If They Want the GOP Debate To Matter, the Candidates Must Address the Thing That Matters Most

COMMENTARY Conservatism

If They Want the GOP Debate To Matter, the Candidates Must Address the Thing That Matters Most

Sep 27, 2023 4 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Kevin D. Roberts, Ph.D.

President

Heritage Trustee since 2023
Candidates stand on stage during the Republican presidential primary debate hosted by Fox News at Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., September 27, 2023. Melina Mara / The Washington Post / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

For well over a decade, the Republican establishment has turned its back on family issues while doubling down on a nostalgic economic and foreign policy agenda.

If conservatives want to do something to revitalize them, the first step they must take is to stop ignoring them.

Smart policies will slow our race toward civilizational collapse, and perhaps even seed the ground for American revitalization.

The Left must have enjoyed the last Republican primary debate—but not for the obvious reasons.

The moderators asked the field about Ukraine aid, mental acuity tests for public servants, and UFOs, but couldn't find time to talk about the most important problem facing the country today: the crisis of the American family, a topic liberal elites would love to sweep under the rug. Thankfully, Wednesday's debate offers the moderators a chance to reverse course and ask the candidates to diagnose our national ailment. If we're lucky, some will even propose a cure.

Such a change would be refreshing. For well over a decade, the Republican establishment has turned its back on family issues, from defending marriage to fighting pornography, while doubling down on a nostalgic economic and foreign policy agenda that hasn't been updated since the Cold War.

The result? The country is declining as the family withers away.

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By any measure, our family life has been decimated. One in four children grow up without a father in the house. Only 45 percent of American adults are married—and more than a third aren't in relationships at all. Americans now are having half the number of children we did 70 years ago and roughly one-quarter as many as our Founders. Today, each new generation is likely to be smaller than the last. All this, even though nearly half of parenting-age Americans say they would ideally have more children than they do now.

Of course, these abstract figures don't capture the miraculous nature of every single human life, or the heartbreak that millions suffer from infertility or miscarriage. What they do capture, however, is that American life is stagnating and lacks the dynamism and energy it once had.

Indeed, with ever-smaller cohorts of children, American schoolhouses are closing. American military recruiting is at an all-time low. American churches are emptying out. And now, the American home itself is getting smaller and more expensive. Even those families that can afford to host Thanksgiving will see fewer relatives gathering around the table each year.

If conservatives—who so often bemoan the collapse of America's institutions—want to do something to revitalize them, the first step they must take is to stop ignoring the family.

After all, the best system of government in the world is worthless if there's no one left to govern.

It's time to discard half measures and boldly champion the family, both in our personal lives and in our public policy. The decay of the American family is the biggest issue facing our country, and Republicans can't run effectively, much less govern conservatively, without addressing it.

That means reforming our education and welfare systems, as well as our tax code, to reverse the incentives that punish marriage, encourage divorce, persuade young people to delay starting families, and promote work over children.

That means treating chemical abortion drugs like the life-threatening substances that they are and enforcing laws that already ban interstate trafficking of them.

That means defeating sexual and gender ideologies that attack women, deny the immutable complementarity of the sexes, and disparage the right of every child to be raised by a married mom and dad, period.

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That means reconsidering policies that reflexively push teen girls onto the pill, often without any parental involvement or education on the benefits of marriage, sexual risk avoidance, and natural family planning.

That means enforcing obscenity laws against pornography. Because pornography enslaves men, demeans women, destroys marriages, and encourages casual and potentially disease-spreading sex, it should be regulated as a public health matter. At a bare minimum, we must pass common-sense age restrictions on pornography access to protect our children from predators.

All that adds up to the restoration of the family as the number-one priority in American public life. This will not only herald the return of material affluence, but lead to emotional, psychological, and spiritual renewal. Fewer abortions and more incentives to have babies means more birthday parties. Less gender ideology and fewer drag queen story hours means preserving the innocence of more children. Less treating fertility as a disease, less pornography, and more medical transparency and education in alternatives to the hook-up culture means more young men and women looking for and entering enduring relationships. And less empty free love and more reasons to build a life together means celebrating more marriages, which have curiously declined significantly since the Obergefell v. Hodges decision.

Policy reforms alone can't lead us to a new Baby Boom, of course. We need a cultural renewal that celebrates life and family, not just work and GDP. But smart policies will slow our race toward civilizational collapse, and perhaps even seed the ground for American revitalization. It is time to come together to fight for our country's future and take concrete steps to improve the prospects for the American family. This week's Republican primary debate is a ripe opportunity to put the American family front and center.

This piece originally appeared in Newsweek on September 27, 2023

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