Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Reading Rick: Part 2 (Social Capital and the Ties That Bind)

This posting refers to pages 43-116 of Rick Santorum's book It Takes a Family.

Part Two: Social Capital and the Ties That bind

Chapter V: What Kind of Freedom?
Chapter VI: Habits of Association
Chapter VII: Trust and Civic Connection
Chapter VIII: Subsidiarity vs. Central Control
Chapter IX: Changing Lives, Building Families
Chapter X: Parents and Children
Chapter XI: Religion and Social Capital
Chapter XII: Where Social Capital is Weakest

What Kind of Freedom?

This is an excellent chapter and could just as easily be considered a “liberal” document as a “conservative” document. His points are that the principle of freedom on which our country was founded is the freedom to attend to one’s duties. He has a very good point. Plus, his discussion of the verbs used in the Preamble to the Constitution is very thought-provoking. If you want to read just a small part of this book, these pages (43-49) are the pages to read.

Habits of Association

This chapter is, again, divisive and alarmist.

“When, in the name of ‘freedom,’ public virtue is sunk so low that families must swim against a toxic tide to raise children to be decent and public-spirited adults, something has gone terribly wrong with our understanding of freedom.” (p. 51) What neighborhood does this guy live in?

“Freedom has become the freedom simply to check out from the pursuit of the common good and to do what feels right for me, without regard to those around me.” (p. 53)

“When No-Fault Freedom reigns, trust and selflessness are rare commodities because we each know that others in our community are simply out for themselves (p. 56)

“With No-Fault Freedom, social capital decreases and the stress of daily life increases, and we look at our fellow citizens suspicion rather than with neighborliness and trust.” (p. 57)

Ties the work of Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, with the tradition for conservative argument. That wasn’t my reading of the book.

Trust and Civic Connection

Discusses the decline in social capital, referencing Putnam’s Bowling Alone. Gives an example of high social capital among Orthodox Jewish jewelers in the New York Diamond Market. An as example of low social capital he discusses black on black crime.

To his credit he mentions his initial opposition to Bill Clinton’s AmeriCorps concept and how his view of that program changed. He mentions Harris Wofford, his opponent in the 1994 senate race, and that Wofford later became the director of AmeriCorps.

Subsidiarity vs. Central Control

This chapter discusses the creation of social capital. However, instead of staying positive he criticizes Hilary Clinton’s book, It Takes a Village. “The warm, fuzzy image of Senator Clinton’s book is that of a community rich in social capital, but the truth of the matter is that liberal policies which tie individuals to the government break the bonds of true community and deplete social capital.” (p. 67) He goes on to say “We [conservatives] believe that only strong families, can improve the lives of individuals, especially children, and make for healthy communities.” (p. 67) On page 68 he says “Conservatives trust families and the ordinary Americans that are formed by them. Liberals don’t. They border on disdain for the common man.” Except, of course, in matters of reproduction, end of life issues, and so on. Then the government should step in?

Changing Lives, Building Families

This chapter discusses the government policies, past and present, regarding marriage, abstinence education, out of wedlock births, fatherhood initiatives, father’s rights, and so on. Some interesting points he brings up are the increased involvement of a larger number of grandparents in the lives of children born to their married children, as opposed to illegitimate births. In his view if a woman has a child out of wedlock her mother is likely to be involved with the child, but a baby born to a married couple is more likely to have involvement from all four grandparents. This is an intriguing theory but I think it would also depend on the marital status and geographic location of the grandparents, as well as the marital status of the children-now-parents. I also think it is likely, and have read similar statements to this effect, that grandparents are more likely to offer economic support to the father of their daughter’s children if he is an official son-in-law as opposed to a “baby daddy.” However, there are economic factors that also come into play and Santorum has not discussed these yet. I can tell you that I am of the firm belief that grandfathers are the most wonderful people in the world.

Parents and Children

This is one of the chapters that got him in trouble. I can easily see why. One theme of this chapter is the lack of time in American life. We work too long and too hard and don’t have time for our children. Here is one of the quotes that caused a ruckus when the book came out: “In far too many families with young children, both parents are working, when, if they really took an honest look at the budget, they might confess that both of them really don’t need to, or at least may not need to work as much as they do.” (p. 95)

Now if he would stay with that statement, I could go along with him, but he really isn’t talking about both parents needing or wanting to work, as we see on p. 95: “Respect for stay-at-home mothers has been poisoned by a toxic combination of the village elders’ war on the traditional family and radical feminism’s misogynistic crusade to make working outside the home the only marker of social value and self-respect.” And here is where he loses me. It is never about the family sitting down and looking at who earns more, has better health and retirement or educational benefits, a more flexible schedule, and so on. It is about women in the workplace. Phrase it in gender neutral terms and a lot more people would sign on. Last time I checked wives earned more than their husbands in a third of American marriages. If one of Santorum’s projects is a fatherhood initiative, let’s see it carried over to primary childcare and household management.

Another point he makes is this (from p. 96): “And the [tax] burden is often even heavier for larger families, because of the phasing out of child credit for families with a total income of $110,000. Now, before you start complaining about tax breaks for the rich, answer me this: Is a family making $110,000 with one child as well of economically as a family with eight children at that same salary?” If I remember correctly, one aspect of welfare reform was to discourage people from having more children than they could afford to raise and educate. Why shouldn’t that philosophy be reflected in our tax code as well? Regardless of how much you make, should the government encourage you to continue having children? Apparently, the senator thinks families should get tax breaks for having more children. Mr. Jane and I stopped where we did because we didn’t think our economic or temporal resources could stretch any further. We would encourage other couples to do the same.

Religion and Social Capital

In this chapter Sen. Santorum takes liberals to task for their apparent aversion to religion. While I dislike his examples, I have to agree with him on this. The Democratic party has got to come to some accommodation with the fact that many Americans, and a good percentage of the voting public, have religious beliefs that impact their daily lives. I intend to say more about this in future postings.

Where Social Capital is Weakest

This chapter focuses primarily on prison reform issues. This is not to mean reform of prisons but reform of prisoners, often through faith-based initiatives and fatherhood education. I think these programs can have a significant impact, especially when combined with GED and higher education programs, although Santorum does not discuss these much. One thing that really surprised me is his support of a program aimed at giving felons the right to vote if they do not get into trouble again for five years.

Bibliographic Note

The primary source Santorum used for this section was Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2000). I read this book several years ago and it had a profound effect on me. It isn’t a quick or easy read but well worth the effort. Santorum also provides a short list of books he and his wife found helpful in childrearing. I have read at least one of those as well, but would add to the list Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families.

Next: Part 3 (The Roots of Prosperity)

1 comment:

ACM said...

great stuff! thanks for doing the hard work. I hope you collect all the links at the end in one place where folks can link to them...