Generation Unbound and The Decline of the American Two-Parent Family

“Roughly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended.” (Generation Unbound, Isabel Sawhill)

This week’s post describes a straightforward Liberal Republican poverty reduction platform. It is centered on what Isabel Sawhill, one of America’s leading social welfare economists, calls “having children by design, not by default” (that is, by accident).

In her book Generation Unbound, Sawhill sets forth some sad facts regarding the decline of the American two-parent family and its often-devastating effects on children. She explains that over forty percent of all children in America are now born outside of marriage, in contrast to as recently as 1950, when almost all children in America, whether rich or poor, grew up in two-parent households.

These single-parent families, which Sawhill describes as ‘merry-go-round households,’ can be particularly unstable, as children will experience “the constant comings and goings of new boyfriends (or girlfriends) or the addition of new half-siblings.” Such children also experience poverty much more frequently than children growing up in more stable environments. Sawhill states that 47% of children living in single-mother families were living below the poverty line in 2012.

According to Sawhill, political conservatives have generally avoided the issue of how to deal with so many single parent families because they believe separating sex from childbearing and marriage is morally wrong or undermines responsible behavior. Sawhill states that political progressives also have avoided this issue because they are overwhelmingly focused on what happens to children once they are born, “ignoring the fact that the circumstances of a child’s birth matter, too.”

Sawhill believes that government has a role to play but that, without more personal responsibility, it will be impossible to turn the tide. To reduce poverty we must slow down entries into poverty, not just speed up the exits.” Sawhill states, “[Progressives] are asking voters to support an agenda that is more expensive and less consistent with the American value of self-sufficiency than ‎most American voters will accept.”‎

Sawhill explains the relative ease of avoiding poverty in America. She states that she has long argued that “To stay out of poverty, individuals need to follow three steps: graduate from high school, work full-time, and wait until after age 21 to get married and have children (in that order)…[I]f people followed these three simple guidelines, only 2 percent would be poor.”

These do not seem to be unachievable goals; in fact, while achieving them would not be easy, they are remarkably straightforward and politically uncontroversial.

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Looking Back to Move Forward

Given the continued growth in our readership (thank you), we will be reposting some of our early posts. Hopefully they will make interesting reading this election season.

As always, thanks for reading, sharing and commenting.

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“The Founding Fathers, steeped in classical history and morality, feared that America might fall as the Roman Republic had if it failed to guard against the corrosive forces of corruption, petty interests, and the unrestrained zeal of faction. George Washington called upon his fellow citizens to show ‘mutual forbearance’ and follow ‘a middle course.’”
(Kabaservice, Geoffrey, Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party)

During the last few decades American politics has changed in very destructive ways. These changes must be reversed for American government to function again at a level that can effectively address the problems that we face as a nation.  Regardless of whether our government implements traditionally conservative policies, traditionally liberal policies, or some of both (as has been the case through most of American history), our government needs to function well.

I don’t know anyone who thinks that we have good government in America today. This website maintains that resurrecting a Liberal Republican branch of the Republican Party would be a means to return to consensus-driven, pragmatic politics and good government. ‎But how do we do this?

Three steps that I think are necessary to do so are described in the post linked below. The post includes stories I hope you will find interesting about Singapore, University of Alabama versus University of Southern California football history, and a man named Clifton White who played a significant role in reshaping the Republican Party to its current take-no-prisoners form (ironically, using Leninist tactics, and to the shock of President Eisenhower and baseball hero Jackie Robinson, both prominent Republicans of the time).

Click here to read more.


Jill Leovy’s great book Ghettoside

The link below will take you to a discussion of Jill Leovy’s book Ghettoside. Leovy knows from experience–she covered crime for the Los Angeles Times for many years–that poor minority communities are too often harshly policed. But she also laments that the majority of poor minority residents of these communities, who are law-abiding souls just trying to live life like the rest of us, must live among murderers and other predators, and that our society has been unable to provide them with something so basic to a civilized society as personal security. (In Chicago last year, the police department’s clearance rate for homicides fell to about 17%. See, “Chicago Police Solve 1 in every 20 Shootings: Here are some reasons why that is so low,” Chicago Tribune, August 8, 2018.) Leovy argues that the alienation in many poor black communities today is as much a result of under-policing as over-policing.

ghetttosidedetective john skaggsblack and white

Pictured: John Skaggs, a 30-year veteran of the LAPD who retired in 2017. He is a central character in Ghettoside. Staffing police departments with more detectives, and more detectives like John Skaggs, would go a long way towards providing security to people living in impoverished communities, as would a return to a “to serve and protect” ethos, rather than one of “us versus them.”

Leovy documents the bona fide fear of physical harm that people have in these communities if they agree to testify in court. Perhaps a good place to begin to rebuild trust of the police in these communities is for the state to expend the resources to consistently protect potential witnesses. Wouldn’t doing so be an opportunity to find some mutual understanding and common ground among Blue Lives and Black Lives supporters?

