The Week

(Roman Genn)


Kathleen Sebelius has announced that she, as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, let states out of the work requirement imposed on them by welfare reform in 1996. The work requirement was the central element of that bipartisan reform, and what made it successful in reducing child poverty and welfare caseloads. Nobody, until now, has ever claimed that the law gave the secretary the authority to waive it. Few discussions of this issue note how weak the work requirement is. States have to ensure only that 40 percent of welfare recipients are participating in 30 hours of work (or on-the-job training, or similar activities) a week. Federal benefits such as food stamps and public housing come with no serious work requirements. And if there is any case for changing the law, it must be made in Congress, as old-fashioned as that may sound to this administration.

Even many liberal social scientists have largely accepted that the intact biological family is generally superior as a locus of child-rearing to other family forms: those led by single parents, or those involving divorce or adoption. Same-sex parents are held to be the only exceptions to this rule: They are supposed to yield outcomes at least as good as those of everyone else. Hence the controversy surrounding Mark Regnerus’s recent study casting doubt on this idea. Two hundred academics have issued a statement denouncing the study, and four of Regnerus’s colleagues on the sociology faculty of the University of Texas at Austin have released their own (they chastise him for “irresponsible and reckless representation of social science research”). A gay-rights activist has filed an ethics complaint, which the university is investigating. The study has its limitations, but it also exceeds the standards of the field. Nobody filed ethics complaints or started petition drives about the earlier, inferior studies. The mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace said that “the weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness.” In the modern academy, it must be inversely proportioned.

Former FBI director Louis Freeh made a damning report on Penn State’s handling of Jerry Sandusky’s child abuse. The highest officials, including head football coach Joe Paterno, knew of Sandusky’s behavior as long ago as 1998 and chose to handle the matter quietly, to protect the reputation and the revenue of their cherished program. The NCAA responded to the report by fining Penn State $60 million, banning it from bowl games for four years, and wiping out its victories from 1998 to 2011. The last move seems senseless: No one denies that Paterno was a great coach with stellar teams. The other penalties, however, do not go far enough. Penn State should lose its program. The benchmark should be SMU, which lost two years in the Eighties for paying players under the table. Raping boys in the shower should cost Penn State two years plus at least another year, for emphasis. The values Paterno upheld were effort, teamwork, and athletic excellence. Turning football into a golden calf corrupted these ideals, and allowed worse corruptions to flourish.

Senator Patty Murray (D., Wash.), who heads her party’s Senate campaign committee, gave a speech to test out a new gambit. The tax cuts enacted at the behest of President George W. Bush expire at the end of this year. Most Democrats believe that the tax cuts that directly benefit investors and high earners should be allowed to expire, while the other tax cuts continue. Murray said that if Republicans block action on legislation to this effect by insisting on extending all the tax cuts, Democrats should let taxes rise for everyone. Some Democrats believe they will gain leverage over Republicans with this threat. We think its main effect will be to remind voters which party is more willing to countenance higher taxes on the middle class. May Murray’s strategy prosper, if not her cause.

A host of celebrities and government officials called for “gun control” in the wake of July’s horrific shooting in Aurora, Colo. But one among them should have known better. Author Salman Rushdie, for whom America’s Bill of Rights has been a great blessing, took to Twitter to announce that “the ‘right to bear arms’ is the real Bane of America.” After his book The Satanic Verses provoked the Iranian state into issuing a fatwa against his life in 1989, Rushdie surrounded himself with armed guards. Their presence may have spared him the fate of one of his translators, who was stabbed to death. (Two others were severely injured in similar attacks.) Rushdie now joins a small but vocal clique of celebrities who are unwilling to extend the courtesy of self-defense that they enjoy to citizens less prominent than themselves.

August 13, 2012    |     Volume LXIV, NO. 15

Books, Arts & Manners
  • Steven Hayward reviews How to Think Seriously about the Planet: The Case for an Environmental Conservatism, by Roger Scruton.
  • Samuel R. Staley reviews Debacle: Obama’s War on Jobs and Growth and What We Can Do Now to Regain Our Future, by Grover G. Norquist and John R. Lott Jr.
  • Scott Winship reviews The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It, by Timothy Noah.
  • Florence King reviews Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England, by Thomas Penn.
  • Ross Douthat reviews The Dark Knight Rises.
  • Richard Brookhiser offers Kerouacian haikus.
The Long View  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Athwart  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Poetry  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Happy Warrior  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .