Monday, December 26, 2005

Reading Rick: Part I (It Takes a Family)

Here are my thoughts on pages 3-39 of Rick Santorum's It Takes a Family. Either future postings on the book will have to be more succinct or I won't make it through. I may not make it through anyway.

Part One: It Takes a Family.

Chapter I: The Task of Stewardship
Chapter II: The Liberal Vision: No-Fault Freedom
Chapter III: Families and the Common Good
Chapter IV: The Meaning of Family

The Task of Stewardship

He starts the book by saying:

“On my right wrist, every day, I wear a royal blue piece of cloth, a bracelet of sorts. Stitched in white are the letters F.A.M.I.L.Y.” (p. 3)

To verify this I searched Google for images of Rick Santorum. After looking at 400 of these I stopped. I also looked at his official senate site and his campaign site. If the man is ever photographed not wearing a suit and tie or a long-sleeved jacket he keeps it very quiet. There is a photo on his web site of him with his sleeves rolled up to mid-forearm and you can see a bracelet. You can also see it in a photo taken of him with Bono.

Like the preface this section is divisive, “liberal news media, Hollywood, and the educational elite” (p. 3) portray liberals as good and conservatives as bad.

“we have faced down Soviet communism, the greatest tyranny the world has ever seen,” (p. 4) That’s a pretty strong statement to make. The Hebrews under Egyptian rule, African Americans under slavery, parts of Asia and Eastern European under Genghis Khan, those in the path of Attila the Hun, or anyone who lived under any of the other tyrannies in world history, might venture to disagree. How can anyone say something is the greatest the world has ever seen?

He has a long list of alarming trends in American society, including this one “3,500 healthy expectant mothers carrying healthy children exercising a ‘choice’ to end the lives of their children every day…” (p. 5) Where does he get this number? I can't find any reference for it in the bibliographic essay. Looking in the Statistical Abstract of the United States that correlates to the number of abortions per day in the U.S. in 2000, but no information is given on the health of the mother or the condition of her pregnancy. Another alarming trend is “religion under assault by the media and liberal activists and then booted from the public square by court order…” (p. 5) I am a churchgoing woman and as such would rather that religious education be done in the church or the home to ensure that what is being taught is consistent with denominational beliefs.

“Once,” he says on p. 5, “ our social, governmental and educational institutions, along with popular culture, seemed to work together to aid parents in raising their children. Today, many feel that these same institutions are somehow conspiring against them.” I don’t know what time period he is referring to – my mother thought the Carol Burnett Show was awfully racey and forbade me from watching it as a child.

He sees the primary problem in society as the “bigs, - big news media, big enterainment, big universities and public schools, some big businesses, and some big national labor unions, and of course, the biggest big of all, the federal government.” (p. 6) In his view, the bigs are tying to wipe out local government, civic and fraternal associations, neighborhoods, churches, and the traditional family.” (p. 7) I don’t know how these “bigs” could wipe out local government or neighborhoods. Would houses be too far apart for people to meet each other? Even today most people I know are acquainted with as many or more of their neighbors as I was growing up in small town America.

“All of us naturally want to bequeath to our children something more, something better, than we received from out own parents, ….” Is that right? Many of the parents I know just hope to do as well as their parents.

Something that should have been mentioned in preface, the book will look at five pillars of American civilization : social capital, economic capital, moral capital, cultural capital, and intellectual capital.” (p. 10)

“I believe that bad culture is culture that lies; good culture, even it if may be ugly, tells the truth.” So, in his view, The Matthew Shephard Story, The Abu Ghraib Story, would be good?

The Liberal Vision: No-Fault Freedom

“From the time I arrived in State college, I joined the conservative ranks and fought against the liberals on campus and in government.” (p. 13) I think it would be great if someone thoroughly researched his years at Penn State. I’ve heard a number of stories and would enjoy finding out which have some nugget of truth and which are pure mythology.

again division – “For example, I believed that everyone wanted the poor to achieve economic self-sufficiency, but that the two parties had different approaches to achieve that goal. I don’t believe that anymore.” (p. 13)

“So what is the liberal definition of freedom? It is the freedom to be and to do whatever we want – freedom to choose irrespective of choice, freedom without limits (with the obligatory caveat that you can’t hurt anyone else directly).” (p. 14) Well, that’s one definition of liberalism, but I also think it fits the GOP’s vision of small government very well also. Isn’t one tenant of that political philosophy that the government should get out of people’s lives and let them make their own decisions, such as where their children should go to school and how their retirement money is handled?

Quotes from U2’s song “Vertigo.” (p. 14)

“We have sexual freedom: and the resulting debasement of women, mental illness, and an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases causing infertility, cancer, even death.” (p. 14) I’m not certain about the debasement of women, and am completely confused by the inclusion of mental illness.

The family is the foundation of our civilization. He doesn’t mean to exclude singled-head of household families but the focus should be on building and strengthening “what all the research and thousands of years of human history says is the best of our country and our children. That foundation is the family headed by a married mother and father.” (P. 15) Not just advocating for traditional families but healthy traditional families.” (p. 16) His definition: “Families in which selfless regard for others is the rule, not self-centeredness.” (p. 16)

“In the liberals’ ideal world there is no right or wrong; there is only tolerance and intolerance, diversity and narrow-mindedness.” (p. 17) I don’t remember this part of my liberal guidebook either, but maybe the “bigs” version has a special section that mine doesn’t.

