Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On "The War against Parents" by Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Cornel West ***

This book explores, in statistics and anecdotes, the troubles that parents have in today's America. Such problems, the authors argue, are in part created by our own government, by corporate culture, and by media. Their points are well taken. Government has, instead of providing tax benefits to parents, taken more and more of such benefits away (e.g., deductions for children are much lower, adjusted for inflation, than they were in the 1950s). Corporations have awarded multimillion dollar bonuses to CEOs, while cutting back pay for regular employees. The media has ceased to provide educational programming and tends to make fun of parents rather than give them credit for their hard work.

There's a certain nostalgia for better times--that is, the 1950s--that kind of bothers me about this book. Although the tax code was, from what I've read, quite a bit more redistributive then, there was also, I would argue, more tax money to go around--the United States was the sole power after World War II who didn't have to substantially rebuild. That in turn allowed the country to spend in ways that the nation could likely not spend now. CEOs do take home an unfair amount of income, but their bonuses are a drop in the bucket compared to overall company expenses. And certainly today's sitcoms do make fun of parents, but some sitcoms also show parents at their best; popular entertainment in the 1950s had its share of scummy people too (just think: pulp fiction). At the same time, the authors credit certain advances since the 1950s, such as women having more opportunities in the workplace, without--in my view--really exploring how those opportunities have also contributed to some of the problems parents now have. If good parenting means sacrifice, then sacrifice often also includes one's career--it is certainly so now, but it was so in the 1950s as well.

That said, West and Hewlett do a great job of stirring the ire of common folk like me. I can't help but get angry when I read of how conservatives, who on one hand talk family friendly and on the other remove media educational-programming requirements under the theory that the "market will take care of that." I can't help but get angry at CEOs who get a bonus at the same time their company lays off tens of thousands of employees. I can't help but be angry when liberal media lambasts men for trying to do a better job of being men--that is, of being true men, whose main priority is their family. The authors of this book show many of our nation's hypocrisies, on both the left and the right, and though the authors' own views skew to left, they do enough critiquing of that left to keep the overall picture of the problems parents currently have fairly well balanced.

And the authors make a number of common sense proposals I'd love to see our government take up. Some of these could be done at virtually no cost--a day off for voting, for example. Some are very practical--longer school days, for example. And some are grand wishes--almost all the parents in the surveys the authors reference support various tax deductions at the same time they support greater government services; the authors only rarely talk about where the extra income would come from to pay for these simultaneous tax cuts and increases in spending.

At the least this book is a great call to action. At the most, it provides a blueprint, a starting place, toward creating a nation that takes better care of its children. I hope some politicians out there have read it and will take it to heart.

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