Jean Elshtain and Margaret Steinfels and I agree at least on one thing: too many children are poor, badly educated, at risk of being un- or underemployed, becoming substance dependent, criminal, or dead. What we disagree on are the solutions to these problems. Indeed, for all their strong language, I find neither offering any action. Calls for “secure institutions,” restoring the “fabric of families,” and living up to “strong responsibilities” are empty exhortations unless we specify just who should take responsibility to do what. The form of the rhetoric, moreover, leaves the impression- that it’s “they” and not “we” who have shirked responsibilities. This vague rhetoric seems to function as an excuse not only for doing nothing, but for not even thinking about what to do.
Elshtain and Steinfels both claim that “we” have undertaken a “social experiment” in single motherhood that has “failed.” What odd phrasing! Who are “we” who designed such a cruel “experiment”? But, of course, no one designed the patchwork of plural family living arrangements in the United States today. In some respects, it has always been with us. There is no question, however, that the last two decades have seen more divorce and less marriage, though the rate of teenage pregnancy has not in fact increased....
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