Politics and the Family
The Top Ten Family Issues

by Richard Eyre

In the earlier two columns in this series, the case was made for the family as the basic unit of society and some “hard questions” were suggested that ought to be asked of politicians regarding how they would serve and prioritize the family.  This third column will attempt to expand our understanding of which issues affect families most and suggest some positive and family-prioritizing directions (some of which are fairly radical) that public policy should take.  To give it a little “late night TV feeling” lets call it the “Top Ten List”:

  1. Issues of Morality and Values. Despite the old clich that you can’t legislate morality, there are common values that are shared by all sectors of our society and our demographics, and if government works to enhance and promote these positive character traits and family-centered priorities, we will end up saving some of the public money that goes to welfare, disabilities, safety, and crime. For starters we should have a required class on ethics for seventh graders and on family skills and responsibilities for high school juniors. And we should even consider reinstating Sunday closing laws which encouraged family time and communication on that day.
  1. Jobs and Economic Development. It’s the quality of jobs that matters to families, not the quantity. Economic growth, if it comes in the form of more low-paying jobs, will hurt our lifestyles, our environment, and our families. What we need are jobs that pay enough that one of them can support a family. And we need enlightened employers who know that parents (especially single parents and situations where both parents work) need options like flex time and home offices and job-sharing and generous maternity or paternity leave. 
  1. Health Care. The current chaos is killing families. Health insurance, as it exists is not really insurance at all but a system for paying exorbitant amounts in advance for health care. We need to make health care a market system with caps on damages, written cost estimates, alternative posted lower “price lists for patients who will sign hold harmless agreements,” and high deductible insurance plans that allow people to pay their own bills except in catastrophic situations.
  1. Taxation Shifts. A system oriented to more taxes on consumption and less taxes on income or on property encourages saving, investment, and delayed gratification, the very things that stabilize families. We should decrease state income taxes (especially for families through a much higher child exemption) and property taxes and make up the revenue by raising sales taxes on everything except food.
  1. Educational Choice. Studies show that the single most influential factor in the quality of a child’s education is the interest and involvement of the parent. We should put parents in charge by making them the consumers in a “free market” school system. We need school choice, tuition tax credits, many more Charter schools, alternative certification for specialized potential teachers, and education vouchers for all parents.  In some places, it may even be possible to use neighborhood church buildings as charter or private schools to remove the pressure to build expensive new schools as child populations grow.
  1. Service and Humanitarian Outreach. While it’s not usually thought of as a political issue, connecting the Third World with the First World may be the key to saving both worlds. We live in what is fast becoming a global economy and a global society, yet the rich continue to get richer as the poor get poorer. Third World families worry about hunger, thirst, disease, and no opportunity for their children. First World parents worry about materialism, substance abuse, eating disorders, instant gratification and lack of perspective in their children. Both sides’ problems are solved by bringing them together. We need more Sister Cities Projects with places in the developing world, with school-to-school exchanges and stewardships and with state supported humanitarian expeditions. (Out of this orientation would come a more charitable and volunteer-oriented attitude to the poverty problems within our own communities). Government could even promote and sponsor a televised “Time Telethon” where service and volunteer hours and commitments were raised to help deal with social problems that are too expensive for public budgets. A “National Service Corps” could be established with the same objective.
  1. Political and Campaign Reform. If we want our children to avoid becoming disillusioned and alienated by politics as usual, we must begin to enact reforms that get us away from money and special-interest politics. Stronger disclosure laws, contribution limits, and campaign spending limits are the first step. And we should persuade local TV channels to give every finalist candidate in primary and general elections for major offices a full half hour of air time following the late news in the ten days before the vote.
  1. Environment and Transportation. The environment, including everything from our scenery to our air and water is a great family asset as well as a great tourism and economic asset. And the ability of families to get from place to place and to have access to this nation’s abundant natural beauties is an important issue. We need to balance environmentalism and economic progress, to have a “market approach” to air pollution in which polluters pay for their sins, to get high-emission cars off the road, and to get parents home to their kids a little earlier by instigating one-way systems, more H.O.V. lanes, and timed lights in center cities.
  1. Family Focused Use of Bully Pulpit. Perhaps the least specific but ultimately most effective issue is the need for more public dialogue and political rhetoric to center on the priority and strengthening of families. After all, family breakup and disintegration is a major reason for increasing government spending and for economic cycles of recession. To spearhead more public dialogue about the status and plight of American families, a cabinet level “coordinator of family emphasis” should be appointed.
  1. “Clout” and Political Influence. Families have no attention-demanding political clout because children can’t vote and parents, despite the huge responsibility they bear in raising society’s new generation, have only one vote like anyone else. Why not make families the most pandered-to special interest of all by giving parents an additional vote for each under-voting age child.

Lets hope, in this upcoming political season, that we can get politicians talking more about family- oriented and parent supportive solutions to these and other issues.  You can do your part by emailing this column (or parts of it) to candidates for office and by suggesting to other parents that they do the same.  Why shouldn’t parents become the strongest special interest of all?  They could save this country by doing so!
Tune in next column for an in depth look at a devious and dastardly plan to destroy families and some suggestions about what we can do to thwart it

2004 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.