Does It Take a Village to Raise a Child?
We rarely do book reviews on the Probe radio program, but from time to time a book is published that is so significant that we depart from our normal format. This essay is a discussion of the book It Takes a Village by Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Now it should be obvious that a discussion of this book will no doubt be controversial. After all, the Clinton administration, as well as the First Lady, has been under attack. We will not even venture to discuss any of the allegations that are so much a part of the news. Likewise we will try to avoid any partisan considerations of particular programs and policies.
The focus of this essay will be on the book It Takes a Village. It sets forth a clear-cut agenda, and we as Christians need to ask ourselves if this is an agenda that can be supported from the Bible. Mrs. Clinton epitomizes what many people believe could be called “the new feminism.” And it is fair to say that Hillary Clinton is perhaps the most visible, prominent feminist in the world. As First Lady her ideas are given national prominence. As First Lady she addresses international women’s conferences (like the ones held in Cairo and Beijing). When she writes a book setting forth her ideas, it is appropriate to evaluate those ideas in light of Scripture.
I would like to begin by focusing on the title of the book, It Takes a Village. The title comes from an African proverb which states that “It takes a village to raise a child.” This oft- repeated African proverb has become the mantra of recent international women’s conferences (Cairo, Beijing). I believe it represents the new paradigm of feminist and socialist thinking.
At its face, there is nothing controversial about the idea that it takes more than parents to raise a child. Grandparents, friends, pastors, teachers, boy scout leaders, and many others in the community all have a role in the lives of our children. In her book, Mrs. Clinton does acknowledge that “parents bear the first and primary responsibility for their sons and daughters.”
Unfortunately, the rest of the book contradicts that early statement. The First Lady essentially extends her notion of the village far beyond the family to include various organizations, especially the federal government. By the end of the book, it appears that Mrs. Clinton has never met a government program she didn’t like.
She says that those who hold to an anti-government position are the “noisiest” position and getting all the attention from the media. But she goes on to say that “despite the resurgence of anti- government extremism, it is becoming clear that most Americans do not favor a radical dismantling of government. Instead of rollback, they want real reform. And when a strong case can be made, they still favor government action, as they have demonstrated recently in their support for measures like the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Brady Bill, and the new Direct Student Loan program.”
By the end of the book Mrs. Clinton has endorsed nearly every government program of the last thirty years including those mentioned above and others like Goals 2000, Parents as Teachers, and AmeriCorps. The village, in Mrs. Clinton’s book, is much more than the communities in which we live–it is a metaphor for the continued expansion of government into every aspect of our lives.
Areas of Agreement
If you were to pick up Hillary Clinton’s book and begin reading it, you would no doubt be surprised by what you found. Christians will find lots of areas of agreement. In fact, one talk show host even made a confession on air that he expected to find more to disagree with than he did. Instead, he found lots of material in Mrs. Clinton’s book with which he could wholeheartedly agree.
I believe this is precisely the reaction Mrs. Clinton intended. She spends countless pages analyzing the social problems facing our children and providing constructive ideas for parents and communities to follow. Not only is she critical of drugs, violence, illegitimacy, and the plight of American education, she is also critical of such things as the impact of no-fault divorce laws. People looking for a clearly stated liberal agenda will not easily find it in this book. In fact, it is probably fair to say that whole chapters in her book could have been written by Dr. James Dobson.
Mrs. Clinton hastens to add that “this book is not a memoir; thankfully, that will have to wait. Nor is it a textbook or an encyclopedia; it is not meant to be. It is a statement of my personal views, a reflection of my continuing meditation on children.” Though it does contain a fair amount of technical material, it is still a warm, nurturing, and inviting book. The First Lady also tells of her own family, which she describes as looking “like it was straight out of the 1950s television sitcom Father Knows Best.” As a counterpoint, she talks about Bill Clinton’s dysfunctional family, and even shares tender, intimate stories about rearing Chelsea.
