Clinton Does a Quayle With Facts of Life : His shameless lecturing on ‘family values’ only reinforces the myth of teen welfare moms.
At the start of February, President Bill traveled to the poor neighborhood of Anacostia in Washington, D.C., where the kids, ready with questions about NAFTA and the Clean Water Act, were treated to his headline-seeking homilies about “personal responsibility” and sex.
The searing cynicism of this documented philanderer grandstanding about sexual mores to impoverished eighth-graders in a crumbling inner-city classroom almost beggars description.
But using the most defenseless members of our society as stage props for a “family values” campaign snitched from Dan and Marilyn Quayle doesn’t bother our brave commander in chief. The 1980s Reagan-Bush paranoia against adolescents has evolved into 1990s Clinton hostility. When all else fails, even the most hack politicians can get a headline by picking on teen-agers as the source of all social ills, from dissolute welfare-leeching to murder.
The present public delirium about a (black) teen-age sex epidemic, born of irresponsibility and lack of family and religious values, is a cruel fraud.
The supposed epidemic of “children having children” simply doesn’t exist. In only a negligible number of births--about 20,000 annually--are both partners under the age of 18. Sociologist Mike Males of Occidental College, who has done fine research on this issue, points out to me that this represents only 4% of births among teen-age girls and less than 1% of the total births each year in the United States.
If Clinton remains fired with the urge to lecture people about their moral values, he should preach to men 20 and older. These are the fellows who mostly leave teen-age girls pregnant and with sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS.
But don’t expect consistency from the President. A week after his repulsive performance in Anacostia he visited a GM plant in Shreveport, La., where he raised some good-ol’-boy laughs with a rib-nudging reminiscence about the Astroturf in the back of his El Camino pickup in the 1970s, and “You don’t want to know why.”
No lectures about values to this crew, who were more likely than eighth-graders to ask Clinton what qualified him to be a preacher.
Truth: An increasingly nonegalitarian society pushes poor teen-agers further and further to the margin and then blames them for lack of “responsibility.” Poverty, not age, is the problem among all ages and racial groups. Higher rates of poverty provoke higher birth rates.
As Males points out, the term “teen-age pregnancy,” in most cases where it is labeled a social problem or assigned “public costs,” is simply a euphemism for the much larger category of “low-income pregnancy.”
And contrary to elite lore, a wide majority of teen-age parents appears to adapt well to parenthood: Most unmarried teen mothers are married within five years, most have jobs and few receive welfare. Teen-age child-bearing creates more public costs than adult child-bearing because teen-agers are poorer. A mythic teen-age rutting boom fueled by a supposed absence of “family values” has produced an imaginary baby boom in which “irresponsible” teen mothers inseminated by feckless black youths are lodged on lifetime welfare instead of having Norplant under their skin as they train for those mythical good jobs at good wages.
This can scarcely be a secret to Clinton’s advisers on these issues, such as Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Donna Shalala. Scholarly work by Edelman’s group exposes the myth, even as Edelman chimes in with the opportunistic Clinton line, thus betraying the poor kids her organization professes to speak for.
“At least two-thirds of pregnant teenagers,” Males tells me, “have childhood histories of violence and sexual abuse in their homes. This makes Clinton’s threat in the State of the Union to cut off teen-age mothers from welfare and force them to live with a parent or grandparent doubly cruel.”
When writer Jonathan Kozol visited a public school in Anacostia, he asked the principal what he found most frustrating about working with young people. “On Fridays in the cafeteria,” the man answered, “I see small children putting chicken nuggets in their pockets. They’re afraid of being hungry on the weekends.” And this President, fresh from cutting public spending, lectures them about responsibility. It should be the other way around.
Get our Essential Politics newsletter
The latest news, analysis and insights from our politics team.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.