Other VanOrden Posts

Monday, August 29, 2011

Shifting Winds of American Thought

Most of you probably know that I tend to speak my mind somewhat directly and occasionally with “bull-in-a-china-closet” precision.  The china-closet image and precision may not seem to fit together but let me explain. 

I am concerned about some issues that I can do little else other than get in the china-closet and flail away. I contribute money to and vote for political candidates based on issues. But with some of my most closely held ideals I also feel a duty to rigorously express my point of view.  It is as though I want to explode my enthusiasm all over everyone for what I consider to be bedrock and essential principles.  I believe strongly in some things. 

I love to study developmental history of core ideas in our culture.  I try to put ithemin context over time.  For example, President John Kennedy coined the phrase “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”.  One of his core Democratic ideals was based on people being part of the solution.  In contrast I have seen little thinking from President Barrack Obama that would even approach the same core Democratic ideal from just 50 years ago.  So I get curious and try to figure out how group thinking makes such a dramatic shift.

One of the most precious ideas came naturally from the dominant thinking of my early years in the 1950 and 60s. My parent’s generation was protective of this principle.  It I simply stated by an American president in these words of Theodore Roosevelt when he taught, “the indispensable work of the community is not that of careers, industry, or research; it is the work of the wife and mother.  The women’s work in the home is more important than any man’s endeavors.  She does play a greater part.”
Roosevelt emphasized the essential role of child-rich families, upon which the “welfare of the nation” rests.   To him, the “birth-control” issue was the most serious of problems.  WOW---what a shift in thinking we have since then.

Another principle from President Roosevelt went like this:  “the highest ideal of the family can be obtained only where the father and mother stand to each other as lovers and friends”.  In my opinion, the majority of Americans still adhere to this ideal but there are signs of erosion. 

I recently heard a women say she had divorced her husband, but they still cared for each other.  Her rational was that they now received more help from the government because of their status as single parents.  What happen to, ask not what your country can do for you?  I worry about what happened to the American ideal of growing up to marry, have children, and become a responsible part of the workforce which helps grow the American dream and gross-national-product rather than drain its resources?

During the administration of Jimmy Carter the White house Conference on the American Family was changed from “Family” to “Families” and a few letters ‘ies’ heralded the beginning of the redefining of a traditional family to families on any composition. 

In an ill-conceived effort to articulate and shore-up the American Dream, the opposite happened and traditional families began to lose federal support as the shift to a dominate theme of Human Rights took over.  In a sense we threw the bedrock unit of society under the bus for the ‘rights’ of a few.   Human rights are essential when defined appropriately but can become a problem when everyone throws their very real personal struggle onboard.  The ship gets crowded and some are lost overboard in the storm. 

In the 1980s President Reagan brought support to the table for the traditional family in his rhetoric and policy making.  He consistently urged that we should “be sensitive to the perception of favoring one type of family arrangement over another.”  Most of the debate was centered on one versus two breadwinner families, not on single parent or homosexual issues.  President Reagan did his best to restore balance by bringing the pendulum back to the middle. 

During Reagan’s administration, capitalism was no longer perceived as the enemy of traditional families.  National policy could restore the likelihood of one breadwinner homes being able to live the “good-life”.  A report was prepared by a White House appointed twenty-two member interagency Commission known as Working Group on the Family.  In their report,  “The Family: Preserving America’s Future”, some policies of the previous two decades, identified as daycare, population control, no-fault divorce, sex education, and values clarification in schools, were “blasted” as abrasive experiments. 

The report stated “Intact families are good.  Families who choose to have children are making a desirable decision.  Mothers and fathers who then decide to spend a good deal of time raising those children themselves rather than leaving it to others are demonstrably doing a good thing for those children.  Public policy and the culture in general must support and reaffirm these decisions.”  

It always intrigues me when I see dramatic shifts in American thought over-time.  Especially when dominate political parties switch some platform bullet point with each other. Usually this has to do with what they think will get them the most votes.  The lust for power can be blinding.  They try to mix up the rhetoric somewhat, so as to not alienate any current supporters.  Gradually the pendulum swings precariously right or left and less often toward the middle. 

I am left to wonder if there is truth somewhere on the spectrum.  Is truth always the same or does it shift?  I happen to be one who believes truth is none-negotiable.  But that is not what this musing is about.  Shifts happen!  It is part of the American experiment.  It is what makes us the greatest nation on earth.  Freedom to think and speak as we wish is a gift to be valued.  However, when money and media dominate the debate, we get some unusual results. 

Wherever it came from, parents, education, experience, biblical thought, I am a firm believer in the need for traditional families. I think children help us grow up and become grounded in real life.  I think they help us learn to love unconditionally.  They shape our goals and aspirations in a realm of non-self serving ambition. 

As I approach retirement, I think about traveling and having some self-serving fun with my cancer surviving wife, but my major motivation seems to still center on trying to leave a useful legacy for my children and grandchildren and perhaps hopefully a good chunk of money. 

Here is how Roosevelt put it, “no other success in life, not being President, or being wealthy, or going to college, or anything else, comes up to the success of the man and women who can feel that they have done their duty and that their children and grandchildren rise up to call them blessed.”