Both the harsh policing and the mortal danger to the residents of the communities Leovy describes are shameful. But so is the fact that so many Americans only seem to see one or the other of these two, very related problems.

black lives matter     blue lives matter

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A Visual Illustration of the Decline of Consensus in the U.S. Congress

Sure, American politics has always been adversarial, but this one minute “dancing dots” video beautifully illustrates how much less consensus there is in American politics today than has historically been the case.

Families, businesses, sports teams and religious congregations whose members constantly fight with one another are weaker than ones that can put their differences aside and work towards common goals. Most of us know this from experience. So it is with governments. In America today we live in a country where infighting has become the principal activity of the people who govern us. Compromise is viewed as weakness or betrayal.

It is ironic (but also an important historical lesson) that President Ronald Reagan, the most successful modern conservative Republican President, was an advocate for compromise. He understood that the purpose of politics is governing, and that governing inevitably requires compromise. As he told aides on many occasions, ‘I’d rather get 80 percent of what I want than go over the cliff with my flag flying.” [For more on President Reagan in historical context, click here.]

Isn’t it again time to hold our politicians accountable for compromising to achieve results, to insist that they play together nicely, like we expect our children and grandchildren to do?

Closing out the Liberal Republican Biographies (For Now)

In addition to the seven Liberal Republican politicians profiled during the last couple of months on the website and Facebook page, many other progressive and moderate Republicans were leading legislators, state governors, Cabinet officers and judicial officials from the 1940’s to the 1970’s and later. Please share with us your stories about these politicians, as many readers have done about the seven Liberal Republicans already profiled.

Here is a list of other liberal and moderate Republicans. [For more on these politicians, click here]:

john anderson             olympia snowe

John Anderson of Illinois‎                                                         Olympia Snowe of Maine

warren                     scranton color

Earl Warren of California                                                William Scranton of Pennsylvania

Charles Percy of Illinois

Elliott Richardson of Massachusetts

Lowell Weicker of Connecticut

Thomas Kuchel of California

Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania

Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island

John Lindsay of New York

Howard Baker of Tennessee

Richard Lugar of Indiana

Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania and

Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania.

These public servants held a wide variety of political views. Sometimes they were liberal on some issues and not on others. Many held views that became more liberal the longer they served. Unfortunately, none would have a place in today’s Republican Party.

If America is again to be a place where consensus politics is the norm, it is essential that the Republican Party again becomes a place where politicians such as these are welcome. And unless consensus politics again becomes the norm, the U.S. is likely to be condemned to slowly decline, as our current gridlocked political system fails to deal effectively with matters that only effective government can address.

Historic Liberal Republicans: Millicent Fenwick

millicentMillicent Vernon Hammond Fenwick (February 25, 1910-September 16, 1992) was a Republican Congresswoman from New Jersey, “the Katharine Hepburn of politics”, who served four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. She was first elected to Congress in 1974 at the age of sixty-four. (Her election was portrayed in the media as a “geriatric triumph”, remarkable given the advanced age of many leading politicians in Washington D.C. today.) Fenwick became, in the words of television anchorman Walter Cronkite, “the conscience of Congress.”

Fenwick was born into a wealthy family and raised in New Jersey. Millicent’s mother died while a passenger aboard the ocean liner Lusitania, which was struck by a torpedo from a German submarine. Her mother had been traveling to Paris for the purpose of creating a hospital for World War I victims. Millicent was just five years old at the time.

Fenwick attended an elite school in Virginia but never received a high school or college degree, having left school to accompany her father to Spain where he served as the United States ambassador under President Calvin Coolidge. However, she studied at the New School for Social Research and Columbia University in New York, and spoke fluent Italian, French and Spanish. Before entering politics she modeled briefly for Harper’s Bazaar magazine, then worked as a writer and editor for Vogue magazine for fourteen years.

In the 1950’s she became involved in the Civil Rights movement. While serving in Congress she supported civil rights, the women’s movement, human rights (she was a lead sponsor of the resolution creating the commission to monitor the 1975 Helsinki Accords, which eventually gave rise to the organization Human Rights Watch), and opposed government corruption and special interest groups.  (She stated, somewhat ironically given the state of American politics today,  “The money that is spent in elections is absolutely unconscionable – even if it’s private money. It’s true that one’s not corrupted by the expenditure of one’s own money, but to some extent the system is. We cannot have a system in which the only people you can count on for a vote that doesn’t look as though it might be a vote for a special-interest group are people with enormous fortunes.”) She fought for bathrooms for migrant workers (which won her the name “Outhouse Millie”), to protect car buyers from deceptive advertising, and to require funeral directors to itemize bills in advance. She was an advocate for gun control and prison reform.

Fenwick smoked a pipe (a habit begun after her doctor discouraged her from smoking cigarettes). She was in many other ways a colorful figure, purportedly inspiring the Lacey Davenport character in Garry Trudeau’s Doonsbury cartoon. She inherited a fortune when her father passed in 1956, but remained frugal, driving a Chevrolet in a community of luxury automobiles. She placed her assets in a blind trust to avoid political conflicts of interest.