However, interspersed between these long, warm, nurturing sections which appeal to your emotions are political statements about how government should be used to help the family. I fear that readers without discernment will easily embrace the political agenda of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Each problem or concern is quickly answered by a government program or governmentally-sponsored community program.
Many will remember that the First Lady used a similar tactic in the past to try to sell her plan to nationalize health care. Often she would tell heart-rending stories of families without health insurance in order to bolster her plan to implement nationally- subsidized health care. The same technique can be found throughout It Takes a Village.
No one will disagree with many of the problems she catalogs. In fact, former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett catalogs many of these same problems in his Index of Leading Cultural Indicators. The source of disagreement comes when proposing government solutions to each problem. Many of these problems themselves are the result of earlier government “solutions” that created these problems. Discerning readers should always be asking whether or not these problems can more effectively be solved by individual initiative, community activities, and church programs.
Is This a “Campaign Book”?
At this point, I would like to raise the question of politics. In particular, many people wonder if this work isn’t just a “campaign book.”
I think we need to be honest enough to say that it is. After all, the publication of this book was originally intended to aid her husband’s campaign. In the book, Mrs. Clinton lists what she believes are her husband’s successes: Family and Medical Leave Act, AmeriCorps, Goals 2000, the Brady Bill, and the Direct Student Loan Program. On the other hand, she soft-pedals the radical parts of the Clinton agenda. Abortion is mentioned once (only in a passing reference to the Cairo Document). Condoms are ignored. Joycelyn Elders and Dr. Henry Foster, Jr., are not discussed. Certainly the book was intended to help the Clinton re-election campaign even if current events surrounding the First Lady have begun to cloud the issue.
In some ways, the book provides the most consistent and comprehensive statement available of the First Lady’s agenda for the rest of the 1990s. Whether the President wins re-election is almost irrelevant to the impact of this book. Mrs. Clinton has become the most visible, articulate feminist in the world. What she says in the United States, and what she says at international women’s conferences (like Beijing, China) hold significant weight. So let’s consider what she says.
Even though Mrs. Clinton attempt to soft-pedal some of the more radical aspects of her agenda, controversy inevitably slips through. For example, many of what she claims are the President’s successes can hardly be considered successes, programs such as: Goals 2000 and Parents as Teachers. Many of her other favorites indicate a clear endorsement of socialist programs by Mrs. Clinton.
Let’s look at just one example. Mrs. Clinton believes that the best way to solve what she believes is the problem of adequate day care facilities, is to adopt the French model of day care. She asks us to “imagine a country in which nearly all children between the ages of three and five attend preschool in sparkling classrooms, with teachers recruited and trained as child care professionals.” She goes on to say this exists where “more than 90 percent of French children between ages three and five attend free or inexpensive preschools called écoles maternelles. Even before they reach the age of three, many of them are in full-day programs.”
Her desire is to replicate this system in the United States so that the state can have an early maternal influence on the children of America. She envisions a country in which “Big Brother” essentially becomes “Big Momma.”
But is this really what we want in the United States? A nationally subsidized day care system that puts three-years-olds (even two- year-olds) in institutionalized care? Throughout the book Mrs. Clinton seems to be making the tragic assumption that the state can do a better job of raising children than parents. She proposes a system in which the First Lady becomes the “First Mom”–a system in which children are no longer the responsibility of the parents, but become instead wards of the state.
Next I would like to discuss the issue of nostalgia. Mrs. Clinton believes that any attempt to return to “the good old days” is flawed. She says, “Those who urge a return to the values of the 1950s are yearning for the kind of family and neighborhood I grew up in and for the feelings of togetherness they engendered. The nostalgia merchants sell an appealing Norman Rockwell-like picture of American life half a century ago.” She continues, “I understand that nostalgia. I feel it myself when the world seems too much to take. . . . But in reality, our past was not so picture perfect. As African-American children who grew up in a segregated society, or immigrants who struggled to survive in sweatshops and tenements, or women whose life choices were circumscribed and whose work was underpaid.”
