When Lenin, that architect of tyranny, asked his famous question--"What is to be done?"--his response was to overturn the foundations of civil society. Right question, wrong answer. America, now the free world's most violent nation, faces a historic moment of similar magnitude. What is to be done, by us, to restore the family as the surest basis of civil order, the strongest foundation for free enterprise, the safest home of freedom?
It is a question that official Washington seems incapable of answering. Instead of acknowledging the role of the traditional family in sustaining a democratic order, Congress continues at best to ignore, and at worst to undermine, that role in everything from education and health to aging and crime. In addition, Congress has placed new financial pressures on the family. Last year it repealed the Young Child Tax Credit, a Bush-era innovation to provide low-income households a refundable tax credit (about $500 per child) to help them care for newborns and toddlers. Meanwhile, President Clinton's tax hike--$255 billion over five years--will fall squarely on the American family, both in direct levies and higher prices.
ABDICATION, NOT ANALYSIS
It is now an oft-repeated truism that the problems of the family transcend public policy and that their solutions must therefore come primarily from outside government. That valid observation is easily distorted, however, into the specious assertion that there isn't much government can do to reverse the downward spiral of family life in this nation.
That is abdication, not analysis. The more we discover what government has done to undermine family life over the last three decades, the clearer it becomes that public policy must have a central role in restoring to America a family order of things.
Theologians tell us that prudence is one of the four cardinal virtues, the crucial good habits upon which all others depend. Much will depend upon the prudence of the pro-family movement in the months ahead. It would be short-sighted for the movement to allow its current mode of opposition, necessary as it is, to define its long-range future. Instead, a pro-family agenda must aim to reconstruct a now devastated mosaic of interrelationships, values, and assumptions. Rather than losing ourselves amid the many fragments, we can begin by setting in place the key pieces that give coherence to the whole picture.
RESTORE FAMILY PROSPERITY
The first piece is pro-family economic policy. That's not because money is the most important element in family life, but because government's appetite for the family's cash has been a crucial factor in creating its current plight. Most of us have heard the numbers. If today's personal exemption accounted for the same proportion of family income as it did in 1948, it would be about $8,000, not $2,350.
That means government has moved from sheltering families to crushing them. Despite all the talk about women having choices in our newly egalitarian work place, the ugly reality is that millions of American women have been "put to work." In Uncle Sam's new tax order, it's become the only way to maintain a decent lifestyle for their families.
Consider the cultural ripple effects of a dramatic increase in the personal exemption. For example, how many moderate-income families might, for the first time, be able to choose their children's schools? How many households would reconsider the necessity of having two earners? How many would pursue home schooling? How many parents, whether moms or dads, would find more time to spend with the kids and less to spend on the job?
To open up these opportunities, two House freshmen, Rod Grams and Tim Hutchinson, have introduced legislation to provide an across-the-board tax credit of $500 per child, to compensate in part for the erosion of the personal exemption. Their bill also would establish a commission, along the lines of Representative Dick Armey's successful Base-Closure Commission, to present Congress with a take-it-or-leave-it package of off-setting spending reductions. …