How Conservative Values Unintentionally Undermined the Family

My wife and I did not have insurance when all three of our children were born. Technically, we did when our third was born, but the preexisting condition of pregnancy was not covered. Medical expenses were reasonable enough that we were able to make payments ahead and continue paying afterward. There were complications after the third birth, so it took us a while to pay off the debt, but we did manage to have our youngest paid for before she entered elementary school.

Doctors and hospitals are no longer so eager to make similar arrangements, and the total bills are no longer as manageable. An uninsured married couple facing a complicated childbirth could easily face bankruptcy today.

But we are no so hard-hearted as to turn expectant mothers out into the cold night to give birth in a stable. We do provide services for mothers and children. But our conservative heritage says men should be breadwinners, and there is no free lunch. We will take care of single women and their babies but not male heads of households. Perhaps there have been some recent changes, but for the last thirty years marriage meant financial disaster for a young couple in love facing a pregnancy earlier than they had anticipated.

It’s not just the young either who are forgoing marriage in order to receive benefits. Social Security advisors counsel retirees in some cases to “live in sin” rather than lose benefits they or their late spouse had earned. In other circumstances, on the other hand, they advise couples who hate each other to stay together (at least on paper) a few more years, for the sake of the social security check, rather than getting divorced. (You can find this advice in the book Get What’s Yours.)

All of this comes from the traditional idea that a man should provide for his household and nobody should get something for free.

Yet the widespread conservative hostility to democracy and representation in the workplace has undermined a man’s (or a single woman’s ) ability to provide for a family. Labor Unions are an extension of democracy (or republican ideals, if you can’t support democracy) into the workplace. Corporations are already organized and have most of the power. The only way people gained any advantage was to unite. President Eisenhower understood this. He supported labor unions and the right of the people to organize.

The last forty years has seen the decline of wages follow the decline of union membership. The decline of union membership followed the example of a president from the Grand Old Party who established his legacy by breaking a union. Today a candidate from an economically failing state brags that he took on the powerful teacher’s union.

Some people point to past corruption in labor and to violence that occurs during strikes. Corruption in politics has not lead us to abolish representative government. Instead we try our best to eliminate it, find it where it remains, and prosecute it. As for violence, do you know anything about the history of the labor movement?

I have seen the dismantling of the profession of professor over the last 30 years. Today 80% of college courses are taught be people who are not professors, many of whom are eligible for food stamps and other government benefits. One reason this happened is because professors were not allowed to organize, since they were part of management under the law. However, the other 80% today are not hindered by this law, and we may see more organizing by those who actually do the teaching.

Free Burma or China-Free?

Next week I’ll finish the post I started last week, but right now there is something more timely.

We American Christians need to support the Buddhist monks in Burma, in their struggle for freedom. (See the “News” page) President Bush is calling for international pressure, especially from China, to pressure the military dictatorship to respect human rights. I don’t see how anyone can disagree with the president on this issue.

By the way, since evidently the pro-democracy advocates prefer to call their country Burma, I don’t think we should use the name that the dictators chose for the country.

This may not seem directly related, but it has a bearing. Sonja and I are justifiably proud of our niece Melissa, who is representing our state right now in the Special Olympics in China. See video here. The doors opened by Richard Nixon allow the kind of relationship where we can talk to China.

China buys oil and natural gas from Burma and supplies the generals with weapons. Chinese guns are killing peaceful demonstrators.

Another issue that does not seem connected, but may be: Last week the Mattel toy company issued an official apology to China for criticizing their factories for producing dangerous toys. Mattel said, the fault was their design, not negligence by the manufacturers or the government inspectors, that resulted in children’s toys being painted with lead paint. (See also the prior post “Fido’s Revenge)

There was once a time when another government thought we couldn’t do without their tea; but a grass-roots movement proved them wrong. I’m suggesting that we use our good relations with China and their desire for prestige in the eyes of the world with the upcoming summer Olympics to entice them to use their influence for good. If that doesn’t work, I would hope there would be a grass-roots movement to look for products made elsewhere.

A while back I bought a toy for the child of a friend. It was not imported from half-way around the world, and had no lead paint. It was made of wood by a local craftsman, and sold at a local fair.