DALLAS – The economist who resurrected Dan Quayle’s offensive invective against single parenting in an op-ed article this week certainly succeeded in getting attention.
The issue back in the day was “irresponsible’’ parenting – which no one ever supported – and the implication was that even well-educated, mature and affluent single women should not go it alone.
“It doesn’t help matters when prime-time TV has Murphy Brown, a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid professional woman, mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another lifestyle choice,” Quayle said.
The ensuing backlash over that statement, in a nutshell, is that not every single mother is “mocking the importance of fathers.’’
Some of us are not making a political statement at all; we are simply raising our kids as best we can.
Now we have Isabel Sawhill’s scholarly article telling us that economic models show that children are better off with two parents than one.
No kidding. As some of the readers suggest in their comments, most of us know that intuitively, without a think tank feeding a bunch of census data through a computer model.
But that’s not really the point, as we see when Sawhill concludes that “…no government program is likely to reduce child poverty as much as bringing back marriage as the preferable way of raising children.’’
The tip-off here is the phrase “bringing back.’’ No wonder she trotted out Quayle; the whole construct is an election year reverie for Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America.’’ It’s an argument for smaller government, circa 1980.
That’s fine. But let’s not ignore what’s happened in the last 30 years.
There’s a reason no one since Quayle has publicly attacked single parents. As a nation, we moved on.
For starters, in the 1990s, President Bill Clinton famously “ended welfare as we know it.’’ Over the objections of many within his own party, Clinton’s reform policies removed some of the disincentives to work that, he argued, kept single mothers on welfare and out of the workforce.
Equally important, although Sawhill fails to mention it, is the fact that Murphy Brown has been replaced as the pop icon for single-parent families.
The current poster child? Barack Obama.
Even if you didn’t read his autobiography, surely you are aware that he was raised by a single mother.
Obama’s Hawaiian birthplace is still the object of speculation among some partisans. But no one has suggested that he’s marginalized the significance of being raised by a single parent.
He bounced around between households, had divorced parents on two continents, learned to live with little money – all these facts have been public fodder for years.
Quayle objected to Murphy Brown on the grounds that the fictional character wrongly glorified single parents. Quayle should be thrilled that Obama has not painted over the difficult aspects of his upbringing.
The president hasn’t exploited his background, nor has he emulated it. As we all know, he created a two-parent family of his very own.
By any measure, despite what Sawhill would have us believe is the predictable norm, Obama thrived.
Some presidents may follow their father’s footsteps into the Oval Office. Obama didn’t have that kind of luck.
What he did have was self-determination, which is, among other things, a remarkably powerful source of inspiration for single parents and their children.
Lori Stahl covers politics in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @LoriStahl.