“There are many liberals who are selfless mothers and fathers. What they are doing is not practicing what their village elders preach.” (p. 17) I’m so glad he cleared this up for us.

We all see how they [liberals]dominate the mainstream news media: over 90 percent of the elite news media voted for Senator John Kerry in 2004. And that percentage may be even higher when it comes to Hollywood.” (p. 18). I know the NSA is tapping phones, but I thought there was no way to verify voter information, so how does he or anyone know how anyone voted? (p.18)

“Families -- that is to say, moms and dads” (p. 18) This statement excludes from the definition of family all of those who could not, or chose not, to have children. Would it also exclude those marriages where all the offspring have died? It seems a very narrow definition.

“…parental enforcement of standards – in one reason why liberals view the traditional family with suspicion. After all, they say, children did not consent to their parents’ values. Shouldn’t children be free to discover and create their own values?” (p. 18) You know, I’ve listened to the keynote speech at Democratic National Conventions for decades now and have never heard this stated. So I don’t know where he is getting it.

Children from healthy intact families do better, have happier marriages, etc. than children who are not. Instinctively I agree with this, although I did not grow up in an intact family, and, while no one would give me the “well-adjusted woman of the year award,” I think I’ve done okay (so far). So it pulls me in different directions. How many healthy intact families are out there now? How many did there used to be? It is hard to judge how many families fit his definition of healthy unless you can talk to the people who were in those families, and that seriously limits the amount of time you can study and make comparisons.

Families and the Common Good

He says boys who grow up in households with married parents are less likely to become criminals. While there are many good single-parent families, two-parent families are better. Santorum is to be commended for noting that father absence is not just an inner-city minority problem. “it is about emotional detachment as well: middle-class men whose lives center around work and the golf course instead of around their wives and children, for example”. (p. 22)

Divorce leads to father abandonment much more often people recognize, despite the constant attempts by the popular culture to paint a picture of the happily” divorced. (p. 23) I would have to agree with this.

In a childless marriage, it is conceivable that the No-Fault Freedom caveat may be true… (p. 23) It is nice that he makes this exception.

He provides lot of statistics on how children are worse off in single-parent families.

82% of urban, low-income fathers and mothers are in a romantic relationship at the time their child is born. (p. 25) Now how does he know that?

The Meaning of Family

“Since marriage has become more and more about adult happiness, and less and less about children and their well-being, it is no wonder other groups in society want to use marriage for the same purpose.” (p. 31) My understanding of marriage in history, and I have read a number of books on this, is that the idea of companionate marriage, that is marriage solely for companionship and affection is, indeed, relatively recent, but it was previous regarded as a tool for dynastic and business partnerships, with fond regard between the immediate parties helpful but not necessary. The happiness of children, and even the children themselves, tended to be rather near the bottom of the list.

“Every known society has some form of marriage. And it’s always about bringing together a male and female into the kind of sexual union where the interests of children under the care of their own mother and father are protected.” (p. 31) I think inheritance, property transfer, and political or business interests also may have played a role.

“When in Loving v. Virginia the Supreme Court ruled that state laws banning interracial marriage were unconstitutional, that ruling seemed at first to affect only private individuals. But sixteen years later, the IRS ruled that religious groups that opposed interracial marriage could be stripped of their tax-exempt status, because they were not operating for the public good. The Supreme Court rules furthermore that the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion provided no defense. Of course, I agree that laws against interracial marriage were unjust. My point is this: If we apply the logic of a civil rights same-sex marriage, people who believe children need mothers and fathers will be treated in the public square like racists, and churches that persist in teaching the traditional form will risk the loss of their tax-exempt status. “ (p. 32-33) I think he picked a very bad example here.

“If the sexual unions of men with men and women with women have equal dignity with the union of men and women, then marriage cannot be understood as having anything intrinsically to do with children.” (p. 34) Would this mean marriage between widows and widowers or divorcees beyond the ability of desire for childbearing would be of a lesser nature than the marriage of the fecund?

Disconnecting marriage from babies leads to low fertility rates (pp. 34-36). The logic of this escaped me entirely.

“Men and women marry for many reasons. But the reason the law is involved is to protect society’s future.” (p. 38) Again, I always thought it was inheritance and property rights.

Twice in this section he references the movie version of the Lord of the Rings series, once the Two Towers and the other The Return of the King. I wonder why he refers to the movies and not the books.

The bibliographic essay for this section is below par. Many of the citations he lists don’t have the year of publication listed and I’m not aware of any style manual that finds this acceptable; I was able to look up a date for most of them. The copy editor for the book really should have caught this. There are 19 items listed, eight of them were published in or after 2000.

For an interesting contrast to this section of Santorum’s book, please read chapter 5 “What Makes A Perfect Parent,” (pp. 147-176) in Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (NY: William Morrow, 2005). These authors do not have footnotes either but do have detailed endnotes and I counted 26 items in their notes for this section, 13 of them published in or after 2000. The chapter entitled “Where Have All The Criminals Gone” is also applicable but I think it will be more relevant to another section of Santorum’s book.

next up: Section 2 Social Capital and the Ties That Bind

1 comment:

ACM said...

if you want to shorten them, I'd do less comprehensive quoting and more giving of your own broad take or responses...

just my first reaction.