There's no more complicated relationship in politics than that between the Republican Party and "family values." It really comes down to two issues — hypocrisy from those who talk about family values the most, and a dedication to to an outdated, sexist notion of the family. Either way, there's a history of Republican politicians saying messed up things about family values.
Most can agree that the family is an important element of society. The GOP even calls it "the bedrock of our nation." They cite family as a driving force behind the party's "economic and social policies, including tax reform, education, health care, and the sanctity of life." This is where you get to one side of the Republican "family values" hypocrisy. When it comes to actually enacting change, the issues they throw themselves behind and the policies they support tend to limit the kinds of families and family structures that they support.
Moving onto the other side of that hypocrisy, it would be one thing if Democrats and Republicans just had opposing strategies on how to help families. It's another thing entirely when Republicans obstruct progress for moral reasons, citing things like family values, and are then then discovered to be breaking that so-called moral code themselves. That's right — hypocritical politicians had found their places in the Republican party long before Donald Trump came along and, well, trumped them all.
But even for the politicians who do (at least publicly) live without breaking the moral codes that they set up for others, there's another issue. How often have you seen one of these guys stand up for women fulfilling any role besides that of the homemaker, or recognizing that a family can have a different form than just a mother, a father, and their biological children? It's a big world out there in the 21st century, and it's about time that the Republican Party began embracing it.
Here, then, are just some of the more egregious things that politicians have come out with about "family values," either in the form of personal or policy-related hypocrisy, or just a failure to see beyond their narrow definition of "family."
1Newt Gingrich's Crusade
Former congressman Newt Gingrich basically built the Republican Party up as the family values side. In 1989, he described the Democratic Party as follows: "The left-wing Democrats will represent the party of total hedonism, total exhibitionism, total bizarreness, total weirdness, and the total right to cripple innocent people in the name of letting hooligans loose."
Let's talk a little more about total hedonism and total weirdness, though. In the same election as the one that prompted him to describe the Democrats that way, he was campaigning on a platform that included attacking his female opponent by saying that she would break up her family if she went to Washington. Because, family values.
Gingrich, it turned out, would gain some serious experience in breaking up families. He issued his first wife divorce papers while she was in the hospital, and then broke up with his second wife only after a six-year affair. Oh, and he was also one of the prime crusaders against Bill Clinton's infidelity — while engaged in an affair himself.
2Rick Santorum Trying Not To Break Down Families
Former Sen. Rick Santorum is one of the candidates who most fully embraces the family values rhetoric, and when he was in the running for his various positions, he frequently used it. He summed it up at a speech in 2012 like this:
"When the family breaks down, the economy struggles ... when families aren’t there to instill values into their children and into their neighbors as Little League coaches, as good neighbors, of fathers and mothers being part of a community, that the neighborhood is not safe and they are not free. These are the basic values that Americans stand for and these are the values that we need."
However, Santorum is also a big supporter of breaking down some families — specifically families that don't fit the mold of the "traditional marriage." Apparently in Santorum's world, gays and lesbians can't be good neighbors or Little League coaches, even if scientific studies have shown that having homosexual parents is in no way detrimental to children.
3Small Government Trumping Family Values For Ted Cruz
According to a statement he made in September of 2015, Ted Cruz likes paid family leave — but having the federal government mandate it? An emphatic no. “I think maternity leave and paternity leave are wonderful things. I support them personally,” he said at the Iowa State Fair in 2015. “But I don’t think the federal government should be in the business of mandating them.”
The problem is that without a government mandate, most employers don't offer paid maternal or paternal leave. And, as usual, this situation disproportionately effects the lowest paid workers. In the end, Cruz and his ideological brethren's insistence on small government makes having a baby — i.e., creating a family — a hugely damaging financial situation for many families. And yet, Ted Cruz portrayed himself as a candidate committed to "[restoring] a culture of life, marriage, and family." In my opinion, it's not so restorative to have a new baby throw a family into poverty.
4Scott Walker's Extreme Abortion Views
When asked a very blunt question about his record of supporting anti-abortion legislation that had no exception for dangers to the mother's life, Walker had a disturbing response. In a 2015 GOP Primary debate, Walker was asked if he would "really let a mother die rather than have an abortion." And his response? "Well, I'm pro-life, I've always been pro-life, and I believe that an unborn child can be protected, and there are many other alternatives that can also protect the life of that mother. That's been consistently proven," Walker said.
It's difficult to imagine what's going on in his mind there, and why he imagines that people get abortions. The general assumption behind having exceptions for the mother's life in abortion legislation is that there are some times when the woman's life literally depends on getting the abortion. Governor Walker, if you know of a solution to, for example, an ectopic pregnancy that isn't an abortion, I'm sure the OB/GYN community would love to hear it. Otherwise, a stance that puts women's lives in danger needlessly isn't very family-friendly for those women's husbands, wives, partners, or other children.
5Paul Ryan's Twisted Healthcare Ideas
Paul Ryan clearly cares about his own family, which he made very clear when he was brought up as a potential Speaker of the House. "I cannot and will not give up my family time," Ryan said, to the ire of all those who have noted his refusal to support paid family leave. However, the Obamacare replacement plan bearing his name would have knocked 24 million people off of their health insurance. Ryan doesn't seem to have considered the possibility that low income Americans might like spending time with their kids as much as he does, since his plan would have made it much more difficult for them to get access to care.
6Mike Pence's Cloaked Misogyny
The vice president holds some seriously sexist views about what exactly a family should look like. “I fear Mrs. Pence more than I fear voters," Pence one said, when asked about why he supported Congress members getting an automatic annual pay raise. He also once argued that having a working mother led to "stunted emotional growth" in children. Plus, he won't meet alone with a woman besides his wife, a revelation that sparked a recent internet debate over Mike Pence's marriage. Without delving into it too much, it's part of an inherently sexist philosophy that portrays women as perpetually seductive, and not much else.
So, Pence is all for a family — a family where a woman speaking up is "scary," where she stays at home in order to not harm the children, and where she's basically only a sex object. Come to think of it, that seems like it would fit into the scheme of "traditional family values" over most of the last several millennia — but it's outdated and dangerous now.
7Trump's Embrace By The Right
Now, where to even begin? Donald Trump has been married three times, there are a number of women accusing him of having sexually assaulted them (although he's vehemently denied all allegations), and he's even been caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women. “Grab them by the p---y, you can do anything,” he said. That did turn some heads amongst conservative Republicans, but it doesn't seem to matter so much anymore.
Besides that, though, there's also Trump's stance on childrearing — namely, that a father should have nothing to do with it. “No, I don’t do it,” he said once about changing diapers. “It’s not my thing… There are a lot of women out there who demand that the husband act like the wife, and there are a lot of husbands that listen to that, and so, they go for it.” This, I would say, doesn't not exactly sound like a family effort.
From his lack of religious conviction to his flip-flopping on Planned Parenthood to his casual talk of sexual assault, Trump is nothing like the usual favored candidates of the Religious Right — and yet they've embraced him.
The most messed up thing the "family values" crowd has ever done is elect this guy as their leader, and liberals should never let them live it down.