May 3, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Last Tuesday, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul called into Laura Ingraham’s radio talk show to comment on the recent riots in Baltimore that followed the brutal killing of an African-American man by local police. Criminal charges have since been filed against the six officers. Here’s what Paul said:
"There are so many things we can talk about," Paul said, by way of trying to explain what had happened. "It's something we talk about not in the immediate aftermath but over time: The breakdown of family structure, the lack of fathers, the lack of sort of a moral code in our society." He added: "This isn't just a racial thing; it goes across racial boundaries."
On the face of it, those are perfectly reasonable, constructive and accurate things to say. I doubt Paul believed he was providing a prescription for everything that ails American society, but as far as it went, his statement was both sensible and fact-based. He seems to want to have a conversation about family breakdown and the wholesale absence of fathers from huge segments of American families. Good for him.
But, reasonable as Paul’s words were, they didn’t sit well with Phillip Bump, writing here (Washington Post, 4/29/15). Bump set out to inform Paul and WaPo readers “what the data actually show.” Of course his article consists of less than 700 words, and most of them have nothing to do with “the data.” Needless to say, a subject that’s been written about as much as the consequences of family breakdown and fatherless children has been can’t be dealt with in anything short of a large book. So Bump’s assertion that he’s telling us what “the data actually show,” is laughable.
But even in a few hundred words, he could have at least chosen a small part of the many issues raised by family breakdown and offered a defensible perspective on it. He didn’t do that either. Bump’s purpose looks to be twofold — to denigrate Rand Paul and to downplay the seriousness of what is arguably the most single most important problem this society faces. Unsurprisingly, he fails at both.
I’m no fan of Rand Paul, but when a man’s right, he’s right, regardless of who he is or his political affiliation. Paul didn’t say much, but he touched on the very thing Daniel Patrick Moynihan did way back in the mid-60s. Moynihan foresaw the debacle that is fatherlessness among black families and had the courage to say so. Fifty years later, people like Bump have neither the intellectual honesty to see what’s before their eyes nor Moynihan’s courage to tell the truth.
About the only thing Bump gets right is that family breakdown alone doesn’t explain the unrest in Baltimore. Of course neither Paul nor anyone else has ever claimed it does.
In 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services released a study of father-child interactions between 2006 and 2010. It looked at how often black, white and Hispanic fathers lived with and interacted with their children.
Black fathers were most likely not to live with their children.
But then attempts to soft-peddle the information thus:
It's also worth noting that black fathers who didn't live with their children were as engaged with their kids as were white and Hispanic fathers -- and were more likely to talk with them multiple times a week or help them with their homework.
The most minimal intellectual honesty would require him to compare, not absent black fathers’ engagement with their kids to that of other absent fathers, but to dads who live with their children. Paul’s point is one that’s been made too many times by too many people over 50 years to flick aside with such a silly comparison. The simple fact is that children with two parents, particularly biological ones, in the home with them do far better on average across an astonishing array of outcomes, than do children without fathers actively involved in their lives. Fathers who live with their kids are more involved with them on average than fathers who don’t. But Bump didn’t compare those two cohorts of fathers. He didn’t because to do so would have undermined his narrative that, in some way, family breakdown had nothing to do with the riots.
And does it occur to him that a father talking on the phone with his kid isn’t quite the same as living with him and caring for him on a day to day basis? That of course is nothing but the obvious, but Bump ignores it completely.
He goes on.
But it's important to note that the number of households led by single mothers has increased broadly among all races.
Very true, but the percentage of children born to single black mothers is well over twice that of children born to single white mothers, another fact that’s inconvenient for Bump. But more important, and more obvious, is the fact that the incident that spurred the rioting was the killing of an African-American man by Baltimore police. Department of Justice statistics demonstrate that police brutality of all sorts is far more likely to be experienced by black men than by white men. Stated another way, if white men were subject to those same levels of abuse and the same levels of fatherlessness, we’d see them wild in the streets too. But they aren’t, so we don’t.
All of this must be obvious to Bump, but he’s loathe to admit a word of it. There’s more in the same vein.
There are studies that correlate single-parent households to increased rates of incarceration, but the correlation overlaps with a number of other factors, including poverty.
I’ve seen that argument before. It didn’t make sense then and it still doesn’t. To begin with, Bump refuses to acknowledge that single-parent households are correlated with a wide range of bad behavior, from poor performance in school, to crime, to drug and alcohol abuse, to psychological problems, to unemployment and countless others. Plus, all those bad outcomes appear in children of all races, ethnicities, classes, levels of education, religions and parts of the country. In short, everything that could possibly explain those different outcomes fails to do so except fatherlessness. That strongly urges the conclusion that fatherlessness is not just a correlation to those bad outcomes but a cause of them.
More important is Bump’s blithe assumption that, in some way, single-parent households and poverty are wholly separate phenomena. Is it possible that he doesn’t know that single mothers (who make up the vast majority of the single-parent population) are much more likely to live in poverty than any other set of people? Yes, poverty is an enormous problem in bringing up a child, but it’s also one of the most salient features of single-motherhood. So, to a great extent, the correlation between incarceration rates and poverty rates is also one between incarceration and single-parent households. This is simple, but Bump pretends not to notice.
Amazingly, having attacked Paul’s entirely sensible remark to the effect that family breakdown played a role in the Baltimore riots, Bump decides that what he said was actually OK because — wait for it — President Obama said much the same thing! As I understand Bump, the message is bad because he doesn’t like the messenger, so when we switch messengers to one he does like, the message is all of a sudden the right one. Really. Does anyone take this seriously?
It’s something I’ve seen before several times - the collapse of a commentator’s pretense of caring about race in America. Many people pretend to care about the plight of blacks in this society. But when it comes to fatherlessness and family breakdown, all of a sudden those grave concerns fly out the window. Face it, if this country were to take on the problem of family breakdown and fatherlessness, no one would benefit more than the community of African-Americans. We all would, but blacks particularly, for the obvious reason that the black rate of fatherless children far outstrips that of whites or Latinos.
So it’s interesting to watch such a commentator go to extraordinary lengths of intellectual dishonesty to convince readers that family breakdown and fatherlessness really aren’t very important after all. Bump’s piece is shoddy and hypocritical. He and the Washington Post should be ashamed.
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