Why does it have to be an either-or proposition for ideological pundits, political columnists and politicians?
Writing some weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal, Ari Fleischer, President George W. Bush’s former press secretary, framed an either-or argument on income inequality.
“If President Obama wants to reduce income inequality, he should focus less on redistributing income and more on fighting a major cause of modern poverty: the breakdown of the family,” began Fleischer.
He wrote that a 2012 report said “that 28.6 percent of children born to a white mother were out of wedlock. For Hispanics, the figure was 52.5 percent and for African-Americans 72.3 percent. In 1964, when the war on poverty began, almost everyone was born in a family with two married parents: only 7 percent were not.”
He noted that the poverty rate was significantly higher for children in non-married families.
“Marriage inequality is a substantial reason why income inequality exists. For children, the problem begins the day they are born, and no government can redistribute enough money to fix it,” he argued.
Then, he criticized those who favor increased taxes on the wealthy and a progressive approach to taxation.
For Fleischer, addressing income inequality is a matter of either focusing on income redistribution or family breakdown.
Joshua Holland, a BillMoyers.com producer, leaned in the opposite direction, favoring the social welfare system of the federal government, which is, of course, underwritten by taxes.
In a piece blasting an anti-poverty speech by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Holland wrote, “Rubio made the common claim that the decline of traditional marriage has led to a significant increase in economic insecurity.”
Holland essentially dismissed the importance of two-parent households for children getting ahead economically.
Speaking recently to the liberal Center for American Progress, President Obama used more than 6,500 words to address the “dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility” in our society.
He reminded the audience of our nation’s efforts at income equality running from Abraham Lincoln’s land grant colleges to Teddy Roosevelt’s 40-hour workweek to FDR’s New Deal to LBJ’s War on Poverty.
The president skirted wealth redistribution through taxation. He did rightfully note a number of critically important and successful governmental programs that address poverty and income inequality without reminding his audience that such efforts demand more tax dollars.
But Obama basically skipped over the breakdown of the family. He only mentioned in a few words single-parent households and absent fathers as contributing factors to the inability for too many to move up the economic ladder.
Conservatives and liberals pitch an either-or approach to income inequality. They focus on one part of the problem and ignore the other part.
What we really need is the both-and approach.
We need to admit, as a recent Harvard study showed, that two-parent households make an important contribution to a child’s opportunity for equality and mobility.
Liberals need to disengage from their dismissal and dishonesty about the economic importance of two-parent families.
And we need to have a progressive tax structure. As we showed in “Sacred Texts, Social Duty,” Abrahamic faith leaders advocate for a progressive tax system based on the reading of their primary texts.
We need a system in which corporations pay taxes, not use loopholes and shelter revenue in tax havens. We need one that advances the ethics of “too whom much is given, much is required.”
Conservatives need to end their worship of social Darwinism.
The either-or approach gets us nowhere – more bickering, more dishonesty, more income inequality.
The both-and approach is more honest, more loving, more likely to make our society a better one.
If church leaders unshackle themselves from the partisan either-or approach and articulate the both-and approach, we offer a clear alternative to partisanship and a more unique Christian way forward.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.