A few years back I had to occasion in a public forum to ask Ruy Tiexeira, a prominent Progressive nowadays ensconced at the Center for American Progress, what if anything he thought conservatives were right about. He unhesitatingly answered: the family—both its structure and stability. This might not seem a huge concession until you cast your mind back to the 1960s, to the rise of the twin phenomena of feminism and the racial grievance industry. Feminists of course disliked the “patriarchy” of family life, and the racial grievance industry attacked traditional family life as a means of suppressing the infamous Moynihan report that sought to highlight the social catastrophe of the collapsing black family in America. There was in the Johnson Administration a White House Conference on the Family which turned into a vehicle for the radical rejection of Moynihan along with the rejection of traditional understandings of the family. As I described it in The Age of Reagan I:
Soon critics began asking: What’s wrong with single-parent families anyway? Andrew Young, whom Martin Luther King tapped as his representative to the White House conference on the issue, said that “there probably isn’t anything wrong with the Negro family as it exists.” The concern with family stability, critics said in a now-familiar refrain, was an attempt to “impose middle class values” on the poor. In fact, it was asserted, the black female headed household is “a cultural pattern superior in its vitality to middle-class mores.” “College professors,” Moynihan observed, “waxed lyrical on the subject of the female-headed household. . . This is the scholarship of Che Guevara.” . . .
At the opening of the planning session [for the conference], White House conference director Beryl Bernhard attempted to soothe the critics by announcing that “I want you to know that I have been reliably informed that no such person as Daniel Patrick Moynihan exists.” But the critics were not to be appeased. A planning panel reported out the sense of the delegates that “All families should have the right to evolve in directions of their own choosing. . . and should have the supports—economic and non-economic—to exercise that right.” The conference planners demanded that “the question of ‘family stability’ be stricken entirely from that agenda.” The White House—and liberals—beat a hasty retreat; it would be 20 years before the subject of black family stability could be discussed again.
This is a long prologue to taking note of E.J. Dionne’s column today on “family economics,” which reminds almost of the Dionne of the 1990s who many conservatives found interesting to read. This was before, obviously, Bush Derangement Syndrome caused Dionne to go crazy.
Anyway, today he says that “Santorum is broadly right” about the importance of the family, but then goes on to play the usual liberal equivalence card: “Liberals should acknowledge, as Obama has, that strengthening the family is vital to economic justice. Conservatives should acknowledge that economic justice is vital to strengthening families.”
I’ll see Dionne and raise him. Dionne complains that “Conservatives often say that tax policies should be more helpful to families raising children. I agree. But this can’t be yet another excuse for cutting taxes on the wealthy.”
Okay, how about this: One conservative idea that liberals ought to like well enough is to expand the current $1,500 per child tax credit to something closer to $5,000, which would wipe out a large portion of payroll tax liability and raise household after tax income considerably. The revenue loss could be made up through broader tax reform that reduces deductions, credits and tax breaks both for individuals and corporations. A wholesale pro-growth tax reform that incorporated both features might even allow for lower marginal rates along the lines of the 1986 tax reform act. For conservatives this would be a pro-family initiative that does not involve the usual culture war issues. National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru, one of the leading champions of a pro-family tax reform explains:
Expanding the child tax credit would take a lot of people off the tax rolls, and many Republicans have convinced themselves that people who stop paying taxes start voting for big government. But the child credit wouldn’t take people off the tax rolls forever, just while they have minors in their households. And if any group of voters is going to be mindful of the future, it’s parents. So conservatives shouldn’t worry.
Democrats, too, should find something to like. They have made two central objections to tax cuts over the last generation: that they recklessly increase the deficit and that they unfairly shower rewards on the rich. Neither objection applies to this tax reform.
I have a hunch that Dionne and his fellow liberals will never embrace such a proposal. Because they don’t really mean what they say about the family, or they subordinate it to their lust for higher and higher taxes on everybody.