Conventional political wisdom suggests that candidates must avoid, at all costs, the appearance of being focused on “divisive social issues” and instead focus exclusively on the economy. This is a false dichotomy of issues.
When politicians show us their positions on today’s social issues, they show us their philosophies of government. Ultimately, these — their conception of the proper role between government and the governed — will determine our success at restoring national prosperity.
Candidates who favor restriction of abortion recognize that the protection of human life is one of the primary purposes of government, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence. But also inherent in this worldview is the conviction that every single person is endowed with distinct worth and potential; that any given child could be the next Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein or Bill Gates. Thus, the public policies advanced by these candidates will reflect the core belief that no human being is a dispensable dependent, but each holds unique potential to contribute to our collective flourishing.
According to this worldview, a strong marriage culture enhances our human potential. Thus marriage — that permanent, exclusive union of one man and one woman which is proven to be the best possible environment for child-rearing — should be encouraged, protected and revered.
In this framework, the purpose of civil marriage is not to provide individuals with personal affirmation of their lifestyle choices or emotional bonds (a post-modern American desire), but rather to stabilize, regulate and incentivize the particular kind of union which confers irreplaceable benefits upon society as a whole.
A candidate’s position on marriage — what it is, why the state regulates it, whether it is amenable to revision and when the state should permit its dissolution — carries broad implications for how that candidate’s election would affect the economy. For when families thrive, they foster citizens (both the spouses and, ultimately, the children they nurture) who are contributors to the economy.
On the other hand, study upon study has shown us that when families falter, prosperity dwindles. Women and children are hit hardest, often driven to poverty. The state is typically left to pick up the pieces in the form of financial and housing assistance, mental and physical health care and, in the worst cases, child protective services and the criminal justice system.
The sheer dollars-and-cents cost of family fragmentation to individuals and U.S. taxpayers (an estimated $112 billion every year) cannot be ignored. This is why to focus on marriage is to focus on the economy.
Of course, even in a strong marriage culture, there will be human needs for which a compassionate citizenry must provide. Politicians who value the role of religion in both private and public life favor an environment where robust faith communities are empowered to meet needs that government is ill-equipped to meet well — caring for the poor, the sick, the orphans and the elderly. Neighbors (not government) helping neighbors is good for the economy and for our moral fiber.
Our early republic was an unprecedented success because the people viewed government as the protector rather than provider of fundamental rights, and they did not depend on it as the guarantor of financial well-being. Families, churches and communities were the central component of America, and government stood back and let them prosper.
We looked to each other for help rather than to an impersonal bureaucracy. The latter may be capable of distributing financial resources, but it cannot enhance them with the caring personal networks which graciously spur us on toward the industriousness befitting our human dignity.
When a candidate tells us he counts every human life an asset, supports a healthy marriage culture and wants to encourage people to take care of people, he is telling us that he ascribes to our Founding Fathers’ vision of government. In that revolutionary vision, government was not the colossal beast it is today, but rather the servant of a moral, hardworking people and a protector of their God-given rights.
This was the vision that birthed a healthy, prosperous America, and it is a formula that can work again if we will collectively insist upon a return to it.
Plans for applying the machinery of a behemoth government to solve human problems seem enticingly simple. But to grow this machinery atop an America devoid of its original social values is to invite implosion. Critics may scoff at difficult discussions of messy social issues, but these are the issues that reveal the secret of our prosperous past and hold the key to a brilliant future.
First Published: 2014-07-27 08:24:00
Rita M. Dunaway, J.D., is a policy advisor at Virginia Christian Alliance.