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Time for GOP to Focus on the Family

Conservatives should prioritize social cohesion over globalization.

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One month before issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln wrote Congress: “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present…As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.” It’s time for Republicans to think anew about the family. For the past thirty years a conscious decision was made to prioritize financialization, cronyism, and globalization over social cohesion and broad prosperity. If conservatives believe that family is the foundation for a healthy civilization, it’s time that they protect the institution from external forces unleashed not by creativity but by deliberate policy choices promoted by elites on Wall Street and in our nation’s capital.

Thanks in large part to stagnant middle class wages, burdensome student loan debt, and rising housing costs, family formation is being delayed, and the building block of our society is crumbling. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, fertility rates in most Western countries have dipped below the replacement level of 2.1 children per family. In approximately fifty years, there will be more people on the planet over the age of sixty-five than under the age of fifteen for the first time in recorded history. While future generations will face many challenges, chief among them will be caring for an increasingly aging population. By 2100, the median age is projected to rise to forty-two years old, which is eleven years greater than it is today and eighteen years more than it was in 1950. The human and financial cost of caring for the elderly population will overwhelm even the most vibrant economies and declining life expectancies in the United States due to chronic health issues like heart disease, diabetes, and substance abuse indicate that the older generations will not necessarily be healthier.

Meanwhile, prominent Democrat politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez have suggested that we should stop having children all together in order to save the planet. This approach is misguided. We do not have to abolish child rearing in order to meet the environmental challenges of our time. Not only do we need more children to help provide the resources to take care of the elderly, we also need more children in order to be good human beings.

As Gracy Olmstead wrote in the New York Times, “the act of creation is opposed to the act of consumption,” and the practice of raising children actually helps to inculcate the virtues needed to be good stewards of the environment. Moreover, practicing conservation is a tradition that must be handed down from generation to generation. And the best way to ensure that future generations care about the climate is for people who care about the climate to have children. If anything, in our self-indulgent Instagram and throwaway culture, society should be promoting family formation instead of opposing it. 

In the past decade, the country of Hungary has provided a compelling model for strengthening family life. Since 2010, the Hungarian government has increased their commitment to families by investing nearly 5 percent of the GDP in a creative number of pro-family policies that have produced remarkable results. These policies include abolishing income tax for mothers who have more than four children, providing stipends for young families, reduction in student loan debt upon the birth of a child, maternity leave, and financial support for large families looking to purchase a new home or vehicle.

Since implementing these programs, the rate of marriages has increased by 42.4 percent, abortions are down by 33.5 percent, female employment is up by 24%, and fertility rates have increased by 20 percent. While obstacles to family formation in America may differ due to historical circumstances (i.e., we didn’t have to endure decades of Communist rule), it’s worth considering how we might adopt similar policies in the United States to promote strong families, resilient faith communities and a thriving middle class.

If social conservatism is to have a future in American politics, the Republican Party must become pro-life for the whole of life, and the most popular place to start would be to support paid family leave. Across party lines, 74 percent of Americans support paid family leave. Family policy is an area that is very important to the president’s daughter, Ivanka, and there are a growing number of Republicans in the Senate like Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, Joni Ernst and Bill Cassidy who have introduced family leave proposals. Support for such policies is also picking up steam among conservative think tanks and publications like The Daily Caller, American Affairs, and the American Principles Project, as an appetite for a pro-worker, pro-family agenda grows on the Right.

Most importantly, implementing pro-family policy the right thing to do because it provides vital support needed for middle class families who have been suffering at the hands of market forces that have hollowed out our heartland and crushed the American dream. President Trump promised to end the forever wars in the Middle East and rebuild America. There is no more urgent place to start than by rebuilding the American family and the time to act is now.

John A. Burtka IV is executive director of The American Conservative. He has appeared on Fox News and Fox Business and written for The Washington PostRichmond Times-Dispatch, American Theological InquiryFirst ThingsThe American Mind, The Intercollegiate Review, and TouchstoneYou can follow him on Twitter @jburtkaIV.