Click here to read about more Historic Liberal Republicans.

Historic Liberal Republicans: George Romney

George Wilcken Romney (July 8, 1907 – July 26, 1995) was an American businessman and Republican Party politician. He was chairman and president of the American Motors Corporation from 1954 to 1962, the 43rd Governor of Michigan from 1963 to 1969, and the United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 1969 to 1973. He was the father of Mitt Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts and the 2012 Republican presidential nominee.romney1

Romney served as a Mormon missionary in the United Kingdom and attended several colleges in the U.S. but did not graduate from any. He served as the chief spokesman for the automobile industry during World War II. He became the chief executive of American Motors Corporation in 1954. At American Motors he turned around the then struggling firm by focusing all efforts on the compact Rambler car. Romney mocked the products of the “Big Three” automakers as “gas-guzzling dinosaurs.”

Romney ran for Governor of Michigan in 1962 as an independent-minded reformer defending the individual against the power of “Big Labor, Big Industry, and Big Government.” He was elected and then subsequently re-elected in 1964 and 1966 with increasingly large support. As Governor, Romney worked to overhaul the state’s finances, greatly expanding the size of state government and introducing Michigan’s first state income tax. He succeeded in attracting businesses to the state and in cutting unemployment to below the national average. Romney had also inherited an $85 million budget deficit, but he left office with a surplus. Romney led the way for a large increase in state spending on education, and Michigan thereby began to develop one of the nation’s most comprehensive systems of higher education. (I went to the University of Michigan — Go Blue.)

Romney also was a strong supporter of the American Civil Rights Movement. During his first State of the State address in January 1963, Romney declared that “Michigan’s most urgent human rights problem is racial discrimination—in housing, public accommodations, education, administration of justice, and employment.”

Romney decried both the large influence of labor unions within the Democratic Party and the similarly large influence of big business within the Republican Party. Romney opened his office in the Michigan State Capitol to visitors, spending five minutes with every citizen who wanted to speak with him on Thursday mornings, and he was always sure to shake the hands of schoolchildren visiting the capitol. He almost always eschewed political activities on Sunday, the Mormon Sabbath. Romney saw a moral dimension in every issue and he held his political views with as much fervor as his religious ones. Writer Theodore H. White said “the first quality that surfaced, as one met and talked with George Romney over a number of years, was a sincerity so profound that, in conversation, one was almost embarrassed.”

In the 1964 U.S. presidential election, Senator Barry Goldwater quickly became the likely Republican Party nominee. Goldwater represented a new wave of American conservatism, of which the moderate Romney was not a part. Romney declared, “If [Goldwater’s] views deviate as indicated from the heritage of our Party, I will do everything within my power to keep him from becoming the Party’s Presidential nominee.” During the Fall 1964 general election, Romney cut himself off from the national ticket, refusing to appear on the same stage with Goldwater. 

Romney campaigned for Governor in mostly Democratic areas and, when pressed at campaign appearances about whether he was supporting Goldwater, he replied, “You know darn well I’m not!” Romney was re-elected as Governor of Michigan in 1964 by a large margin, despite Goldwater’s landslide defeat to President Lyndon B. Johnson that swept away many other Republican candidates.

Romney was a front runner for the Republican nomination for President of the United States in the 1968 election, but Richard Nixon won the nomination and the election. Nixon later appointed Romney as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

The 1968 Fair Housing Act, passed months earlier in the aftermath of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., directed the government to ‘affirmatively further’ fair housing. When Romney became the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, he believed those words gave him the authority to pressure predominantly white communities into building more affordable housing and end discriminatory zoning practices. Romney sought to use his power as secretary of Housing and Urban Development to remake America’s housing patterns, which he described as a “high-income white noose” around the Black inner city. Romney ordered HUD officials to reject applications for water, sewer and highway projects from cities and states in which local policies fostered segregated housing. He dubbed his initiative ‘Open Communities’ but did not clear it with the White House. As word spread that HUD was turning down grants, Nixon’s supporters in the South and in white Northern suburbs took their complaints directly to the President.”

Open Communities conflicted with Nixon’s so-called “Southern strategy” forcing Romney to back down and release federal monies unconditionally in cities that resisted Romney’s policies. At one point, Nixon told his chief of staff, Haldeman, “Just keep [Romney] away from me.”

Romney was a proud member of the Ripon Society, a centrist public policy organization that was the intellectual heart of moderate Republicanism. While Romney condemned the violence that befell Detroit during the riots there in 1967, he acknowledged that urban unrest was deeply rooted in economic deprivation. Speaking days after the riot, he affirmed, “The drive for human justice has gained ground during the past few years. All our efforts have not been wasted, all our programs designed to bring about equal opportunity are not now valueless. We must not permit a backlash to weaken the valuable programs and policies designed to bring about first-class status for all citizens. ‘We must arouse ourselves from our comfort, pleasure, and preoccupations,’ and “listen to the voices from the ghetto.’”

Click here to read about more Historic Liberal Republicans.