“The more that we can do to love people, the better off this ...”
And with that, Michele Bachmann’s time ran out at the recent GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire. But I couldn’t help thinking that moderator Charlie Rose seemed to be wishing he were back at his usual PBS table one-on-one with her, to have the extended conversation that he’s used to.
This wasn’t empty talk of hope and change. It was about what moves us, what motivates us, what makes us better, as individuals and as a country. Not by some kind of government mandate, but by a culture that helps us encourage one another, that protects and lets liberty flourish.
The Minnesota congresswoman had been talking about her bio and how it related to her platform. “We went to below poverty when my parents divorced. And my mother worked very hard. ... And we were able to work our way through college. And eventually my husband and I started a business.” The American dream of upward mobility is one that so many out-of-work Americans want to believe in during these challenging economic times.
“If we reach out as individuals to help people ... and care for them on a personal basis, then we don’t need big government to step in and do that job,” Bachmann elaborated.
At the same debate, Rick Santorum drove the point, literally, home: “The biggest problem with poverty in America ... is the breakdown of the American family. ... We need to have a policy that supports families, that encourages marriage.”
These were powerful words. It’s not about being in people’s bedrooms or enforcing a moral code, but acknowledging that there are fundamental, traditional institutions that have stood the test of time for a reason.
“What happens in the home doesn’t stay in the home, it ripples out into the broader economy,” W. Bradford Wilcox, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Virginia and co-author of a new study, “The Sustainable Demographic Dividend,” says.
“Declines in fertility and marriage, for instance, are heavily implicated in our current global fiscal challenges. In much of the affluent West, the state is struggling to foot the bill for surging elderly populations with a shrinking or stagnating workforce. It’s also struggling to pay for the fallout of family breakdown, which manifests itself in the form of more police, more jails, more family courts, and more public aid to families affected by divorce or an out-of-wedlock birth.”
This is not a poll-tested talking point; not all of the members of the traditional Republican base are in agreement. “There are obvious tensions between those free marketers who have problems with objective morality and those social conservatives who have a bad habit of always blaming the market economy for many of society’s problems,” says Samuel Gregg, research director at the Acton Institute.
“But it seems to me that free societies characterized by a robust market economy, strong civil associations, and a limited state need (a) market institutions underpinned by a commitment to liberty and property rights and (b) social institutions that are characterized by unapologetically non-liberal conceptions of family and associational life.”
I’ve become a firm believer in the idea that if you see something good you should say something about it. So: Thank you, Rick. Thank you, Michele.
Conventional wisdom has it that Mitt Romney is going to be the nominee. On one of the first occasions I spent a little extended time with him, he was governor of Massachusetts, and he was speaking at a Family Research Council-organized event at Tremont Temple Baptist Church, once part of the Underground Railroad, in Boston, just a stone’s throw from the statehouse. He focused on the traditional family in his remarks. He made the same kind of connections and spoke in a language similar to Bachmann and Santorum.
Presidential campaigns can be wonderfully infuriating, as the civic-minded meet the candidates, in interviews and debates and on the trail. Some of these meetings allow for a more extended and penetrating discussion. Around a table at Dartmouth, there was a good start. Focus on the family — build a solid pedestal of loving support — and you might even rebuild an economy, with a generosity that can spread like wildfire.