Tuesday, December 01, 2009

What women can do for your country

New Yorker:

In 1971, a bipartisan group of senators, led by Walter Mondale, came up with legislation that would have established both early-education programs and after-school care across the country. Tuition would be on a sliding scale based on a family’s income bracket, and the program would be available to everyone but participation was required of no one. Both houses of Congress passed the bill.

Nobody remembers this, because, later that year, President Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Child Development Act, declaring that it “would commit the vast moral authority of the National Government to the side of communal approaches to child rearing” and undermine “the family-centered approach.”

If the Comprehensive Child Development Act was alive today, would it be dead by now? No sooner than the ink hits paper do the rights won today become the entitlements "reformed" tomorrow -- unless the very social unrest which won them in the first place is perennially renewed.

Today we are as far from affordable child-care for all as we are from employers ponying up the compensation necessary to sustain the single-income, "family-centered approach." After the second world war, unions brought the country closest to the latter; in the 70's, women brought us nearest to the former.  In neither case has the movement been sustained; in both have victories yielded under incessant attack.

The outcome, predictably, has been bad.  Two wage-earners raising a child on television is not a viable scheme, to say nothing of the parent who goes it alone. Whether the solution is "communal" or "family-centered," those groups currently subsidized by the breakdown of family life deserve to be put on notice. Much like the success of the labor and women's movements, this promises to be as "divisive" as it ever was -- by today's standards, even if it is done half as well.


RLaing said...

I like his notion that the National Government has a 'vast moral authority'. True perhaps, in the sense that moral feeling is a perception, and great power implies great ability to shape perceptions.

But anyway, to address the issue you raise, while it is true that a complacent public can expect a steady erosion of its rights, I doubt that public anger on its own will necessarily reverse that process.

For one thing, if repression succeeds, there is no need for reform, and if repression fails, reform cannot be stopped, or at least the present crop of leaders loses controlof the issue. A partial move in the direction of serving the public interest implies turmoil, where repression has not yet failed, but looks likely to.

It helps in that regard if the leaders have before them examples of successful revolutions in other places. To my mind, this goes a long way towards explaining the hysterical reaction to popular revolt in even very small countries.

JRB said...

Public anger is ultimately directed at one target or another. Ours is to ensure it is pointed in the right direction -- not back at ourselves.