Robert W. Patterson
When Sen. John Kerry sought to unseat President George W. Bush eight years ago, journalist Thomas Frank thought he could help the challenger from Massachusetts. In a 2004 bestseller, What’s the Matter With Kansas?, Frank claimed Republicans were playing dirty tricks by leveraging cultural “wedge” issues to dupe voters in his native state from voting their economic interests — in other words, for Democrats.
Yet judging from Inquirer polls suggesting that President Obama will take Pennsylvania by the same 10-point spread that he enjoyed in 2008, Frank may have mixed up his parties. Indeed, his thesis fits exactly the Democratic strategy of 2012, as party bosses are strongly pushing social issues — from abortion and same-sex “marriage” to taxpayer- and employer-funded contraception — perhaps to distract voters from the president’s dismal record.
What else can explain the president’s continued popularity in the Keystone State, which suffers a 7.9 percent unemployment rate, or in Philadelphia, where the indicator has hit 11.6 percent, the highest since 1985? The rate among African Americans is even more alarming: 14.1 percent statewide; 21.5 percent in the city.
As much as the Democrats like to blame Bush for this predicament, Obama’s policies have done little to help Philadelphia, the commonwealth, or the nation reverse course. The havoc the president is wreaking goes beyond his reckless spending, explosion of the regulatory state, and distrust of the private sector. Rather, his antifamily policies and escalation of welfare dependency represent nothing less than a war on the working and middle classes – with devastating consequences for Pennsylvania and her economy.
The irony that few acknowledge is that while representing an outstanding role model as a husband and father, Obama shows no interest in giving millions of fatherless children in cities such as Philadelphia the head start that will help his daughters all through life: a married mother and father.
Judging from the lineup at the Democratic convention, the president seems more concerned with advancing the social-liberation agenda of celebrities: ensuring that a microscopic portion of Americans can tie the knot with someone of the same sex, that privileged law-school graduates like Sandra Fluke receive free contraception, and that a country with below-replacement birthrates retains the most permissive abortion policies in the civilized world.
What a contrast to the expansive, middle-class vision of Democratic Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and John F. Kennedy. Neither Roosevelt nor Kennedy may have been the family man that Obama is, but they publicly embraced without apology the American exceptionalism and social conservatism that defined the United States at mid-20th century, the era that economist Michael Lind praises as “the glorious thirty years.” The rising tide of these presidents’ pro-family policies raised all boats in Philadelphia, black and white, through the formation of tens of thousands of new households headed by young married parents.
In contrast, while Center City and University City may be experiencing a renaissance of sorts under Obama — fueled by an influx of elite, college-educated professionals — most of the city’s formerly working-class neighborhoods are in steep decline, as social scientist Charles Murray details about Fishtown in his book Coming Apart.
In fact, the 2010 census warns that Philadelphia has fallen under a threshold that puts the city underwater demographically: For the first time in history, households of unwed mothers with dependent children (68,550) now outnumber those of married parents (66,177).
Thanks to the social engineering pressed largely by Democrats since the Great Society, and now being doubled down upon by Obama, the achievements that enriched Philadelphia during the postwar-New Deal era continue to unravel. Given that marriage and bourgeois family life are indispensable to staying out of poverty for the vast majority of Americans without college degrees, the emergence of the fatherless household as the statistical norm promises nothing but further decline for the City of Brotherly Love.
Meanwhile, driven by Obama’s greater passion for expanding the welfare-industrial complex than growing the economy, the family, and civil society, the commonwealth now devotes more taxpayer dollars to public assistance than to education. The Department of Public Welfare has become the largest state agency, commanding 41 percent of the state budget. And those expenditures do not include food stamps, the largest of the welfare caseloads, or Section 8 housing subsidies, both of which are funded exclusively by Uncle Sam.
In all, Pennsylvania’s welfare rolls now total 2.74 million people, the highest in state history. Yet only about six million Pennsylvanians are employed in the labor market, meaning that every welfare recipient relies upon the labor of 2.2 breadwinners, many of whom also run businesses. This unsustainable burden, almost double what it was in 2000, helps explain why resources for new jobs are so scarce.
To be sure, Obama’s calculated obsession with divisive social issues may succeed in camouflaging the economic blues plaguing the land of William Penn and keep it a politically “blue” state come November. But make no mistake: As long as the president ignores how deeply his dependency agenda guts the middle class he claims to champion, his reelection will warrant a sequel to Frank’s book, What’s the Matter With Pennsylvania?
Robert W. Patterson is editor of the public-policy journal the Family in America