“Family values” is one of those loaded terms that make people like me cringe.
It’s conservative code language for restricting abortion, blocking gay marriage, and engaging in all manner of busybody behavior. (Not that the right has the busybody market cornered. Liberals are also good at sticking their noses in other people’s business.)
No secret that Kansas’ new governor is a family values guy to the point that, while in the Senate, he even crusaded against violent video games and railed against “the coarsening of our culture.”
But this week, Sam Brownback offered up a family values proposal that even some libs might support. At least those who don’t reflexively smack their knees into their noses at every idea coming out of the guy’s mouth.
Brownback says he wants to end the so-called marriage penalty imposed on welfare and other government subsidies aimed at poor folks. For many single moms, adding a spouse making minimum wage or less can mean losing some or all of her benefits. So boyfriends live apart, or couples cohabit and try to keep it secret from the government.
As Brownback was all rhetoric and no specifics Monday, some dismissed the proposal as half-baked. But a quick Google search would tell you that Brownback has thought a lot about this issue.
Likewise, the notion that welfare rules discourage marriage is not without basis. Marriage has been in steep decline among lower-income Americans for decades. And while no studies have conclusively found a correlation between that decline and welfare guidelines, the anecdotal evidence has long stirred the passions of those who want to encourage marriage as an institution.
Among them is David Blankenhorn, a self-described liberal Democrat who leads the Institute for American Values and is one of the leaders of the so-called fatherhood movement.
In 2008, Brownback and Blankenhorn co-wrote an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal suggesting an end to the welfare marriage penalty. It’s one of those rare issues, they said, that should appeal to liberals and conservatives alike:
“Liberals because it means more money for the poor. Conservatives because it is pro-marriage, and because it may help to reduce welfare dependency over the long run.”
Blankenhorn was traveling (to Kansas City, as it so happens) on Tuesday, but couldn’t be reached. However, two domestic violence support groups I checked with here and in D.C. say that, in fostering marriage, government needs to be careful it doesn’t encourage women to cement relationships with abusive boyfriends.
Brownback’s proposal is getting favorable reviews so far. The trick will be paying for it.