Now I’m famous for real

Okay, not exactly, but, as you can imagine, for someone like me, it is sooooo cool to have my research described and then be quoted extensively in an article in the New York Times.  Even if I were not in here, I would surely recommend Emily Badger and Claire Cain Miller’s excellent Upshot piece on how our family policies fall far short of our political rhetoric about families.  Obviously, you have to read the whole thing for sure, this time.  But, that said:

But this past week was a reminder of a deep contradiction about the family in American politics: Families make powerful symbols, valuable to politicians and revered by voters. But American policies are inconsistent and weak, relative to many countries, in supporting them.

The focus of recent days was on the Trump administration’s separation of immigrant children from their parents at the Mexican border. The contradiction is also clear in many other realms, say critics on both the right and left: criminal justice, child welfare, family leave, child care, health care and education.

“There’s a basic inconsistency in saying we support families, we have family-friendly policies, when in fact we have the worst family policies of any developed high-income democracy,” said Dorothy Roberts, a professor of law and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. “We don’t have family-friendly policies at all.” …

Before the 1970s, politicians seldom preached about families, according to research by the political scientists Steven Greene and Laurel Elder, who have analyzed the language used in political speeches. By 1992, conservatives were using “family values” as a motto and weapon of critique. Families became more politicized, Mr. Greene and Ms. Elder argue, as the American family itself went through major changes — with more mothers working, more single and same-sex parents, and the rise of more intensive parenting.

Over this time, the family has come to sit at the center of a core philosophical divide between the left and the right, even as both claim to care about families the most. As the left sees it, government plays an essential role protecting and supporting families, through programs like Medicaid or a higher minimum wage. To the right, it seems government too often burdens families, who need lower taxes and less regulation…

“Family and parenting is just such a potent political symbol,” said Mr. Greene, a political scientist at North Carolina State University. “Politicians have learned that whatever the policy is, wrapping it in the language of family and children — both Democrats and Republicans, regardless of policy — is really effective.”

By this thinking, even President Trump’s family separation policy at the border could be argued as pro-family. “If the immigrants are coming to take away your job, then this policy is pro-family,” Mr. Greene said.

He worries that the politicization of the family is bad for policymaking. As the family becomes a culturally loaded symbol, evocative of everything and used to justify anything, it becomes harder to devise real policies that address real needs, he said.

A few additional thoughts…

1) It was so great to get to talk with Emily Badger.  I’ve been following her work since her Wonkblog days and it was so much fun to bounce around ideas on these issues for over half an hour with such a smart and knowledgeable political journalist.  And, though, I didn’t talk to Miller, I love great the Upshot work she has been doing on gender and politics.  So pleased to be a part of this article.

2) For me, this really speaks to the value of political scientists (and all academics) making a real effort to get their research out to a broader audience.  Badger was never going to happen across The Politics of Parenthood or the various PS journal articles Laurel and I have written on the matter.  But when researching this article, she most definitely did come across our 2012 Washington Post essay, summarizing our research, which led to the research and our interview being part of the article.

3)  felt a little funny that I was the one interviewed and not Laurel.  I’m well aware that male academics get interviewed too much and female academics not enough.  As much as I want to be in the NYT, I was planning on deferring to Laurel– who almost surely explains our research better than I do– but as circumstance would have it, she was actually travelling all day when Badger was hoping for the interview.

4) I knew that this was going to be an Upshot piece, but it was so cool to just go to yesterday morning, as I do every morning, scan through the headlines I want to read, and say, “hey, wait a minute, that’s the one with me!”

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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