Politics & Policy

The Left’s Literal Nanny State

Democrats’ latest rallying cry, ‘day care for all,’ is less appealing than they’d like you to think.

Earlier this month, a much-discussed New York Times op-ed by Katha Pollitt captured a rising progressive fixation. It’s a concept that has dominated the already-excruciating carnival of big-government ideas in the runup to 2020: “Day Care for All.”

Get ready to have your minds blown, Americans: “Universal affordable high-quality child care” — spearheaded by our completely competent, friendly, not-at-all-corrupt federal-government professionals, of course — would end sexist structures of work-related oppression and “change society for the better.” Democrats are looking for “big, unifying themes,” and this “bold” idea should surely rise to the top.

In case you’re wondering how a sprawling new government-run bureaucracy dedicated to warehousing children from the age of zero onward will change society for the better, especially when many of our nation’s “best” public schools are feverishly plunking kindergarteners in front of brain-melting, attention-sapping, taxpayer-funded iPads every day, don’t worry. As usual, progressives have all the answers. Sadly, many of those answers will inevitably be proven embarrassingly wrong once “day care for all” is fully and intractably implemented across the nation, but hey, that’s showbiz.

Universal government-funded day care will definitely fuel the economy, we are solemnly informed by people who know little to nothing about the economy. Moreover, under this plan, Americans — particularly women — will work more and more, instead of taking care of their own children, which is great! Why is this so great, you might ask? Don’t ask! But hey, if people work more, we might rake in some more money from taxes, which can then be funneled into additional expansive government programs that will be used to increasingly butt into everyone’s business for years and years to come.

You might think I’m kidding, but that really is the argument’s gist. As it turns out, Pollitt is better known for stridently championing an entirely different child-related policy, one she also calls a “positive social good” benefiting “society as a whole.” I’m speaking, of course, about abortion on demand — the disposal of inconvenient babies, increasingly trumpeted in “progressive” circles as an unshakeable right all the way up until birth.

With this in mind, perhaps you can forgive me for questioning whether this craze for government-funded day care has anything to do with the well-being of children at all. In any case, the leading Democratic presidential hopefuls — a wild-eyed, motley bunch I would not trust to babysit my cat, let alone my kid — have gone all in on socialized child care.

Bernie Sanders, the crotchety socialist who has raised an astounding amount of money since announcing his presidential run, was an early adopter of the universal day-care plan. Not to be outdone, Elizabeth Warren recently declared that forcing other people to pay for your child care is “a fundamental right.” Her dramatic “Universal Child Care and Early Learning” scheme, recently published online, would supposedly be funded through a hilariously named “Ultra-Millionaire Tax,” which sounds like the name of a villain in a comic book in which the characters are different types of taxes. Somewhere out there, it’s safe to assume that Kirsten Gillibrand is also droning on and on about state-run day care, but she’s probably getting ignored. Sad!

Life is full of mystery: How on earth, for instance, can ostensibly sane people look at someone like loopy human foghorn/enthusiastic former Soviet tourist Bernie Sanders and think the following sentence to themselves: “Hey! I want that guy more involved in my child’s upbringing!” The “nanny state” is a pejorative term, people, not a policy prescription!

When you look a bit closer at the language used by the most fervent government-day-care boosters, however, the puzzle begins to unfold. “I think we are beginning to get past this idea that the very best thing for kids is to be taken care of privately,” Stephanie Coontz, a professor at Evergreen State College, told NPR’s On Point this week. She went on to add that “children are a vital national resource.” Fascinating! “Children are a public good,” Caitlyn Collins, the author of the new book Making Motherhood Work: How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving, insisted on the same show. “They are our future taxpayers, our future workers, and raising them well is in everyone’s best interest.” Well. That doesn’t sound vaguely dystopian at all.

I almost feel like I shouldn’t have to explain why this is weird, but then again, Bernie Sanders just raised almost $6 million in 24 hours, so here we go: Children are not cogs in some statist wheel. They are not, first and foremost, potential taxpayers. They are unique souls created in the image of God with free will and a need for good nurturing and care — and, if they’re lucky, a government that stays in its proper lane.

I generally don’t take sides in the mommy wars, at least when it comes to the pros and cons of the working world. But incentives matter, and the great progressive “universal” child-care push of 2019 aims to incentivize one way of parenting — all parties working full time, which many parents don’t even want to do — while forcing other people to pay for it. Why the sudden urge to slap together a panicked, blanket approach to a wide and complex issue? What about letting people keep more of their own money so they can make their own decisions instead?

Don’t be silly. That would make too much sense for today’s Democrats.

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Heather Wilhelm is a columnist for National Review. Her work has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, RealClearPolitics, the Washington Examiner, Commentary magazine, the Dallas Morning News, the Miami Herald, and the Kansas City Star


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