The GOP Solution for Everything: Railing Against People Who Don't Get Married
“When the family breaks down, the economy breaks down,” Rick Santorum intoned in his Iowa caucus “victory” speech Tuesday night (by the time he finished speaking, he’d lost the lead to Romney). Santorum’s bromide showed only a glimmer of the way the conservative “family values” crowd connects America’s worsening economic troubles to the decline of marriage, especially among the middle and working classes. It’s a fascinating worldview that colors the entire GOP primary campaign, in which actual policies to help workers and families are rejected in favor of those that cut government and shackle women to the home, and it needs to be better understood.
It’s also another reminder that the prejudice and disdain Republicans once reserved for African-Americans has spread like a toxic mist to stigmatize a lot of other people, including a lot of white folks. I’ve written about how GOP alarmism over those living off “other people’s money,” a staple of the racial politics that once scapegoated “welfare queens” and “young bucks” buying steak with food stamps, has expanded in the Tea Party years. Now the slackers and moochers and welfare cheats bashed by Republicans include public workers, as well as Social Security and Medicare recipients, people receiving unemployment insurance, plus the 46 million Americans on food stamps, the vast majority of whom have jobs. The vast majority of those new GOP scapegoats are also, by the way, white people.
Now Republicans are taking their judgments about and disapproval of African-American marriage and family patterns and applying them to white people, too. In 1965 Daniel Patrick Moynihan declared a “crisis” in the “Negro family” because “nearly one-quarter of Negro births are now illegitimate,” he wrote. Today the birthrate to white single mothers is even higher – and it’s climbed particularly sharply for white women who dropped out of high school, as well as those who didn’t go to college. Interestingly, rates of divorce and single-motherhood are lowest among the affluent and well educated, and that’s true in black as well as white families.
You might say that all of this data vindicates those who connected the problems of poor African-American families in the ’60s to poverty and discrimination: When times are tough, it gets tougher to find a spouse and stay married. But according to Rick Santorum, you would be wrong. The judgmental family values crowd believes liberals have it backward: Tough times don’t make it harder to get and stay married; when we fail to get and stay married, times get tougher. These are the competing worldviews that are going to vie for primacy no matter who emerges from the GOP primary campaign to challenge Barack Obama, so it’s worth understanding them. According to the Santorum wing of the Republican Party, these new marriage slackers of every race lack not just healthy paychecks, but the bourgeois values that earn them.
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All most people remember about the infamous “Moynihan report,” if they remember it at all, is that it blamed a “tangle of pathology” for the troubles of poor black families headed by single mothers. Moynihan’s analysis said more than that. He blamed African-American poverty on slavery, Jim Crow and enduring racism — in the North and South, de facto and de jure. He showed how historic and persistent black male unemployment and underemployment contributed to the problems of divorce and single parenthood. He also believed welfare for single mothers made the problem worse, and at a time when liberals advocated to expand welfare programs and advance welfare rights, this made Moynihan a conservative, whose ideas about the black family were immediately attacked as “blaming the victim.”