American conservatives are not in crisis; we’re simply confused. From trade policy to identity politics to foreign policy, we are disagreeing with one another more openly than at any time in living memory. Resolving these debates and re-building a cohesive national movement will take time. But this discord also means conservatives must embrace opportunities for consensus. And we have a great opportunity to do so: strengthening the American family.
It’s a cause towards a more moral, happy and prosperous society. First, though, conservatives must accept society as it stands today. Put simply, we must admit that gay marriage is here to stay. The Supreme Court has ruled. And, fact is, most young Americans are supportive of homosexual relationships and the issue is far down voter priority lists. That doesn’t mean conservatives should celebrate this social understanding, but we should re-focus on defending religious liberty.
Of course, pursuing stronger families, we must remember that strong families are built on love. Failed marriages can cause immense suffering for young children. As such, marriage must always be viewed by government as a means to an end — a more healthy society — rather than as an end in itself. Put simply, just as supporting the troops requires more than wearing a yellow ribbon, supporting families requires more than marriage tax credits.
Still, the statistical evidence — the Heritage Foundation has extensive research here — proves that healthy marriages are crucial for healthy families. Providing children with a loving environment of 24-hour guidance and support, married couples offer unique individual attention to the next generation. This individual attention is the foundation of a well-developed citizen. And for that, the evidence runs far and wide. As I noted recently, an orphanage in Bangladesh teaches us how treating individuals as individuals pays great dividends. Moreover, this focus on empowering individuality offers a conservative counterpoint to liberal populism on issues like the minimum wage (that destroy individual opportunity).
Just as supporting the troops requires more than wearing a yellow ribbon, supporting families requires more than marriage tax credits
As the next few years progress and liberal populism proves itself to be a disaster, we must be ready to offer alternatives. Nevertheless, strong families aren’t good simply for what they offer, but for what happens when they are absent. Most importantly, consider what happens when families are weak and children lack a loving home. In these situations the social despairs of crime and poverty and hopelessness ruin lives. Whether in London or New York or Los Angeles or Baghdad, speak to a teenage gang member and you’re likely to find he comes from a troubled family. This is not coincidental. Absent family guidance and ensuing purpose, gangs offer a powerful alternate source of perceived self-worth.
But enough about theory. Here are a few ways we could change policy to strengthen families. First, we should pursue comprehensive reforms to reduce welfare dependency and bolster opportunity-access. We must move — as part of a focus on family wellbeing — to reform our education system to boost parent options and children’s opportunities. Third, we should reform the child tax credit system to better target lower-earning parents. Fourth, we should reform the US adoption bureaucracy to encourage adoption. Regardless, the key here is our policy confidence that healthy families support healthy individuals who in turn support a healthier society. That agenda deserves renewed attention.
But getting serious about supporting American families will also require our engagement in non-traditional conservative policy areas. For one, criminal justice reform. We must recognize, for example, that our support for families can help them to support their loved ones in the pursuit of better lives. Redemption is not a liberal word, but rather an American ideal. We must also be willing to engage with Democrats on issues involving drug policy. While this shouldn’t mean pro-legalization, we must accept that the opioid addiction crisis guts families alongside drug users.
Ultimately, this should not be complicated. Loving families are mutually supporting, individually attentive and help children to become happy and responsible citizens. Strengthening families is the perfect cause for conservatives.
Tom Rogan is a Senior Contributor for Opportunity Lives and writes for National Review. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets.