Suddenly, there is great interest in the 1960s. Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) explained in a Fox News interview that Senator Hillary Clinton (D-New York) couldn’t bring the country together because she was still fighting the battles of the 60s. This week’s Newsweek cover story features the year 1968 as the year that made us who we are. Tom Brokaw has a book coming out about the voices of the 60s. Obviously, the “Boomers” aren’t going to leave the scene quietly.
Lots of folks have lots to say about the people and the events of the “Age of Aquarius” – the student occupation of administration buildings on campuses across the nation, the violent demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, the bloody race riots and tragic assassinations. The focus, though, is primarily on the people and the events of that turbulent period of American history. Granted, the people and the events were unprecedented, and the era was the very definition of cultural breakdown, but the gory accounts generally don’t include the federal policies that were instituted during that era that continue to contribute to our national woes.
Two 1960s policy “innovations” were especially destructive. The Flemming Rule (1960) was named for Arthur Flemming, then head of the Department of Health and Human Services, who issued an administrative ruling that states could not deny eligibility for income assistance through the AFDC program on the grounds that a home was “unsuitable” because the woman’s children were illegitimate. In 1968, the Supreme Court’s “Man-in-the-House” rule struck down the practice of states declaring a home unsuitable (i.e., an immoral environment) if there was a man in the house not married to the mother. Thus, out-of-wedlock births and cohabitation were legitimized. In very short order, the number on welfare tripled and child poverty climbed dramatically. Unbelievably, President Bill Clinton awarded Arthur Flemming his second Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contributions to American society.
Innovation, though, does not constitute progress unless the benefits are greater than its costs – unless the intended consequences are larger than the unintended consequences. In our national history of trial and error, boom or bust, there are numerous economic and social policies that have ignored the realities of human nature with its propensities, flaws and limitations. James Madison, the father of the American Constitution, was mindful of the propensity of human nature to abuse power, and he deliberately designed a government with carefully drawn boundaries; the separation of powers between the branches of government provides essential checks and balances.
Liberals tend to ignore the need to constrain evil behavior; they see bad environmental influences as the source of evil, rather than acknowledging the existence of evil that needs to be constrained.
So what were the results of the Flemming Rule and the “Man-in-the-House” rule? These two rulings were significant features of the “War on Poverty.” Yet, the number of children living in poverty at the outset of the War on Poverty was only 13.8 percent; subsequently it climbed to a high of 22 percent before finally beginning to decline after the Welfare Reform of 1996 was enacted over the furious protests of liberals. The number of unmarried couples living together in the United States is 10 times larger today than in 1970. Many of these couples have children, despite the instability of these relationships, whose rate of the dissolution is many times higher than that of married couples. Female-headed households with related children in the United States have increased a whopping 250 percent since 1970. This is important for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the poverty rate of children living in mother-only families is five times that of children living in married couple families.
Since Welfare Reform in 1996, the welfare caseload has declined 66 percent, and the poverty rate of children in mother-only families has dropped dramatically. Policy counts!
We are seeing dramatic results in declining teen sexual activity, pregnancies and abortions because of the Bush Administration’s commitment to abstinence education. The abortion rate per thousand teens aged 15-19 has been cut in half since 1988. Adolescent pregnancy rates have dropped from 17.5 to a low of 8.1 per thousand – note that, given the decline in the teen abortion rates, this decline in pregnancies is obviously not because of any increase in the number of pregnancies that are being aborted. These numbers are particularly dramatic among the black population. Births to black 10-14 year olds are down 56 percent. Black child poverty has declined dramatically as black unwed teen birthrates have dropped by 40 percent. Policy counts!
We are finally reversing some of the negative impact of the misguided policies of the 1960s. We MUST continue to enact policies that produce desirable outcomes.
Today the five words, “Houston, we’ve got a problem” is part of the vernacular. With those words, Jim Lovell signaled ground controllers that Apollo 13 was threatened by a malfunction of the oxygen system. Gene Kranz, the flight director, will forever be remembered for having responded to the crisis by confronting his ground crew with an equally cryptic five-word demand: “Failure is not an option.” They went to work and – with the sort of American ingenuity of which we are all justly proud – brought the astronauts back home to earth safely. The celebration among Americans was like Christmas, New Year’s and the Fourth of July all rolled into one.
That was 1970. But then, three years later, the Supreme Court ruled that the lives of those who might one day become astronauts, football players, musicians, or even presidents, don’t count if they have not yet emerged from the womb. Thirty-four years later and 45 million children aborted, we should finally realize that POLICY COUNTS. And it is leaders in government, at all levels and in all branches, who make policy.
Today, the United States faces election 2008, and now more than the lives of just three American astronauts are on the line. The future of millions of unborn babies hangs in the balance. In truth, the policies enacted by the next administration will affect the lives of all Americans over the next few years. Will government policies be grounded in truth, justice, and reality, or will they once again be based on pie-in-the-sky utopian schemes?
If, heaven forbid, social conservatives stay home from the polls, we’ll end up seeing a crop of unrealistic policies sprout from the White House and Congress like dandelions on a warm spring day.