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June 22, 2013


Approximately 30 -35 years ago when Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Ronald Reagan were polarizing America with their “family values” chatter, we did not hear of the 47% of America catchphrase Republicans used in this last presidential campaign of 2012. We were instead treated to the phrase “welfare queens” by Reagan and all sorts of horror stories on teen age pregnancies, “cycles of dependency,” “bums” who won’t support their children (per Gingrich, a then up-and-coming member and soon-to-be Speaker of the House), and other such tales of undeserved welfare, non-support of children, welfare and food stamp fraud, heightened crime statistics, and other such indicia of an undereducated and poverty-stricken sector of our populace. Somehow, Republicans had seized the initiative on the family values “issue” at the time and were painting Democrats as the party that favored such atrocious social behavior. Democrats were the bad guys who not only preferred but encouraged such conduct. All we Democrats wanted was their vote.

We now know who encouraged such conduct by their votes on minimum wages, education, and each and every other poverty-fighting measure brought before the Congress – and it wasn’t Democrats. It was Republicans who loved to complain about the problems but refused to do anything about correcting them – they talked of effects and not causes – it’s as though they wanted such campaign issues to remain unsolved forever so they could capitalize on them for political purposes, kicking the people who were down under moral cover (a cover that apparently excluded the Parable of the Good Samaritan).

So let’s talk moral cover: Pat Robertson at the time said that this country’s “ruinous moral decay and social breakdown” was caused by “a thirty-year war that the radical Left has waged against the traditional family,” and Newt Gingrich told anyone who would listen at the time that America’s social decay is the result of “a long pattern of counter-culture belief. . . deep in the Democratic Party” that has “undervalued the family.” Implicit in such evaluation of the poor and undereducated is the idea that we ought to keep them that way because they are both secular and religious sinners and undeserving of the same consideration other citizens deserve.

I will give only one example of “family values” here before going on to what “family values” really are (as described by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich), and it is this: Newt Gingrich, that great spokesman for “family values,” left his first wife and his two teen-aged children for another woman, and his first wife had to take him to court because he refused to provide adequate child support to such a point that his church had to take up a collection to help his kids. Every time I read that Gingrich spouts off (as he did in a book at the time) that “any male who does not take care of his children is a bum,” I bristle, especially when I hear the further story of how he showed up at his first wife’s bed who was in a hospital with cancer and tried to wheedle a divorce settlement out of her. If that is “family values” in practice, I want nothing to do with it. I don’t believe in kicking people while they are down, but he did, and he had plenty of company in the Republican party, who even then valued Wall Street over people.

We Democrats made a mistake when we allowed the Republicans of that day and age to seize the initiative and define just what “family values” are. Government should spend more time and resources on helping people with programs designed to improve their situations so that they may improve such values, not trash and starve them and under-educate them so that they have no weapons for improvement. Republicans of that day were not believers in doing anything about the CAUSES of such social breakdown; they were content to publicize the RESULTS of such breakdown for political purposes. That was and is the wrong way to go, whether from a secular or moral stance. Those complaining about the morality of it all should look in the mirror.

The following is a quote to which I fully subscribe: a speech given by then Labor Secretary Robert Reich before the National Baptist Convention on June 21, 1995, at San Diego, California, in which he correctly defined “family values:”

“We honor family values every time we create a job. We honor family values every time children have a safe place to go when their parents are at work. We honor family values every time we secure a working person’s pension. We honor family values every time we teach a child to learn. We honor family values every time we move a young mother from welfare to work, or help a worker get better skills, or help someone who has lost a job to find a new one.”

Republicans then (and I fear now) have a very narrow and politically suffused idea of what “family values” are – and aren’t. I don’t see how beating on the poor and undereducated serves the purpose(s) Republicans claim to want – economically independent and stronger family units in American society.

I submit that Robert Reich’s 18 year-old definitions above stated treats causes of our decline in “family values,” and that Republican efforts discuss only the results of such decline. There is a big difference in approach, and I wish, for once, that our Republican opponents would move away from their special interests’ campaign contributions and help us Democrats solve some of these ongoing problems in our larger society. Problems of the poor and undereducated have been in fact solved elsewhere, and if we all pulled together, we could solve them here. Am I dreaming? I hope not. Let’s do it.  GERALD  E


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