Wednesday, February 2, 2005
The federal propaganda machine
Posted: February 2, 2005
1:00 a.m. Eastern
Baskerville More than journalistic ethics is involved in revelations that the
Department of Health and Human Services paid columnists to assist with its
$1.5 billion marriage scheme.
Attempts to discredit columnist Maggie Gallagher on partisan and
ideological grounds are already receiving the bulk of media attention. But
this spin must not be allowed to eclipse more important questions.
More than journalistic ethics is involved in revelations that the Department of Health and Human Services paid columnists to assist with its $1.5 billion marriage scheme.
Attempts to discredit columnist Maggie Gallagher on partisan and ideological grounds are already receiving the bulk of media attention. But this spin must not be allowed to eclipse more important questions.
Gallagher is less the issue than the HHS officials who hired her, including Assistant Secretary Wade Horn. What we are seeing here is the tip of a massive government propaganda machine that reaches out to co-opt potential critics. Within its staggering half-trillion dollar budget, HHS commands over $200 billion in pork-and-patronage grants, more than all other federal agencies combined. Purchasing cronies is not an aberration at HHS it is the basic modus operandi.
As with all untruths, one failure to be forthright led to another. Gallagher failed to inform her readers that she was on the government payroll. Horn deceived readers and editors with a ghost-written article. But the seminal dishonesty necessitating these others was the underlying policies they were promoting.
HHS claims to be strengthening marriage. But never are we told precisely how federal bureaucrats can save anyone's marriage. HHS is simply devising another formula for infinite government growth.
Horn's marriage initiative is not the product of any popular demand. No family or citizens' groups have seriously advocated it. The initiative has come entirely from government officials and the government-dependent psychotherapy industry, whose members feed from the federal trough. In fact, the program is more likely to undermine marriage than strengthen it. "Relationship skills," "conflict resolution," "anger management," and "child behavior management" are among HHS' favored tools of family engineering. How far the government should be dabbling in psychotherapy has never been debated, but the program confers upon HHS and its psycho-buddies the power to define and potentially redefine marriage.
Equally deceptive and even more counterproductive, disbursements ostensibly for marriage enhancement thus far have gone mostly to fund child-support enforcement agencies. Child support is a subsidy on divorce and single-parent homes. HHS has never confronted the likelihood that, in the words of scholars Kimberly Folse and Hugo Varela-Alvarez, "Strong enforcement ... may, in fact ... lead to the unintended consequence of increasing the likelihood of divorce."
Despite pieties to the contrary, no government has a self-interest in reversing the growth of single-parent homes. "I oversee 65 different social programs at a cost of nearly $47 billion dollars each year," writes Dr. Horn. "Go down the list of these programs child welfare, child support enforcement, programs for runaway youth, anti-poverty programs the need for each of these programs is either created or exacerbated by the breakup of families and marriages." The unstated corollary is that the administrators of these programs have a stake in those breakups. They also command billions to break them up.
Ironically, no writer has been more critical of political hypocrisy on family issues than Maggie Gallagher. In "The Abolition of Marriage" (1996), she forcefully castigated the "political cowardice" of leaders who refuse to confront the true causes of marriage dissolution, such as unilateral divorce. But the federally funded Maggie Gallagher now belittles attempts to change divorce laws.
Gallagher defends the payments because she is less a journalist than an "expert," and experts take government money all the time. "Nor is it considered unethical or shady," she observes. "If anything, government-funded work is considered a mark of an expert's respectability." Precisely the problem. The integrity of scholarship on family policy has been seriously compromised by government money, but this hardly justifies extending that corruption to journalism. That a huge proportion of research on the family is federally funded is precisely why topics HHS does not want raised are not raised.
Consider the impenetrable titles from Princeton's federally funded Bendheim-Thoman Center for Research on Child Wellbeing:
These studies are devoted to influencing how government should administer families rather than whether or why it should at all.
One searches in vain for research that asks the basic questions: Why precisely do so many children live in single-parent homes without their fathers? How may government programs and policies undermine families? Government-funded scholars seldom bite the hand that feeds them.
By co-opting scholars and now journalists, HHS has been orchestrating all sides of the family and fatherhood debate. The Department Of Justice has similarly manipulated the debate (or lack of debate) on domestic violence, another gravy train for therapists and social workers.
The two come together in another document Gallagher was paid to compose: "Can Government Strengthen Marriage?" a collaboration of Horn's National Fatherhood Initiative, Gallagher's Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, and David Blankenhorn's Institute for American Values. DOJ funded the publication, and not surprisingly the answer was a resounding "yes" (though it turns out the main thing government can do is provide more therapy). Also not surprisingly, DOJ does not fund studies with titles like "Is Government Destroying Marriage?" And why is DOJ (essentially federal prosecutors and police) involved in marriage at all? Perhaps because DOJ is itself busy undermining marriage by funding dishonest programs to combat domestic "violence" that in most cases is not violent.
This nation is indebted to Dr. Horn. He has done more than anyone to raise awareness about the crisis of fatherless children. But as a public official Dr. Horn has not been fully forthright on the causes of this crisis and on the measures he is asking us to endorse. Before this leads to more deceptions, he must demonstrate the leadership necessary to confront the family crisis honestly, even at a cost to his own agency, or make room for someone who can.
For the Bush administration and incoming HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt, this likewise presents a critical opportunity. They can announce cosmetic reforms, dig in their heels, and concede this scandal to their critics. This will harm true conservatives who must eventually deal with this mess. Alternatively, they can seize the moral high ground, turn the tables on their critics, and demonstrate the statesmanship necessary to bring the HHS behemoth to book. A rogue federal agency is their issue to lose.
Stephen Baskerville, Ph.D., is a political scientist at Howard University and is president of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children.