Sanity Rising

Parents, grandparents and the general public are all for sanity, and Biden’s “American Families Plan” makes total sense.

Sometimes real life catches up with unreal politics, and the good news is that this is happening at last for universal child care. In many — if not most — families, mothers still have primary responsibility for the care of children, and yet, whether out of preference, economic necessity or both, 57% of women are now in the workforce, including 75% of America’s 9 million single moms.

Recently, the coronavirus pandemic has dramatically cut the availability of child care while also heightening the urgency of getting it. So, as they strive to manage both job and family responsibilities (often doing work that is both essential to our country and poorly paid), women today want, deserve and insist that our rich economic system honor and support their contributions to the common good.

Secondly, there’s been an equally profound, tectonic shift in political attitudes, leaving the GOP hardcore isolated in a Nixon-Reaganish time warp. Consider their knee-jerk reliance on the bugaboo of big government. That ploy used to work, but as horrors like COVID-19, climate disaster, job loss and flat wages rip through America, more people have come to fear government that is too small, uncaring or inept to respond. Given this disconnect, the political climate for passage of major public investment in our children’s care and education has rarely been more favorable. Here are some results of a national survey done for the Center for American Progress just before last fall’s elections.

  • 70% of registered voters support increased congressional funding for child care and early childhood education (including 60% of Republican voters).
  • At least 6 in 10 people in every age and education group support this increased funding, including two-thirds who don’t have children under the age of 18.
  • 79% support a government guarantee of child care assistance to low-income and middle-class families (67% of GOP voters agree).
  • 80% favor new care programs targeting rural and low-income areas where licensed care is scarce.
  • 8 in 10 favor offering pre-K public education to all 3- and 4-year-olds.
  • 88% (including 80% of Republicans) support increasing worker pay to ensure that child care workers earn a living wage.

So, let’s go! Sanity rising! As a central part of infrastructure restoration, Biden’s “American Families Plan” proposes free pre-K for all 3- and 4-year-olds; affordable child care for all low- and middle- income families; living wages and benefits for care providers; and a long-term investment in the skills of day care workers. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, longtime champion of a strong, progressive-populist program of support for working families, has made an even more responsive and comprehensive proposal, to include funding public care centers that are available to people who work night shifts and weekends.

Sour old naysayers like GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are, as expected, vehemently opposed to more spending on the care and education of America’s children. But they have nothing more potent in their quivers than worn-out shibboleth slurs like “lefty social engineering” (a dud that boneheaded Sen. Josh Hawley recently lobbed at Biden’s plan). Their inherent problem is that parents, grandparents and the general public do not view care for children through a red/blue ideological lens, but as a practical human need. People know what a good program would be, they know they’re not getting anything close to it, and they’re increasingly desperate for help. Even a lot of working-class parents who think of themselves as right-wing Republicans are in crying need of a functioning, affordable system, and they’re dismayed that the McConnells and Hawleys are just pissing in the political wind.

Especially stupid is the present self-defeating procedural tactic of congressional Republicans who’re huffing and puffing that child care is “not infrastructure” and therefore can’t be part of the big bill to fix “real” infrastructure like roads, bridges and water systems. The dictionary definition of infrastructure: “The fundamental facilities and systems serving a country.” Hello! Child care is the work that makes all other work possible — including building things like roads and doing stuff like staffing congressional offices. A public system for taking care of children is about as fundamental as a society’s infrastructure gets.

My message is twofold.

No. 1: We progressives (and many allies of other persuasions, including none-of-the-abovers) can’t waste today’s remarkable political moment and opportunity to restore sanity and achieve something big for the good of all;

No. 2: We can’t let Biden and other Dem centrists sell us out for a half-assed compromise.
Are we going to be for the people … or not? Here’s the clear test.

Jim Hightower
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