Dark horse presidential candidate Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y., recently unveiled her “family bill of rights,” a plan she claims “will lift many of the financial burdens on families and help level the playing field for children” within her first 100 days as president. Unlike the actual Bill of Rights, Gillibrand’s proposal expands the role of government while doing little to help struggling families.
The plan focuses on a few policy proposals it erroneously refers to as “fundamental rights” that are designed to appeal to the party’s far-left contingent. These so-called fundamental rights include a mandate that insurance companies pay for in vitro fertilization, a national paid family leave policy, universal pre-K, and automatic enrollment of every newborn in government-funded healthcare.
Unsurprisingly, the Gillibrand campaign has not yet determined how much this will all cost the taxpayer, but predict that it could be paid for through a tax on financial transactions that would raise $777 billion over 10 years.
While branding her plan as a “bill of rights” is clever marketing, the substance amounts to a box of Band-Aids, at best. At worst, it’s a laundry list of strategies that will increase government intrusion into the private realm of the family, while doing little to actually strengthen it.
Gillibrand’s proposal does raise an interesting question, however: What would a real “family bill of rights” look like?
A true family bill of rights must, like the U.S. Bill of Rights, focus on securing the liberty of families. At the most basic level, it must recognize that the natural right possessed by children and parents in their relationship with one another and protect it from government interference absent a compelling interest. It would recognize that parents have the right to raise their children as they see fit, free from state-imposed social engineering.
A family bill of rights would guarantee the broad right of parents to direct the care and upbringing of their children, including the right to make the most basic decisions about their children’s education, healthcare, and moral and religious instruction. A true family bill of rights is one that maximizes the freedom of families to flourish.
Despite her misunderstanding of what constitutes a “fundamental right” and penchant for government social engineering, I believe Gillibrand genuinely desires to strengthen families.
Unfortunately, her desire is derailed by the fallacy that the struggles faced by families are primarily the result of economics, and that the perfect combination of government programs will somehow magically strengthen families and revive the American Dream.
Strong, prosperous families aren’t created by Washington bureaucrats. They’re the result of healthy marriages, active participation in a religious community, and a vibrant civic life that connects people with their neighbors in meaningful ways.
Researchers have long noted the important role voluntary social institutions play in driving prosperity. It is collapse of these institutions, as famously argued by Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone, that is at the root of the many societal ills that Gillibrand’s misguided proposal attempts to address.
Rather than strengthening social institutions, government intervention has actually contributed to their collapse by erecting barriers that prevent families and communities from engaging in self-governance and meeting the needs of their neighbors.
Want to feed your homeless neighbor? You’d better not try that in Houston. That’s what government does — it crowds out other, more effective and more important social institutions.
American society is increasingly isolated and divided. The crisis of hopelessness long plaguing the communities of Middle America finally burst to the surface after going largely unnoticed by coastal elites like Gillibrand. These same elites who for so long ignored or scoffed at the concerns of the working class are now scrambling to figure out how to respond to the struggles faced by families who have seen their once-vibrant communities fall into malaise.
Yet in their arrogance, they fail to realize that the solution doesn’t lie in a new version of the New Deal or other fashionable program designed to save these communities by remaking them in the image of Silicon Valley or New York. It lies in getting out of the way and allowing Americans to do what we’ve always done best — coming together as communities to confront big problems and care for our neighbors in need.