Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Family Matters

William Galston is by far the most liberal/progressive writer whose work regularly appears in the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal. So it was with no small amount of surprise that I opened today’s paper to find him talking about the undeniable benefits of marriage and the importance of families.

The Poverty Cure: Get Married:

Of the many barriers to equal opportunity for African-Americans, differences of family background may well be the most consequential—and the least likely to yield to public policy. This is the gravamen of research made public in recent weeks, much of it collected in the fall 2015 issue of the academic journal the Future of Children.

Although there were signs of trouble to come in the 1960s, racial differences in marriage rates remained modest until 1970, when 95% of white women and 92% of black women had been married at least once. By 2012, however, a large gap had emerged: 88% of white women age 40-44 were or had been married, compared with only 63% of black women.

Education makes a difference: Among black women with a bachelor’s degree or more, the ever-married rate is 71%; for those with no more than a high-school diploma, it is only 56%. But race also matters. The ever-married rate for college-educated black women is 17 percentage points lower than for white women, while the black/white gap among the least-educated women is a stunning 31 points.

As a result, other differences are stark. Consider that 71% of African-American infants are born to unmarried women, compared with 29% for white women. The birth of a child doesn’t motivate many African-American couples to get married: 66% of black children are not living with married parents. Nor does it keep their unmarried biological parents together. About seven in 10 white children, from newborn to 18 years of age, are living with their biological parents, compared with one in three black children.

This matters because—as family-structure researchers Sara McLanahan and Isabel Sawhill note in the Future of Children, “most scholars now agree that children raised by two biological parents in a stable marriage do better than children in other family forms across a wide variety of outcomes.”

The statement in bold is basic common sense and should be something that everyone can agree on regardless of political leanings. However, for at least the last twenty years our society has been deluged with messages arguing exactly the opposite. It doesn’t matter if kids have one mother or one father or two mothers or two fathers or any other combination other than the traditional family. All families are the same. Except that they’re not.

It turns out that the effects of family instability are measurably worse for boys than for girls—and worst of all for African-American boys. In a landmark new study, a research team headed by MIT’s David Autor and Northwestern University’s David Figlio find that relative to their sisters, boys born to poorly educated unmarried mothers have higher levels of truancy and behavioral problems throughout elementary and middle school, are less likely to graduate from high school, and are more likely as juveniles to commit serious crimes. Many of the gaps between brothers and sisters are larger for blacks than for whites.

The researchers study—and reject—the hypotheses that these differences reflect higher prenatal sensitivity to factors such as stress and poor nutrition or that they are entirely attributable to dangerous neighborhoods and poor schools. There are independent effects of family background that contribute to the large gaps between boys and girls. In fact, the researchers conclude, neighborhoods and schools are less important than the “direct effect of family structure itself.”

Why is this? The research team finds that boys’ problems are far more behavioral than cognitive. For example, truancy and classroom disciplinary issues lead to suspensions, which play the largest role in explaining the boy-girl high-school graduation gap. But the presence of fathers in the household substantially reduces the gaps between boys and girls in absences and suspensions. It turns out that boys need fathers as well as mothers even more than girls do, and suffer even more when fathers are absent from their lives.

Again, the damage done to boys by not having fathers involved in their lives should be obvious for all to see and beyond dispute. But again, we’ve been told over and over again that this basic fact of life is wrong and that even mentioning it as one of the underlying causes of the problems facing African-Americans is racist.

One of my biggest (of many) disappointments with President Obama is that he not focused nearly enough attention on this matter. It’s not that he hasn’t mentioned it at all, it’s just that he had an opportunity to make it a priority for his administration along with the bully pulpit to ensure the message was heard. Now that would have been a legacy worth celebrating and remembering.

Friday, October 23, 2015

It Just Doesn't Matter

There is a lot of talk in the media today about how yesterday’s Benghazi hearings produced more heat than light and that there were no new revelations that emerged. The reality is that what emerged was beyond a doubt proof that the Obama Administration, including Secretary of State Clinton, played fast and loose with the truth in the immediate aftermath of the attack. It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that the reason for this dissembling was to protect President Obama’s campaign claim that Al Qaeda was irrelevant and the war on terror was essentially won. In other words, they twisted the truth about national security for political purposes.

Which makes today’s charges that the GOP has politicized the hearings more than a touch ironic. Yesterday’s hearing also confirmed that the argument Mitt Romney tried to make on the matter in 2012’s second presidential debate was accurate. We well remember how the impartial, objective moderator Candy Crowley shut down Romney’s efforts at the time and let President Obama slip off the hook.

So Romney was right about Benghazi, right about the danger of Chinese hacking, and right about Russia being a geopolitical threat. Truly a man before his time.

In case you missed yesterday’s hearing, Kimberly Strassel has captured the relevant moments in a piece in the WSJ called She Knew All Along:

What that House committee did Thursday was finally expose the initial deception. To understand the willful depth of that trickery, let’s briefly recall the history.

In early September 2012, at the Democratic National Convention, Vice President Joe Biden summarized to thunderous applause the administration’s re-election pitch: “Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive.” Translation: The president had revived the economy, even as he had put “al Qaeda on the run,” as Mr. Obama put it. Five days later, four Americans in Benghazi were dead. It appeared the White House had slept through a terror attack on the anniversary of 9/11.

