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Join the conversation in a special conference on paralysis in the GOP, in Post & Riposte.

Previously in Politics & Prose:

  • The Last Refuge of the American Bigot -- October 1998
    The murder in Wyoming and the search for the roots of anti-gay violence.

  • The Dissipation of Decency -- August 1998
    The real political scandal these days is the abandonment of those without health insurance.

  • America, Inc. -- July 1998
    A review of Gain, the new novel by Richard Powers in which the corporation is the shaping force of American history.

  • Do the Right Thing -- June 1998
    Thinking globally -- and acting ethically -- in the new world economic order.

    More by Jack Beatty in Atlantic Unbound

  • A Modest Proposal
    The GOP needs an issue to rally around. Here's a suggestion

    by Jack Beatty

    November 11, 1998

    In assaying why the Republicans "lost" the midterm elections, commentators and party members have stressed one factor above all -- playing the Monica card instead of focusing on issues. But more than a failed electioneering strategy is to blame. The dearth of issues can be traced to the split between the social-conservative wing of the party and the tax-cutting libertarian wing; this has inhibited the development of new ideas lest they plunge the party into a civil war over what it should stand for. The GOP thus not only needs new issues to appeal to the voters; it needs amalgamating issues to cement its coalition.

    Newt's Last Stand
    Christopher Caldwell argues that Monica Lewinsky is no substitute for an agenda -- as Newt Gingrich and his fellow Republicans have just learned.

    Social conservatives, at heart, want to use government to shore up the traditional family. Libertarians, at heart, want to cut the size of government and allow taxpayers to keep more of their money. And both wings want the party to speak to the real problems faced by voters.

    The politically ignored situation of stay-at-home parents is the one issue I can think of that joins these criteria. Parents build society in the home, yet aside from a laughably inadequate deduction for dependents society does not reward them monetarily, which is the only way contribution to American society is measured. This demeans parenting and discourages couples from having children. A meaningful tax credit (i.e. a direct subsidy) or a tax deduction for stay-at-home parents would use libertarian means to accomplish the social-conservative end of strengthening the family.

    The "parents' compensation" tax credit or deduction would be available both to parents taking temporary leave from outside jobs to nurture their children and to those whose sole work is parenting. While it would hardly pay for the time stay-at-home parents give to their children, a credit of, say, $5000 a year or a deduction of $10,000 -- with the amount to increase with each child -- would be more than symbolic; it would get the voters' attention. A pro-family policy like this would also address the Social Security funding problem by increasing the financial incentive to have more children. More children would mitigate the demographic crisis portended by too few working taxpayers to fund Social Security for the retirees of the Baby Boom.

    Yes, the resulting shortfall in revenue would unbalance the budget, but John Kasich, the Chairman of the House Finance Committee, says he can cut scores of billions in "corporate welfare" from the current budget without impeding vital governmental functions. The 3,825-page budget passed on October 21 was larded with corporate welfare -- from a $1 billion-plus tax deferral on income earned abroad for U.S. financial-services companies like American Express and Citigroup to a $300,000 study by the National Academy of Sciences to determine if, to quote Business Week, "the sugar contained in raisins should be counted as sugar in federal nutrition programs" (a question of some financial moment to Kellogg, which lobbied for the study). Besides, more purchasing power in the hands of families might increase economic activity and thus tax revenues, and might also increase corporate profits enough to compensate for the loss of government subsidies. Think of the parents' compensation plan as the missing bird needed to join the GOP's two wings.

    Join the conversation in a special conference on paralysis in the GOP, in
    Post & Riposte.

    More by Jack Beatty in Atlantic Unbound

    Jack Beatty is a senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly and the author of The World According to Peter Drucker (1997) and The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley (1992).

    Copyright © 1998 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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