A couple of years ago, a Facebook friend posted a poster bragging that single mothers had raised the two best presidents of modern times, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. She got mad at me when I countered that their mothers may have been divorced multiple times, but neither was single long. Furthermore, in the case of President Obama, he was co-raised by his grandparents.
Last week, a similar poster appeared on Facebook along with a criticism of Jeb Bush for something he wrote two decades ago in a book, Profiles in Character. In a chapter titled “The Restoration of Shame,” Bush apparently blamed the “irresponsible conduct” of births to unmarried women on a flagging sense of community ridicule and shaming.
When Bush was recently asked by MSNBC about the passage, he responded, “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. 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.”
NY Times columnist Charles Blow recently challenged Bush’s position and instead opined a two-prong solution:
- First, we should seek to reduce the level of unintended pregnancies in this country. 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.
I agree with both men. Blow’s solutions involve government activity, and that is especially appropriate here since many policy analysts believe that the government’s welfare policy played a large role in causing the disappearance of the dad from many families. But Bush’s concern for cultural decay is also appropriate because government policy alone does not dictate morality and values.