THE PLANK SEPTEMBER 8, 2008
This weekend, as a friend sat paging through the National Enquirer story about Sarah Palin, she noted that, these days, a stable nuclear family consisting of two parents with only one or two kids--once considered the traditional ideal--is now often regarded as elitist or blue-stateish. In order to be truly authentic and win the respect of conservatives, she posited, people need to have experienced some of the more colorful "complexities" of family life, by either getting themselves knocked up at an early age or winding up with what many people might consider "too many" kids.
To be sure, this theory needs some tinkering. Most notably, if you're a poor black teen and find yourself a young mother, conservative commentators and politicos are unlikely to defend you as simply having made "a mistake"; you are, in those cases, more typically decried as the product of a morally bankrupt culture. But there is something to this idea as it is applied to working- or middle-class white folks, and my guess is that there are a couple of factors at play.
For starters, somewhere along the way, limiting the number of children one produces came to be seen as selfish--a calculated decision yuppy parents make to ensure they and their offspring maintain a certain standard of lifestyle. And be honest, doesn't having just one or two kids seem suspiciously European? I mean, America is all about size: big cars, big homes, big hamburgers, big families...
Of course, the larger issue here is abortion--or rather, the Republican base's elevation of its pro-life beliefs above all else. Under this values system, an unmarried teen who gets pregnant has sinned, but so long as she doesn't terminate the pregnancy, all is forgiven. Indeed, while sex out of wedlock is something conservatives spend a lot of time worrying about, it can serve an invaluable purpose when used as a shining example of a family living out its pro-life values. After all, what's so impressive about a happily married, 20- or 30-something, economically stable woman having a baby? No, the real test is when an unmarried teen or a single woman of any age down on her luck decides to keep her baby in the face of certain hardship. Hell, the greater the hardship the better!
Similarly, who's to say that a married couple with only a couple of kids hasn't at some time chosen to end an inconvenient pregnancy? A married couple with five or six kids, however, is clearly committed to letting nature take its course.
Taken together, the result is a vague sense that the traditional two-parent, two- (or, even worse, one-) child family is lacking something in its commitment to the culture of life. At the very least the parents are thumbing their noses at the biblical admonition to be fruitful and multiply.
So I'm thinking, if Obama really wants to reach across the ideological divide, maybe he should forget all this rhetoric about change and hope and even stop trying to come up with centrist policy positions to sell. He and Michelle should start working on that third kid--they've still got eight weeks left!--and maybe promise to have a couple more while in office.
Seriously. Just think of the slogan possibilities for 2012: "You give us 4 more years, and we'll give you four more babies!"