IN his State of the Union speech, President Bush borrowed a suggestion from the nation's mayors and called for a new commission on America's urban families. In a meeting at the White House in mid-January, members of the League of Cities had asked the president to switch $3 billion immediately from defense and foreign policy programs to create a peace dividend for America's "human infrastructure - children and families."
The mayors put a red tag on their recommendation by warning that the "loss of an entire generation" was at stake. They went through the usual litany of urban maladies - drugs, gangs, crime in the streets - and spoke of "underlying factors that must be more clearly understood" to help the broken and impoverished families that lead to broken and impoverished lives.
The promise of attention at the presidential level, for whatever reason, is welcome. But is additional analysis really required? The effects of neglect need hardly be reexamined. Nor do the proven rewards of programs like Head Start. Only last November, the National Commission on Children, with Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D) of West Virginia as chairman, submitted results of a two-year study on the condition of America's families. Do children in need have to wait for another report before a modest peace
dividend can be distributed?
In the case of other officially declared crises, like the Gulf war or even the long-developing savings-and-loan disaster, commissions were not deemed necessary before financial commitment was made.
The mayors, and now the president, hope the proposed commission on America's urban families will "focus the eyes and commitment of the nation." But surely the eyes of Americans have already been opened to what the mayors eloquently describe as "disturbing trends that are affecting all communities - growing numbers of children whose lives are defined by poverty, family violence, delinquency, drug abuse, and alienation." The time has come for commitment, including a peace dividend that would amount to less
than the cost of four Stealth bombers.