Blow and Krugman

In “Jeb Bush and Single Mothers” Mr. Blow points out that policies that fight poverty, provide sex education and encourage parental involvement would all help alleviate a crisis that needn’t be so severe.  Prof. Krugman, in “Democrats Being Democrats,” says the Davos Democrats who argued against progressive policies have lost much of their political grip.  Actually, the party lost its grip and its mind when they ran Howard Dean out of town.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Last week, Jeb Bush was asked to answer for a passage from his book from two decades ago, “Profiles in Character,” in a chapter titled “The Restoration of Shame,” in which he blamed the “irresponsible conduct” of births to unmarried women on a flagging sense of community ridicule and shaming.

Bush responded, according to MSNBC: “My views have evolved over time, but my views about the importance of dads being involved in the lives of children hasn’t changed at all. In fact, since 1995 … this book was a book about cultural indicators [and] the country has moved in the wrong direction. We have a 40-plus percent out-of-wedlock birth rate.”

He continued: “It’s a huge challenge for single moms to raise children in the world that we’re in today and it hurts the prospects, it limits the possibilities of young people being able to live lives of purpose and meaning.”

But, as a 2014 Pew Research Center report points out:

“It’s important to keep in mind that just because a woman has a nonmarital birth, that does not necessarily mean that the mother is ‘going it alone.’ For instance, in the U.S., more than half of births that occur outside of marriage are to women who are cohabiting.”

It is interesting that Bush answered that question while on a European tour that included a visit to Estonia.

That same Pew report reported that 17 European countries (Iceland, Slovenia, Bulgaria, France, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Britain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Latvia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Austria, Finland and yes, Estonia) have higher birthrates to unmarried women than does the United States.

And according to a 2013 Unicef report, “Child Well-Being in Rich Countries,” all those countries except Latvia (Bulgaria was not included) had higher ratings of overall children’s material well-being (a measure of things like child poverty rates; child deprivation of things like three meals, including some with protein and fresh fruit and vegetables; books; regular leisure activities; some new clothes and properly fitting shoes; and whether the family owned an automobile, traveled for vacations, had a computer and had a separate bedroom for the child).

In addition to material well-being, almost all of them outranked the United States in children’s health and safety, education, behaviors and risks, and housing and environment.

We spend quite a bit of energy blaming births to unmarried women for our woes, but that is only part of the picture. The other part is the way we as a society treat those women and the fathers of their children. Instead of endless efforts to sanctify marriage, the emphasis should be on finding ways to support children and encourage more parental engagement from both parents, regardless of marital status. This includes removing all barriers and penalties for people, especially the poor, to cohabitate.

Our increasing level of births to unmarried women doesn’t have to be as much of a crisis as we have allowed it to become.

First, we should seek to reduce the level of unintended pregnancies in this country. As the Guttmacher Institute pointed out in February, about half of pregnancies here are unintended, and “unintended pregnancy rates are highest among poor and low-income women, women aged 18–24, cohabiting women and minority women.”

This means that we must wrestle earnestly with poverty, as well as make a more comprehensive sex education and a full range of contraceptive options available, regardless of income.

People should become parents on purpose and not by accident.

Second, we have to examine how we have used the law as an instrument to push unwed fathers out of homes, particularly poor ones, rather than encourage them to stay.

As Elizabeth Pleck, professor emerita of history and family studies at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, pointed out in her 2012 book, “Not Just Roommates: Cohabitation after the Sexual Revolution”:

“The state has intruded on the personal privacy of many cohabitors, middle class as well as poor, but the intrusions have been more massive and have persisted longer when they involve poor people who are dependent on public aid. Is there a man in the house? The midnight raid of the early 1960s was the single greatest infringement on the privacy of rights of cohabitors in American history.”

Pleck continued:

“It was a mass search for ‘a man in the house,’ targeting welfare mothers and their boyfriends in order to throw the mother off the welfare rolls and to impose specific civil or criminal punishments on the woman and her boyfriend.”