In reality, no one is calling for a return to the evils of earlier decades. Yes, racism and sexism are a sad part of our American history. But pro-family leaders are not calling for a return to those values. They are, however, reminding the American people that there was a time, not so long ago, when values and virtue were a part of the social fabric. Today that fabric is unraveling.
Former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett has compiled an Index of Leading Cultural Indicators which compares social statistics from 1960 to the present day. Although the population has increased approximately 41 percent, crime has increased 300 percent, and violent crime has increased 560 percent. The illegitimate birth rate has increased 400 percent, the number of divorces has more than doubled, and the number of children in single parent homes has tripled.
Pro-family leaders rightly call for a return to the fundamental Judeo-Christian values that made America great. They are not calling for a return to segregation or Jim Crow laws. They are not calling for a repeal of laws mandating equal pay for equal work. Mrs. Clinton’s comments about these so-called “nostalgia merchants” are disingenuous at best.
Another interesting comment has to do with Mrs. Clinton herself. Anytime someone disagrees with her perspective, the motive is labeled as chauvinism. In other words, if you disagree with the First Lady, it must be because you have difficulty dealing with a strong woman who exercises political power.
Let me say that my concerns with Mrs. Clinton’s perspectives have to do with the issues, not the person. My disagreements are based upon the substance of those programs and are not based upon the fact that they are proposed by a woman. In fact, I highly admire a number of women who have served in political office like Margaret Thatcher and Jeanne Kirkpatrick. The ideas expressed in Mrs. Clinton’s book are dangerous regardless of whether they are proposed by a woman or a man. The issue is not the messenger, but the message.
Mrs. Clinton’s Government Solutions to Social Problems
At this point I would like to conclude by addressing some additional issues related to the book. First, Mrs. Clinton often proposes socialist solutions to the problems she raises in her book. Earlier I noted that she proposed a nationally-subsidized day care system modeled after France as a solution to her perceived problem of quality day care. In other parts of her book she also proposes liberal, government solutions.
She writes that “Other developed countries, including some of our fiercest competitors, are more committed to social stability than we have been, and they tailor their economic policies to maintain it.” She then goes on to make a case for the German economic model, complete with an industrial policy in which “there is a general consensus that government and business should play a role in evening out inequalities in the free market system.”
When it comes to education, she proposes a national agenda over local control of the schools. Mrs. Clinton believes education will be enhanced by nationalizing it through such programs as Goals 2000 and School-to-Work programs.
And don’t think that Mrs. Clinton has abandoned the idea of nationalized health care. She sees nationally-subsidized health care as the solution to everything from infant morality to health care delivery.
From start to finish, Mrs. Clinton proposes government as the answer to every problem. In some cases, the government is behind the scenes providing funding and direction to community-based organizations. In others, it is the primary provider. But whenever a problem is raised, the First Lady seems content to have government take care of it.
By the end of the book, Mrs. Clinton has endorsed such groups as HIPPY, Parent Education Program, Healthy Start, Children’s Defense Fund, Parents as Teachers, Carnegie Council on Children, Head Start, and Zero to Three. Many of these groups, along with the government programs she endorses, make up the foundation of her liberal, big-government agenda for children in the 1990s. Readers without discernment may easily be seduced into believing that these programs are the only way to make life better for their children.
As Christians, I believe we must ask where is the church in this book? Where are communities? Where is individual initiative and responsibility? The world’s largest bureaucracy is the Department of Health and Human Services. Mrs. Clinton seems to be saying throughout the book that the solution to nearly every problem will come from enlarging this enormous bureaucracy even more.
I believe the real issue is that Mrs. Clinton’s book, It Takes a Village, is flawed at its premise. Government is not a village. Parents do not need government bureaucrats and federal programs to raise their children. In many ways, the problems Mrs. Clinton discusses are the result of government “solutions” proposed decades earlier (through the New Deal and Great Society programs). Families don’t need more government; they need less government. In a very limited sense we might agree that it does take a village to raise a child, but that doesn’t mean it takes the government to raise a child. Children should be raised by families, churches, and communities–not by the federal government.
©1996 Probe Ministries