America’s Daddy Issues

By Heather Wilhelm Published on January 29, 2016

Here in America, as in much of the Western world, social conservatism is terribly uncool. No, it’s worse than that: It’s socially toxic. Traditionalists, we are told, are stiffs, fools, knaves and uptight busybodies who want to butt in on everyone’s lives, micromanaging them to death.

Even worse, the conventional wisdom goes, social conservatives are also bigots. They are serial micro-aggressors, espousing horrifying ideas that could “trigger” some harm to innocent victims — like, say, rich kids at colleges costing $65,000 a year — causing them to assume the fetal position, craftily claim they’re too traumatized to take an exam they actually forgot to study for, or embark on a disastrous student cafeteria chocolate cake-eating binge.

For a few prominent social conservatives, sadly, this reputation is somewhat earned. But here’s a wild and crazy thought: What if the rest of them are on to something — and what if the real social micromanagers are on the other side of the aisle?

In December, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education released a “Draft Policy Statement on Family Engagement From the Early Years to the Early Grades.” It all sounds nice enough, until you start reading and you realize that the U.S. government thinks it’s your dad.

“It is the position of the Departments,” the draft reads, “that all early childhood programs and schools recognize families as equal partners in improving children’s development, learning and wellness across all settings, and over the course of their children’s developmental and educational experiences.” Equal partners? How generous of them! Later in the document, we learn that government schools — you know, those lofty paragons of excellence and common sense — should “offer families leadership training” and “parenting interventions,” “encourage family networks” and, perhaps more ominously, track “family engagement data.”

What kind of “family engagement data”? I’m glad you asked. The draft suggests, among other things, “a valid and reliable assessment of the teacher/provider-family relationships,” the “number of home visits made by teachers” and that time you forgot to bring in gluten-free cupcakes for the Winter Solstice Holiday. (They don’t really mention that last one, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.) This draft, as a reminder, was brought to you by the good folks in Washington, D.C., where the local public school system spends an average of $17,953 per pupil to get a mere 12 percent of their students proficient in geometry.

No one should be surprised to see the government encroaching on the family sphere. Nature abhors a vacuum, and in America, the traditional family appears on the brink of collapse. In 1963, according to U.S. Census data, 7 percent of births were out of wedlock. By 2013, it was 40.6 percent. For younger women, the statistics are even bleaker: Both a recent Johns Hopkins study and an analysis by Child Trends indicate that for women under 30, more than half of babies are born out of marriage.

Despite progressive conventional wisdom, it’s not old-fashioned, melodramatic, or close-minded to view this as an alarming trend. As Charles Murray notes in Coming Apart — a book that should be required reading in this election cycle — certain social mores simply work better than others. You don’t have to take his word for it, by the way. He cites nine specific statistical studies that show the same thing.

“The family structure that produces the best outcomes for children, on average, are two biological parents who remain married,” he writes. “I know of no other set of important findings that are as broadly accepted by social scientists who follow the technical literature, liberal as well as conservative, and yet are so resolutely ignored by networks news programs, editorial writers for major newspapers, and politicians of both major political parties.”

These findings are largely ignored, I would guess, because it’s an area in which social conservatives are proved right.

Coming Apart contends that marriage is central not only to the health of American individuals, but also to the viability of the American experiment itself. If broken families leave a vacuum — and both social science data and common sense indicate that this is the case — government will eventually creep in, and with it, an army of micromanaging bureaucratic grand poohbahs. Strong families, on the other hand, serve as a bulwark against an expanding government that wants to be your dad.

Alas, at least this year, many Americans seem to want a savior, if not a dad. The messianic streak that emerged with President Obama’s first election continues apace — an amazing phenomenon, really, given our kooky slate of front-runners. How strange is it that, yet again, many Americans seem think a politician will save them? And yet, on second thought, perhaps it’s not amazing at all. As the statistics on marriage and children show, we’ve long been good at denying the obvious.

Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Austin, Texas. Her work can be found at and her Twitter handle is @heatherwilhelm.

This article originally appeared at RealClearPolitics on January 14, 2016, and is reprinted with permission.

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