Jewish World Review Jan. 2, 2003 / 28 Teves, 5763

David M. Anderson

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Push real family policies, not rhetoric | Almost every domestic policy can be construed as one that promotes the best interests of families in a general way. Tax cuts. Healthcare. Environment. Education. Transportation.

• Tax cuts can be used by families for any purpose.

• Healthcare enables family members to overcome illness and disease.

• Cleaner air and water help families avoid health problems.

• Good schooling empowers children and builds the family structure.

• New roads enable parents to get home from work more efficiently.

Indeed, both Democrats and Republicans maintain that their parties promote the best interests of families. And whatever stance they take on an issue, you are bound to hear that it helps our families.

Democrats are inclined to line up their domestic policies as ones that promote the interests of the diversity of family types in America today, while Republicans are inclined to line up their domestic policies as ones that promote family values for the majority of families in America today. In both cases, though, it is always the interests and values of families that are being promoted.

There are some policies that are directly about the nature and structure of family life. For example, the Family and Medical Leave Act is a policy that is explicitly designed to enable mothers and fathers to spend time with family members -- their newborn infants or their parents -- when there is a special need, most notably birth or illness. This important policy is aimed at a specific problem about family structure -- the absence of a mother or a father from the home setting when their presence is needed for responsible care.

We need to stop using the phrase ''family policy'' as a general catch-all label. We should only use the phrase for a policy like the Family and Medical Leave Act. Political platforms that repeatedly claim to promote the interests and values of families can be misleading in their substance as well as in their vacuous language. They can create the false impression that the policies they promote -- about healthcare, education, the environment -- are aimed specifically at problems in family structure and life. In fact, they are policies aimed at individual citizens whether they live with other family members or not.

We have policies that deal with specific problems about family structure; those are our family policies. In truth, we do not have enough family policies. And the more politicians use the language of promoting the interests and values of families when they are talking about any old policy, the more likely that we will not focus on the specific problems of family structure that need solutions.

Of course we need to address our healthcare, environmental and education problems. Yet, so, too, do we need to address specific problems about family life. So long as our politicians spray every argument with family language, the hardest problems confronting the American family will not be faced.

David M. Anderson is an associate research professor at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. Comment by clicking here.


© 2003, David M. Anderson. This column first appeared in the Miami Herald