Choices We Don’t Want Women to Make

Published November 4, 2014

National Review Online

Mary McCarthy once famously skewered fellow writer Lillian Hellman as “tremendously overrated. A bad writer, a dishonest writer. . . . Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’” It created quite a stir at the time (1980) and led, as nearly every breeze ruffling so much as a feather in America often does, to a lawsuit.

I think of McCarthy because President Obama’s record for wrongheadedness is about as reliable as Hellman’s was for dishonesty. (Hellman was a Stalinist, so calling her a liar was redundant.)

Speaking to a Rhode Island College group last week, the president uttered a gaffe that opened a window to his stale, doctrinaire thinking.

He was decrying the lack of “affordable, quality child care” in America. “Too often,” he said, “parents have no choice but to put their kids in cheaper day care that maybe doesn’t have the kinds of programming that makes a big difference in a child’s development . . . or the best programs may be too far away. And sometimes, someone, usually mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result. And that’s not a choice we want Americans to make.”

Many commentators have given the president the benefit of the doubt and assumed that what he meant was that mothers shouldn’t be obliged to choose between staying home with their children and earning higher wages. Let’s assume that’s right; it’s still a nonsense statement. What will the government do — mandate that employers offer women who took perhaps years off to care for children the same pay and promotions they would have earned had they remained in the workforce? How would that be remotely possible?

You’d have to assume that the woman in question would have remained for all those years at the same firm, and would have been a good employee. You’d also have to assume that the employer remains in business, that the kind of work the mom did is still needed and hasn’t been superseded by technological or other changes. And what would become of the employee, male or female, who was doing the mom’s work while she stayed home with the kids? Besides, if firms were required to pay above the market value to returning mothers, wouldn’t that discourage hiring?

Liberals like Obama don’t think in those terms. They apply the “wave the magic wand” school of policy analysis, as in “If I could wave a magic wand, there would be no trade-offs in life. Child care would be plentiful, staffed by Ivy League graduates, convenient to everyone’s homes, and dirt-cheap. Moms would be able to work while their kids were young, and never feel a tug of regret. Or, they could choose to stay at home for a few years and return to the workforce without missing a step or a paycheck.”

This is the sort of talk that liberals and progressives have been feeding eager audiences for decades. It glides past economic realities without so much as a backward glance. How, for example, are you going to get those highly educated college grads to work in day-care centers when they expect large returns for their very expensive educations? Is the pay going to start at $100,000? Where will the money come from?

President Obama, faithful foot soldier of the Left, is eager to free women from child-care responsibilities. “That’s not a choice we want Americans to make.” It’s odd, isn’t it, that the Left, always hostile to business and money, elevates marketplace participation above family life so consistently? Nancy Pelosi thinks Obamacare is wonderful because it will supposedly free people from work so that they can be artists, but God forbid that women voluntarily take time off to nurture children.

Most mothers want to be able to raise their own children. Some even believe that the fanciest child-care center in the world can’t compete with a parent’s love. A Pew Survey found that among parents who had taken significant time off from work to care for children, 94 percent said they were glad they did.

Barack Obama — every idea he has is wrong.

— Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. © 2014 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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