This week, first daughter Ivanka Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) unveiled an outline for their plan for paid parental and family leave. The plan would allow families to take time against their Social Security retirement age at their discretion.
This notion is apparently unacceptable to most on the Left and a few on the Right. Those people believe that the government has a stake in childbearing and childrearing, and that the government should therefore incentivize behavior through subsidies, even if it means borrowing money from China to make it happen. That’s not a surprise coming from George W. Bush-style “compassionate conservatives,” but it is a surprise coming from the same Left that declared traditional marriage a relic, suggesting that same-sex marriage was its functional equivalent — even though the basis of government preferring traditional marriage to same-sex marriage lies in traditional marriage’s function with regard to childbearing and childrearing.
How, then, can the Left embrace the notion of a big government program promoting childbearing and childrearing over those who choose not to do so? By suggesting that the family is a function of the government itself.
Leading the way is Elizabeth Bruenig of The Washington Post, who tweeted:
Now, people having children is not a “collective concern.” In fact, that talking point, trotted out by Hillary “It Takes A Village” Clinton so often, is typically a way for the Left to leverage power over the family rather than preserving it as an institution: if the government has a role in shaping families, then why shouldn’t the government issue educational edicts, determine proper family size, and control all aspects of parental behavior?
To support this notion, the Left claims that the family is a building block for society, and is only valuable because of its role to society at large — and that therefore, the government has a role in shaping families. Here’s Bruenig again:
It’s a highly individualized way of dealing with the facts of family life — which by their nature are communal issues: Babies and children need caregivers, mothers and fathers need time and money to give care, elderly grandparents and great-grandparents need companionship and assistance. Babies and children learn and grow, adults work and produce, and the elderly help and rest. There is a place for every stage of the life cycle in the grand order of things, and a just state would ideally defer to that natural rhythm.
None of these were historically “communal” issues — or at least, they weren’t governmental issues. Families were expected to deal with their own children; mothers and fathers were expected to deal with childcare; grandparents were expected to rely on their children, primarily, for support. Government skewed all of these relationships, but to pretend that the institution of family relied in the first instance on government is to misread history in dramatic fashion.
Bruenig also quotes St. Augustine in defense of the notion that the family is a political body. But she ignores the fact that traditional religious thought has placed the family before the community and the society in time and importance; she acknowledges that “families formed political communities,” but then ignores the fact that families created political communities to protect their familial rights, not to sponge off of those who did not have families. The goal of families creating societies is to be protected from others, not to be guided by others. And the same government than can offer cash for families with kids can tell families how to raise those kids.
In the end, society has an interest in families, of course. But that interest can never supplant families’ interest in their own self-governance — and that self-governance comes along with responsibility.