A recent poll showed that 79% of Americans are dissatisfied with the direction America is headed, with only 21% satisfied. What is more alarming is there is “no real consensus anymore what the ‘right track’ is.” [i]
American voters have regularly switched their support between the Democrats and the Republicans during presidential election years. The truth is the voters are dissatisfied with both parties, with neither party addressing the basic desires of the American voter. There seems to be a void not being met. Voters want more complete leadership and are not finding it.
Many believe there is something missing from the political discussion. Until this missing element is identified, our problems will continue to worsen. But what is it?
This essay suggests that…
…the missing element is the critical role responsible families play in society.
Both major political parties are so focused on what the government does that the important work done within the home is overlooked.
It can be argued that a system of limited government is based upon a large number of responsible families that don’t need government handouts. Yet, neither party has a plan to increase the number of responsible families. To the contrary, Democrats want to increase the size of the state, which creates more dependent families, while Republicans wish to decrease the role of the state, with no corresponding plan to increase the number of responsible families.
The purpose of this essay is to show that strengthening the number of responsible families is the key to addressing budget deficits, lowering crime and violence, reducing illegal drug usage, improving the economy, reducing social costs, improving education, and a host of other issues facing America.
Several misconceptions about the relationship between government and the family have not allowed a fruitful discussion to emerge in this important area.
Misconceptions about the Family
Before we can discuss the potential power of the family in shaping public policy, a few misconceptions about the family need to be addressed.
Let’s be clear on one point, the government cannot mandate responsible families. Families must build themselves; *no government edict can require good familial behavior or responsible parenting. Rebuilding families is a voluntary effort. Government can create legal structures that recognize the inalienable responsibilities of families which will allow families to self-strengthen.
The power of responsible families, in my opinion, has never been fully realized at any time in the history of the world. For example, the focus of history books is on the role of the rulers and government officials—not families. Families have been taken for granted and seen as a useful resource for rulers to exploit. In modern times, Marx, Hitler, and others have seen the family as an impediment to the growth of the state. Communism tries to remove the natural affection a child has with his or her parents and reattach it to the state.
However, there are those within the Republican Party and different religious groups that have tried to point out the importance of the family. These supporters, in my opinion, have made three basic errors.
#1. An argument is made to support the family from a religious framework.
This belief comes from the teachings of the Christian and Jewish religions that recognize that God joined Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in marriage, where they were commanded to have children.
The value of the family stands on its own merits solely by looking at the data. Two-parent married families have significant quantitative advantages to other type of child rearing arraignments. Making a religious argument for the family confuses the issue and by making the role of the family a religious argument rather than a data-driven discussion. What should determine policy is facts, experience, and reason. The facts are clearly on the side of increasing the number of responsible families.
Responsible families come in many different forms: traditional, single, and mixed. I suggest, when it comes to government policy, we take religion out of the equation, so that the reality of the value of responsible families can be clearly discussed without getting sidetracked with religious sentiments.
#2. Family values
Many politicians say they support family values. What does this mean? What is a family value, and should legislative bodies be determining what values families have? I think the answer is obvious: “no”. In a free society, with many different belief systems, families should choose their own values.
A politician supporting family values may sound good; however, what does this mean? Because the term “family values” is so vague, it provides little direction in setting policy. It may be worse than saying nothing, because it gives the impression that something wonderful is being supported, with absolutely nothing solid or concrete behind the words.
#3. Family Structure
Many family discussions focus on the type of family structure as the most important factor. A lot of effort has been expended on supporting the traditional family structure of a married man and woman. Data indicates that this family form has many advantages and results in success more often than other types of family structure. However, focusing on the “structure” of the family overlooks the one characteristic all successful families have regardless of structure and that is an inherent sense of personal responsibility. This sense of responsibility can be nurtured in all family structures, not just traditional families.
The problem with focusing on the traditional family structure is that other family structures feel left out and deficient. They feel like they are not worthy. Plus, not all men and women who want a traditional family can have one. What are we to do about them? Are they to be left out of the discussion? Of course not.
In reality, viewing the family through the lens of religion, family values, or family structure misses the central point in family strengthen and development – a sense of personal responsibility.
I believe there are two types of families – responsible and irresponsible families. Families either feel responsible to provide for their own food, clothing, housing, medical care, oversee the education of their children, training, transportation, etc. or a family allows these basic needs to be met by others through government programs. The outcomes of these two worldviews are stark:
These are just a few examples of the power of responsible families. Reality seems to dictate that policy makers should spend more time discussing the impact of responsible families on the government and how to increase the number of responsible families than any other issue.
Increasing the number of responsible families is the key to reducing taxes, reducing drug usage, stabilizing the economy, improving education, reducing medical costs, reducing inflation, and the list goes on and on.
Imagine what progress could be made in Idaho if the value of responsible families takes center stage in political discussions and in the culture, in general. Everyone’s lives would be appreciably improved. Making this small, but basic, shift in thinking will not happen by itself. While the data is easily available that demonstrates the value and importance of personal responsibility, making a cultural shift from relying upon government action to helping families take responsibility will take effort.
This effort must be led by a dedicated group of individuals that can change paradigms by sharing data in understandable ways and organizing an outreach effort for families to show them how many options they currently have to empower themselves: from home schooling; the Department of Education Advanced Opportunities Program; workforce training programs; the Innovative Classroom law; or creating micro-schools with public funds.
A small investment in an organized effort to create policy, education outreach, and networking over a five-year period could change the political discussion for generations to come.
The ultimate result: a substantially positive change in the American citizenry’s perception and consensus of the direction in which the Nation is headed.
** A classic example of the government not being able to “mandate responsible families” is homeschooling. In Idaho in the late 1970s, it was illegal to homeschool. A homeschool family caught teaching its family at home was arrested and placed in custody. The family did not believe in participating in government mandates, so it did not seek legal redress—and languished in jail. In 2009, Idaho’s Compulsory Education Law was unanimously amended to provide homeschoolers with a clear right to teach their own children, free from intrusive government involvement. This law allowed parents to choose to homeschool, or not. Parents can now choose to assume the responsibility to home educate, or not. Legal structures are needed in other situations to protect and allow families to take back the responsibility that is theirs by the dictates of natural law.