Thanks to my one-time boss, Ernest Lefever, for alerting me to the publication of my letter to the editor in today's Washington Times.
I was responding to an opinion article that appeared last week, which called for the creation of a federal "Department of the American Family." No, really, that's what it said. Here are a couple of paragraphs from the article, "In support of marriage," by David Wilkinson and Chris Stevenson:
We suggest that the administration transform the well-meaning but impotent Healthy Marriage Initiative, currently buried in the Department of Health and Human Services, into a new cabinet level department, which could be named the Department of the American Family. Such a move will necessitate a federal definition of marriage. This will bring the issue into the limelight of public debate, where it deserves to be.The absurdity of the proposal didn't strike me as much as the irony of a conservative publication, The Washington Times, giving such drivel valuable space on the opinion page. So I wrote a response, which looked like this in this morning's paper:
What will the department do? First, the fact that there is a Department of the American Family will be highly symbolic of America's belief in the traditional family and will draw a line in the sand. The secretary would advise the president on the status of American families, suggesting ways the president could secure its convalescence and long term health. Additionally, the department could assess the family's response to critical issues or events and the impact of them on the country's families; fund efforts to document the history and influence of the American family; sponsor public advertising campaigns endorsing marriage; and fund university research on the benefits of marriage.
Regulation, bureaucracy and the familyThe authors of the original article, Wilkinson and Stevenson, probably think of themselves as conservatives. But conservatives, I thought, are people who believe the size and scope of government should be reduced, not expanded.
In their Friday Op-Ed column, "In support of marriage," David Wilkinson and Chris Stevenson offer a the kind of suggestion that usually comes from liberals for addressing a perceived social need: Throw money at it with a new government program.
Their idea of creating a new Department of the American Family smacks of the sort of social liberalism so effectively critiqued by President Reagan when he said, "The government's view of the economy can be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it."
Education did not improve with the creation of the federal Department of Education; it got worse. Massive federal welfare programs did not eliminate poverty but instead created generations of families dependent on the state. Amtrak is not superior to privately owned railways; it is more expensive, less reliable and a drain on taxpayers' pocketbooks.
Do Mr. Wilkinson and Mr. Stevenson want to see the American family destroyed through government paternalism?
Turning again to Mr. Reagan, we have to ask ourselves whether we believe "in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves."
Creating a new federal bureaucracy to deal with social problems, no matter how real those problems might be, demonstrates a lack of faith in our capacity for self-government. It abandons the values that Mr. Reagan articulated best but that also were held by conservatives such as Barry Goldwater, Gerald Ford and others before and since.
The Department of the American Family: liberal dream, conservative nightmare.
Unfortunately, it seems that too many self-described "conservatives" have confounded the true conservative legacy of Ronald Reagan in favor of the statist, pro-government faux conservatism of Rick Santorum. That may explain why federal spending has increased more under George W. Bush and a "Republican" Congress than it has at any time since Lyndon Johnson introduced the Great Society.