sure to be counterproductive.

Dan Quayle was almost right when he closed his infamous speech with this:

So I think the time has come to renew our public commitment to our Judeo-Christian values – in our churches and synagogues, our civic organizations and our schools. We are, as our children recite each morning, “one nation under God.” That’s a useful framework for acknowledging a duty and an authority higher than our own pleasures and personal ambitions.

Quayle’s counsel is one of lip-service and, strangely, reliance on government.

Judeo-Christian values, to be vital and effective in the affairs of society, must be inculcated within the family circle. Only when government stops breaking up families will there be hope for a broad resurgence of Judeo-Christian values in America.

I am a realist, however. And so I must close by paraphrasing the conclusion of a recent post. I do not believe that America can recover from its descent into hedonism. Therefore, the “single-parent problem” will not go away, and the dwindling fraction of Americans who conduct their lives conscientiously will subsidize an ever-growing fraction of Americans who make bad “life choices.” America is becoming (has become?) a moral wasteland, replete with one-parent “families,” broken families, and children who suffer spiritual neglect.

Given this state of affairs, it is prudent and desirable for traditional families to insulate themselves, as much as possible, from “mainstream” America. This can be done by limiting one’s social relationships (other than superficial ones) to those persons who share one’s values (even to the exclusion of family members, if necessary), and by home-schooling one’s children or sending them to private schools  that can be relied on to transmit Judeo-Christian values.

Related posts:
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
Nature Is Unfair
A Declaration and Defense of My Prejudices about Governance
Why Conservatism Works