Today, in a Rose Garden speech, Joe Biden announced that he would not be running for president. He also, however, announced his determination to be a kind of public voice of the Democratic Party during his remaining months in public office. Since he worked in a reasonably clear criticism of Hillary Clinton–saying pointedly that Democrats should not regard Republicans as their enemies, which Clinton had said in the recent debate–it might be safe to say that he is saying he is not running for president, but that he is available to be drafted if Clinton’s campaign should somehow implode and the powers in the Democratic Party should decide they need some candidate other than Bernie Sanders.
Along the way Biden said a number of things, one of which I thought was rather mistaken. I’d like to examine it here, because it represents a kind of thinking that is by no means confined to Biden or the Democratic Party. Going through his list of policy initiatives, Vice President Biden said the following:
Children and child care is the one biggest barrier for working families. We need as the president proposed to triple the child care tax credit. That alone will lead to dramatic increase in the number of women able to be in the workforce, and will raise our economic standards.
Before considering the substance here, it is worth noting the mild entertainment provided by Biden’s amusingly careless way of talking–by no means rare in his case. His first sentence can be read as saying that children are part of the biggest barrier that working families face. Message to working families: Get rid of your children!
But of course the Vice President does not mean that. But what he does seem to actually mean is a problem. He proposes giving more government money to families so that the mothers of children can enter the workforce–in other words, so they can work outside the home instead of staying home to attend to child-rearing as a full time occupation. This is, it goes without saying, a perfectly defensible choice for those who prudently come to the conclusion that it is best for their family and their children. But there is an obvious inequity in having the government subsidize this activity while neglecting the alternative. That is, why should the choice of women who want to stay home full time to raise their children be unsupported and devalued in this way? Wouldn’t it be more equitable, wouldn’t it honor the life choices of both kinds of people more justly, to give the child care credit to both kinds of families? After all, there are many families in both categories who could use the money.
In other words, Biden’s argument implies that the decision of the mother who wants to stay at home is somehow an inferior choice, a choice that public policy should not support. And that does not seem right. But the problem gets worse when we consider the reasoning that seems to lie behind this assumption. He says that tripling the child care credit will dramatically increase the number of women able to enter the workforce, which will “raise our economic standards.” Why should the mother’s choice to work outside the home be encouraged above the choice to work only at home? Because it will raise GDP. This is an impoverished, materialistic way of looking at our national life–and one, by the way, by no means limited to Democrats.