Santorum’s marriage initiative

SANTORUM’S MARRIAGE INITIATIVE….When the Senate barely struck a deal on spending cuts last week, most of the attention emphasized the detrimental effect the cuts would have low-income families, specifically those who rely on Medicare, child-care programs, child-support enforcement funding, student loans, and foster care programs. As it turns out, though, not all of the provisions in the bill cut spending; some programs got a boost.

For example, Sen. Rick Santorum’s (R-Pa.) “healthy marriages” proposal was awarded $100 million for federally-funded programs that will allegedly help families stay together.

The new marriage initiative Mr. Santorum pushed will parcel out $100 million a year for five years to promote marriage through counseling and educational programs in communities with high rates of out-of-wedlock birth. About $50 million would be set aside for each year over five years for the initiatives encouraging fatherhood.

Now, as my wife can attest, I happen to love the institution of marriage. However, I’m less fond of Santorum’s idea.

First, I vaguely remember the time — I believe it was called the “1980s and ’90s” — when Republicans railed against the idea of social engineering. In 1993, Henry Hyde wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post (which is no longer online) in which he lambasted the Clinton White House for its alleged belief that government could use its power to interfere with family structures. Hyde called the very idea “exotic social engineering.”

Republicans don’t seem to believe that anymore. The right may not want to admit it, but the GOP over the last five years has embraced social engineering as much, if not more, than anyone since the Great Society. The marriage initiative, faith-based initiative, fatherhood initiative, abstinence-only programs … social engineering is predicated on the idea that the power of the state can alter how people can and will behave. It used to be anathema for anyone who valued “limited” government. The Bush presidency didn’t herald the end of the government’s drive towards social engineering; it marked the end of worrying about it.

Second, some far-right supporters of Santorum’s marriage initiative praised the new funding because, in part, “children who come from single-parent homes experience more poverty.” This won’t do; conservatives can’t praise budget cuts for low-income health care and child-care programs, and then express concern about reducing poverty through government spending.

And third, there’s the matter of where the federal funds will actually go.

Santorum boasted that grants will go to “faith-based organizations to carry out marriage promotion activities.” Bush pursued a very similar approach through cabinet-agency grants in his first term. Guess who benefited.

President Bush has some new troops in his crusade to promote “healthy marriage” and teen celibacy with federal funds — followers of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the controversial Korean evangelist and self-proclaimed new world messiah.

At least four longtime operatives of Moon’s Unification Church are on the federal payroll or getting government grants in the administration’s Healthy Marriage Initiative and other “faith-based” programs.

I’ll be the first to defend the Moonies’ right to create marriage initiatives, if that’s what they want to do, but I’ll also argue that they should do so with voluntary contributions from their fellow supporters, not the federal government.

It’s the funny thing about faith-based grants; sometimes tax dollars will end up in the coffers of unpopular ministries.