The legacy of this punishment persists to this day. And it’s a rather odd turn since, as Pleck points out, cohabitation without formal marriage was quite common in the United States before the Civil War.

Maybe a deficit of shame is not our problem, but rather a deficit of common sense in advancing policy and promoting co-parenting.

All I have to say about Jeb Bush is that I hope someone finances Michael Shiavo so he can follow him wherever he goes on the campaign trail.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

On Friday, House Democrats shocked almost everyone by rejecting key provisions needed to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement the White House wants but much of the party doesn’t. On Saturday Hillary Clinton formally began her campaign for president, and surprised most observers with an unapologetically liberal and populist speech.

These are, of course, related events. The Democratic Party is becoming more assertive about its traditional values, a point driven home by Mrs. Clinton’s decision to speak on Roosevelt Island. You could say that Democrats are moving left. But the story is more complicated and interesting than this simple statement can convey.

You see, ever since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, Democrats have been on the ideological defensive. Even when they won elections they seemed afraid to endorse clearly progressive positions, eager to demonstrate their centrism by supporting policies like cuts to Social Security that their base hated. But that era appears to be over. Why?

Part of the answer is that Democrats, despite defeats in midterm elections, believe — rightly or wrongly — that the political wind is at their backs. Growing ethnic diversity is producing what should be a more favorable electorate; growing tolerance is turning social issues, once a source of Republican strength, into a Democratic advantage instead. Reagan was elected by a nation in which half the public still disapproved of interracial marriage; Mrs. Clinton is running to lead a nation in which 60 percent support same-sex marriage.

At the same time, Democrats seem finally to have taken on board something political scientists have been telling us for years: adopting “centrist” positions in an attempt to attract swing voters is a mug’s game, because such voters don’t exist. Most supposed independents are in fact strongly aligned with one party or the other, and the handful who aren’t are mainly just confused. So you might as well take a stand for what you believe in.

But the party’s change isn’t just about politics, it’s also about policy.

On one side, the success of Obamacare and related policies — millions covered for substantially less than expected, surprisingly effective cost control for Medicare — have helped to inoculate the party against blanket assertions that government programs never work. And on the other side, the Davos Democrats who used to be a powerful force arguing against progressive policies have lost much of their credibility.

I’m referring to the kind of people — many, though not all, from Wall Street — who go to lots of international meetings where they assure each other that prosperity is all about competing in the global economy, and that this means supporting trade agreements and cutting social spending. Such people have influence in part because of their campaign contributions, but also because of the belief that they really know how the world works.

As it turns out, however, they don’t. In the 1990s the purported wise men blithely assured us that we had nothing to fear from financial deregulation; we did. After crisis struck, thanks in large part to that very deregulation, they warned us that we should be very afraid of bond investors, who would punish America for its budget deficits; they didn’t. So why believe them when they insist that we must approve an unpopular trade deal?

And this loss of credibility means that if Mrs. Clinton makes it to the White House she’ll govern very differently from the way her husband did in the 1990s.

As I said, you can describe all of this as a move to the left, but there’s more to it than that — and it’s not at all symmetric to the Republican move right. Democrats are adopting ideas that work and rejecting ideas that don’t, whereas Republicans are doing the opposite.

And no, I’m not being unfair. Obamacare, which was once a conservative idea, is working better than even supporters expected; so Democrats are committed to defending its achievements, while Republicans are more fanatical than ever in their efforts to destroy it. Modestly higher taxes on the wealthy haven’t hurt the economy, while promises that tax cuts will have magical effects have proved disastrously wrong; so Democrats have become more comfortable with a modest tax-and-spend agenda, while Republicans are more firmly in the grip of tax-cutting cranks than ever. And so on down the line.

Of course, changes in ideology matter only to the extent that they can influence policy. And while the electoral odds probably favor Mrs. Clinton, and Democrats could retake the Senate, they have very little chance of retaking the House. So changes in the Democratic Party may take a while to change America as a whole. But something important is happening, and in the long run it will matter a great deal.

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