The administration instead immediately presented the attack as a spontaneous mob backlash to an anti-Muslim YouTube video. At 10:30 on the night of the attack, Mrs. Clinton issued a statement about the violence, blaming the video. She repeated the charge in a speech the next day. President Obama gave his own speech that day, referring to the video and refusing to use the word “terrorism.”

The next day, Mrs. Clinton mentioned the video twice more. The day after that, Press Secretary Jay Carney said: “We have no information to suggest that it was a preplanned attack.” Mrs. Clinton promised the father of one of the victims that the administration would “make sure that the person who made that film is arrested and prosecuted.” In his weekly address, Mr. Obama talked about the video. When the Libyan president said there was evidence the attack was planned months in advance, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice contradicted him. She instead told five Sunday talk shows—five days after the attack—that “based on the best information we have to date,” the attack “began spontaneously” in response to “this hateful video.” Mr. Obama for two full weeks continued to talk about YouTube.

Here’s what the Benghazi committee found in Thursday’s hearing. Two hours into Mrs. Clinton’s testimony, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan referred to an email Mrs. Clinton sent to her daughter, Chelsea, at 11:12 the night of the attack, or 45 minutes after the secretary of state had issued a statement blaming YouTube-inflamed mobs. Her email reads: “Two of our officers were killed in Benghazi by an Al Queda-like group.” Mrs. Clinton doesn’t hedge in the email; no “it seems” or “it appears.” She tells her daughter that on the anniversary of 9/11 an al Qaeda group assassinated four Americans.

That same evening, Mrs. Clinton spoke on the phone with Libyan President Mohamed Magariaf, around 8 p.m. The notes from that conversation, in a State Department email, describe her as saying: “We have asked for the Libyan government to provide additional security to the compound immediately as there is a gun battle ongoing, which I understand Ansar as Sharia [sic] is claiming responsibility for.” Ansar al Sharia is al Qaeda’s affiliate on the Arabian Peninsula. So several hours into the attack, Mrs. Clinton already believed that al Qaeda was attacking U.S. facilities.

The next afternoon, Mrs. Clinton had a call with the Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil. The notes from it are absolutely damning. The secretary of state tells him: “We know that the attack in Libya had nothing to do with the film. It was a planned attack—not a protest.” And yet Mrs. Clinton, and Ms. Rice and Mr. Obama for days and days continued to spin the video lie.

A simple compare and contrast would seem to demonstrate rather conclusively that what Mrs. Clinton was saying publicly about the attacks did not at all match what she was saying “privately” (scare quotes since God only knows how many folks had access to her e-mail server by that time). Just for fun replace the last name Clinton with Cheney and imagine the uproar that such prevaricating on the reasons for the attack would have created.

However, I don’t think there will be any lasting impact from these most recent revelations. We’ve reached the point on Hillary where most people’s position are pretty well firmed up. A good chunk of the country wouldn’t trust to be a school crossing guard to say nothing of commander in chief. And an equally if not perhaps larger portion (we’ll find out for sure next November) simply doesn’t seem to care what she does (or did or plans to do). They hear the latest news from the Benghazi hearings or the FBI investigation of her e-mail and only one thought goes through their minds.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Too Easy

First, let’s start with the obvious and state that Hillary “won” last night’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas. I place scare quotes around won because otherwise the word implies that the debate was a contest where Hillary’s opponents had the capability or intent of besting her. That clearly was not the case last night.

Think about this, if Hillary had been able to stage the debate would it have looked any different than what we saw last night? I think not. It wasn’t a real debate in the manner that we’re accustomed to. It was a show designed to make Hillary look good.

It had Jim Webb staking out the right flank of the Democratic party (a lonely position these days) so Hillary could demonstrate her progressive bona fides.

It had Martin O’Malley with all the energy of a sloth on Quaaludes so Hillary could show her vim and vigor.

It had Lincoln Chafee who appeared incapable of running a carpool to say nothing of a country so Hillary could come off as competent and in command.

Finally, the debate featured everyone’s favorite crazy uncle Bernie Sanders so that with the most minimal tacking to the center Hillary would appear to be a moderate and reasonable choice.

From start to finish the debate was all about Hillary. The other candidates were merely props for her to play off to further her own purposes. The other candidates weren’t there to win, they were there to play their particular role which they all dutifully did. Sure she took some hits and didn’t always perform perfectly. But like a professional wrestling match where the no name scrub occasionally gets the best of the well know star only to always lose at the end, the outcome of last night’s debate was never in doubt.

So yes Hillary “won” the debate. And now Democrats and the media will crow about her stellar performance, talk about how she’s got her groove back, marvel at what a formidable candidate she will be in the general election, and compare her new position of strength with all the messing infighting on the Republican side.

However, I wonder if at some point in the future we’ll look back on this as a hollow victory. While it’s possible that the brutal battles among the GOP candidates could weaken the eventual nominee and hurt them in November 2016, it’s also quite possible that such struggles end with a nominee who’s tried, tested, and stronger as a result. When the general election campaign starts Hillary won’t be facing off against cupcakes, but against a real candidate with the conviction and capability to defeat her. And the debates will be real.