Our nation is in a crisis. Yes, all eyes are on the financial crisis and the stagnant economy, and less certain but potentially ominous is the prospect of a nuclear-armed and religiously fanatical Iran. But it is possible that we might revive the economy at home and disarm our enemies abroad while losing the nation itself. I'm talking about the disintegration of the family that is quietly reaching crisis proportions.
Marvin Olasky this week drew attention to a tipping point we have passed in single parenthood. "For the first time in American history, more than half [53 percent] of all births to American women under 30 are occurring outside of marriage." The Heritage Foundation reports that, of all births in the United States, 41 percent are out of wedlock. That figure is 53 percent in France, but only 32 percent in Canada. Rick Santorum, a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination, has departed from the public's focus on the economy and ventured to address this matter with specific reference to easy and indiscriminate access to birth control.
This is not just a matter of "the times they are a-changing." The family is the foundation of society on which all other goods ultimately depend. It is in the family that children are formed into psychologically stable, morally self-controlled, economically productive, and politically public-spirited adults. Incidentally, it is also in the family where covenant children are discipled into faithful Christians. It is not impossible for socially functional and Christ-confessing adults to emerge from broken families, but studies show consistently that it is a lot less likely. In neighborhoods where fathers are a rarity, poverty, unemployment, and crime are dramatically higher, and high school graduation dramatically lower, than in communities of largely intact families.
Last year, Chuck Donovan at The Heritage Foundation called for "A Marshall Plan for Marriage." He writes, "This breakdown of the American family has dire implications for American society and the U.S. economy. Halting and reversing the sustained trends of nearly four decades will not happen by accident." Governments need to identify this increasingly widespread pattern of behavior as a serious threat to our national security. Echoing the Reagan administration's 1983 report on American schooling, "A Nation at Risk," one could justly say that if an unfriendly foreign power attempted to impose on America the family patterns that exist today, we might well view it as an act of war.
To combat this multigenerational trend (or what Olasky calls "an ooze, a sociological horror film that could be titled The Blob That Ate America"), Donovan recommends that every level of government eliminate discouragements to marriage in the tax code and welfare programs, maximize the reconciliation option for divorcing couples, and encourage and support family life by the way government leaders and bureaucracies talk about marriage and family and by the way they present their program goals.
In times of crisis, we need statesmen who see what is most important and know what we need to do about it, and who have the moral stature and gifts of leadership that it takes to wed the rest of us with requisite passion to these goals and measures. President Obama has a nice family. If he were to take up this cause with energy and understanding, he could become a great president in his second term. Sadly, he seems too committed to advancing the causes of the problem, such as the paternalistic welfare state, to appreciate the nature of the problem and its remedies.