DURING the 1992 presidential campaign, liberals and the national news media vilified Vice President Dan Quayle for having the courage to suggest that children are best raised by both a mother and a father. ``The vice president's address is in my view cynical election-year politics,'' scoffed candidate Bill Clinton.
What a difference a year in the White House makes. In an interview with NBC, President Clinton said, ``It's certainly true that this country would be much better off if our babies were born into two-parent families.'' He added, ``The rise of violence is related to the decline of traditional families and upbringing.''
Is Clinton borrowing another Republican theme, as he has done with crime control and welfare reform, for the sake of political expediency? Or does he finally see the dangers of permissive attitudes and government programs that encourage out-of-wedlock births? These births are exacerbating pressing social problems, the most frightening being the explosion of violent crime.
Do not misunderstand. Analyzing the dangers of soaring illegitimate births and searching for causes and solutions is not a critique of single mothers. To the contrary, many single mothers should be applauded because they endure great financial, emotional, and physical hardships, including deadbeat dads, abusive former spouses, and parasitic boyfriends.
Yet we must critique society's acceptance of illegitimacy as well as condemn government policies that reward behavior which for three decades has caused cultural decay and diminished America's strength.
A cultural meltdown is beginning in America. Studies show that parents spend 40 percent less time with their children now than they did in 1965. Education standards are deteriorating. Discipline problems in classrooms have evolved in the last 50 years from talking out of turn, chewing gum, running in the hall, and cutting in line to the horrors of drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, and teen suicide.
Likewise, the United States has earned the dubious honor of being the crime capital of the world. Our citizens suffer more crime per capita than any other developed nation.
What do crime and society's other problems have to do with illegitimacy? Plenty. ``Illegitimacy is the single most important social problem of our time - more important than crime, drugs, poverty, illiteracy, welfare, or homelessness because it drives everything else,'' wrote American Enterprise Institute fellow Charles Murray in the Wall Street Journal.
Unfortunately, fatherless families are expanding exponentially. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, illegitimate births have skyrocketed 400 percent since 1960. In 1991, about 30 percent of all live births, 1.2 million, were to unmarried women. The increase has occurred among all races and all income groups.
Evidence points to a direct connection between illegitimacy and the rise in crime. Douglas A. Smith and G. Roger Jarjoura, in the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, analyzed 11,000 acts of violence in a cross-section of America. The common denominator in these cases was not race or even poverty but ``father absent'' homes.
While there is no easy solution to rising illegitimacy, the following steps would help restore the concept of traditional families.
Revitalize society's cultural institutions. Families, churches, schools, civic groups, and youth organizations must once again teach responsibility, individual accountability, self-discipline, moral obligation, civil behavior, and respect for authority, the elderly, and the young.
Escape the utopian mindset. Economist Thomas Sowell has written about ``1960s liberalism,'' a utopian way of thinking - still advanced by an overwhelming majority within academia and among the news media - that blames others or society for individual wrongdoing. We must escape this absurdity and demand that individuals accept responsibility for their actions.
Family-friendly public policy: Recent public policy, perhaps more than anything else, has helped destroy traditional families. One only has to look as far as the congressionally-approved 1994 budget. Among its onerous provisions, it eliminated tax credits to struggling parents and penalized married couples by forcing them to pay higher income taxes than two cohabitating individuals. The family likewise receives no relief from the Clinton administration. Nothing could be worse to the welfare of families than a Justice Department that is dangerously relaxing child pornography laws, a surgeon general obsessed with explicit, grade-school sex education, and an AIDS czar who promotes free needles for drug users.
Congress and the administration must enact policies that make it easier, not more difficult, for families to survive and flourish. As William Bennett said, ``We must have public policies that once again make the connection between our deepest beliefs and our legislative agenda.''
While there is certainly no quick fix for illegitimacy and its resultant problems, we can no longer ignore its consequences for our children or our society.
Some adults may travel without wearing a seat belt and still safely reach their destinations. Some children may be raised in a fatherless environment and avoid violent behavior, poverty, prison, or worse. Yet two-parent families are the course on which society's collective health and safety depends. It is the safety option that amounts to nothing less than seat belts for young Americans who must travel the most dangerous roads our country has ever known.