How on earth are Republicans going to run against the American Families Plan?
On Wednesday, President Biden unveiled some details for his $1.8 trillion plan to directly address some of the ways in which our government has failed our families. Flanked, for the first time, by a female vice president and a female speaker of the House, Biden used his speech to a joint session of Congress to propose paid 12-week family leave. We are one of three countries in the entire world with no mandated paid parental leave, and nearly three-quarters of American workers presently get no paid family leave at all. His plan also includes universal pre-K, hefty tax cuts and credits for parents, two years of free community college, a higher wage for childcare providers and expanded tax credits for middle-income people without children—all by simply forcing wealthy people to pay the taxes they should have been paying all along.
How are all the so-called pro-family Republicans going to run against it? How does a GOP official who ran for office “as a mom” justify opposing measures that would help mothers who don’t have government-funded health care or six-figure salaries? We’re about to find out.
The American Families Plan has big numbers attached to it, and some have compared its progressive ambition to that of FDR or LBJ. But despite this, the plan sounds less like “progress” and more like a checklist of things that should have been fixed decades ago. It addresses a litany of problems that other countries could smugly wave in front of the faces of Americans who claimed that this country was the best in the world; it doesn’t fix everything, but “something” is more than the “nothing” other administrations have delivered. If America were a house, Biden’s American Families plan would be more analogous to fixing a roof that’s been leaking for 40 years or perhaps installing a front door than to digging an in-ground pool.
While the proposal is called the “American Families Plan,” the people who will most directly benefit from it are American women. Women are the ones who give birth, the majority of childcare responsibilities fall to mothers, women outnumber men in caretaking jobs, and more than 30 years after Arlie Hochschild’s The Second Shift, women who spend just as much time working outside of the home as their husbands still do the majority of housework. During his speech, Biden pointed out that millions of women dropped out of the workforce because all of the additional responsibilities the pandemic forced on women got to be too much. American women are at a breaking point.
Biden’s proposals are not only a more just and civil way to treat overtaxed mothers and caretakers; they address a looming demographic collapse America is facing. In recent decades, becoming a parent has become such an economically unattractive choice for many Americans that the population over 80 years old now outnumbers the population under 2 years old. The birth rate has been falling for years. It’s not uncommon for families to be responsible for the care of both young children and elderly family members at the same time. Some choose to be child-free for reasons completely unrelated to economics, but that’s not the case for everybody. Policies that make having children or caring for older relatives slightly less economically difficult would almost certainly increase the number of people who choose to have children.
“Are the Republican women who ran as mothers honestly going to run against the rest of America’s mothers?”
I was curious how the GOP would handle all this. After all, 2020 was allegedly the “year of the Republican woman,” a year where a record number of conservative ladies swept into office. Surely the GOP would have the good sense to have one of the women who last year was at the front and center to explain why they don’t believe that the American Families Plan would actually help American families.
They didn’t. Instead, they had a man do it. Sen. Tim Scott delivered an odd rebuttal to Biden’s speech that wasn’t really as much a set of policy counter proposals as it was a series of assurances to the audience that racism wasn’t real. Meantime, Sen. Marsha Blackburn embarrassed herself once again by arguing on Twitter that universal Pre-K was a bad idea because the Soviets had universal Pre-K (the Soviets also loved the color red and space travel, but neither affinity was enough to dissuade Blackburn from being a fan of both.)
If I were a working mother who had spent the last year serving triple duty as home school tutor, remote worker, and live-in maid, I wouldn’t find either of them very reassuring. In fact, it’s hard to find any evidence that the loudest voices in the GOP have any idea whatsoever about how to actually govern in a way that benefits parents. If they knew how to do it, they would have done it.
The Republican party, which has long held itself out as the pro-family party, has offered no real policy solutions to address the slow squeeze that this country has put on families since the Reagan era. Sarah Palin parading her five children across a rally stage over a decade ago didn’t make it easier for a mother to find care for a 6-week-old infant when her six-week unpaid FMLA leave ran out. Members of the Senate Judiciary complimenting Amy Coney Barrett for raising seven children didn’t make it less outrageously expensive to have give birth in a hospital. Ivanka Trump plastering her social media with photos of her own children didn’t make it possible for a young couple with college debt to qualify for a home loan. The only thing the Republican party has done that could possibly be construed as an attempt to promote families is repeatedly attempting to force pregnant women into childbirth by restricting abortion, which, judging by that falling birth rate I mentioned, hasn’t been very effective.
With the introduction of the American Families Plan, the GOP’s longstanding as a mom bluff has just been called.
Phyllis Schlafly didn’t invent it, but she monetized it harder than anybody else that came before. She was the Kris Kardashian of monetizing subjugation, the Michael Jordan of reassuring scared men that she wasn’t coming there to knock men down, but rather to use her power to keep other women down—as a mom. Republican women who have come after Schlafly, with some exceptions, emulated Schlafly to varying degrees; they figured out that “wife and mother” are the magic words a powerful woman can use to assuage the fears of voters nervous that women in power might start taking power away from men. “Wife and mother” was a “Don’t worry; I’m on your team” wink that, even if mothers get power, they won’t work to fix a system that relies on the unpaid or underpaid labor of women. Trust me, as a mom.
But here’s what American moms have to show for the Republican As-A-Moms, from GOP chair Ronna Romney McDaniel to freshman Rep. Nancy Mace (who amicably divorced her ex-husband in 2019 and calls herself a “single mom”) to mother of four Rep. Lauren Boebert: absolutely nothing.
Republican As-A-Moms did exactly what they promised between the lines: their identity as married moms meant that they would protect the status quo; they were proof that things must not be all that bad for other moms since they (moms) were able to achieve so much. If adversity against women was real, then how was it possible that they (women!) were able to win a congressional seat? Checkmate, feminists! In the GOP As-A-Mom view, people who observed the systemic hardship faced by women and families were whiners who hadn’t yanked their own bootstraps hard enough.
Are the Republican women who ran as mothers honestly going to run against the rest of America’s mothers? Is “I didn’t need that, so nobody needs that” honestly going to be the GOP’s strategy for recapturing the house in 2022? Or is the Republican party going to continue on its own space cadet course, running against made-up beef bans and owning the libs by watching 20-year-old reruns of The Jamie Kennedy Experiment? Even though I’m not a mother, if given a choice, I’d choose paid family leave over spitefully stuffing my own face with hamburgers. But, then again, I’m not a Republican.