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Admirable Liberal Truth-Telling

Boy, a huge Evans-Manning Award for quality comments goes to Church Lady, the deeply liberal regular who is writing first-rate commentary on the Single Parenthood and Childhood Poverty thread. [1] The basic thrust of her commentary is that liberals who think that all we need to reduce single parenthood is more sex ed classes are not facing reality any more than conservatives who claim that all we need is abstinence-only classes are. From the thread:

[Church Lady’s critic writes:] Another example of false equvialency. Find me a recognizable group of liberal parents that opposes marriage or favor sexual activity for those not mature enough to engage in it. Obviously there is no need to demonize single parents, and I would guess that most people raising children on their own long for a stable married status.

[Church Lady responds:] But don’t you see that you have exposed your own ingrown bias and hostility right there? You interpret the cultural message “Everyone should be married before having kids” as demonizing single parents. That’s precisely the attitude you and other liberals are going to have to let go of, if this problem is really going to be dealt with.

Of course educated liberals agree that one should be married before having kids, and be mature enough to responsibly use contraception before having sex. But they keep these messages private to their own social enclaves. They don’t make it a widespread cultural message for everyone, for feat that it will somehow make single parent families feel bad or “demonized”. As if that’s more important than reducing the number of single-parent families.

The truth is, single parents really did screw up somewhere along the way. That can’t be hidden. One doesn’t have to shame them, and one has to accept their situation as it is and help them as much as one can, but you still have to put out the message that this is a screwup to be avoided, and not part of the “new normal”. Liberal elites do give their kids the message that unwed motherhood really is wrong, stupid, and a mistake. That’s why their kids don’t have these problems generally speaking. They feel the pressure. So what’s wrong with making everyone feel that pressure, and adopting that social message universally? Sure, don’t shame people in the process. Emphasize the positive. But make sure the message really is pervasive and clear, and educate them in how to take responsibility for their sexual life, without fear for how it makes some people feel. Anti-smoking campaigns didn’t much care if cigarette smokers were made to feel ashamed or bad for their habits. So the same approach needs to be taken here.

And let me remind you, I am precisely one of those educated liberal elite parents, and we gave our kids precisely those values, as did most of our cohort. I see nothing wrong with extending that message to the whole of our culture, in the effort to curb an out of control situation that harms kids substantially. Frankly, I don’t much care if some single parents feel shamed or bad in the process. I don’t want to target them that way, but it’s a small price to pay for giving kids a far better life than they would have otherwise.


[A Church Lady critic writes:] I’m glad to see a bit of pushback against some of the weird misconceptions of mainstream liberal views here, like Church Lady at 9:29pm. There’s been a lot of discussion in the aftermath of the election about how conservatives are in an especially bad version of an epistemic bubble.

[Church Lady responds:] I would say that your post is a perfect example of the epistemic closure that many liberals live under. For example, you assume that I’m a conservative, but everyone on this blog who’s been around for any time knows I’m one of the most stalwart liberals here, often attacked for that. I guess your universe can’t image a liberal actually criticizing other liberals, so you assume I must be a conservative?

It’s also amazing that you and other liberals commenting here assume that my comments imply that liberals aren’t in favor of waiting until marriage to have kids, or having a responsible sexual life, when I said precisely the opposite. And yet, reading skills suddenly decline to zero, simply because I say that liberals have a problem preaching their own real values in the public sphere, for fear of offending single parents or making them feel bad. Or for fear of implying something is wrong with black culture when single-parenthood is becoming the norm. Hell yes there’s something wrong with that. Don’t you think?

There are some conservative criticism of liberals that are actually true, and that you are making clear are true. One is the assumption that liberals can’t criticize other liberals, and if they do, they are pawns of the right-wing propaganda machine. Another is that epistemic closure only exists on the right. You’ve proven that one wrong by a mile.

I highly recommend reading the original post, and the commentary. [1]

64 Comments (Open | Close)

64 Comments To "Admirable Liberal Truth-Telling"

#1 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 14, 2012 @ 9:50 am

Church Lady, I fully agree with you in principal, and while like Turmarion I have some grave misgivings on some details, I will not task you to address them. First, an anecdotal rebuttal.

I am a smoker, I grew up with smokers, and I’ve been witness to several friends with heroin addictions. Nicotine addiction is not stronger than heroin addiction. A medical professional can go into detail on the differences, but I’ll just point out one overt difference: Heroin has widespread effects on the entire body, nicotine does not, and the most obvious aspect of this is the gap in intensity of the withdrawal symptoms. ‘Nuff said on that.

The dynamic that seems missing from this, though alluded to at points, is the family dynamic. 50 and more years ago the ubiquitous family dynamic — desired by those who didn’t have it — was two parents and an extended family of blood and community relatives.

It was a powerful force. “Day care” was the neighborhood housewives supporting each other, and relatives stepping in at need. Charity truly started in the home, and joined a common ground when the scope of the needed was greater.

Fast forward, and the extended family is dead as a common component of the dynamic. Rod’s community is an excellent example of that traditional extended family, and I submit is an exception that proves my point. It lives on in immigrant cultures, but even they don’t seem to last beyond the second generation. Personal mobility has taken the place of “putting down roots” as the common value. I submit, without any value judgments implied, that single parenthood is a logical development, not a “change” in attitudes towards it. With the removal of the resources provided by the traditional extended family, the choice for a single woman is not “because I want a child” but “I’m going to have a child, what is my support system going to look like?”

#2 Comment By Sam M On November 14, 2012 @ 10:41 am

Church lady:

“Lower class families didn’t use to produce these kinds of outcomes. It’s not because things used to be all rosy and great in the lower classes, it’s because they had strict moral values.”

When was this, exactly?

Also: “Anti-smoking education hasn’t ended smoking, but it’s saved millions of lives. That counts for quite a lot.”

It certainly does count for a lot. But any rational cost benefit analysis requires an assessment of costs and benefits. One of the costs here is that 1/5 of adults still smoke. And in doing so are paying thousands and thousands of dollars per year. Plus the shaming.

You say you are talking about how the kids are taught these things in school. That’s great. Except it didn’t work. If it worked, my generation, going through grade school in the 80s, would have been virtually smoke free. We got educated out the ying yang.

But it didn’t work. So when my generation came of age we got hit with huge levels of taxation. We have enormous employers refusing to hire people who smoke. We have ban in bars and parks and restaurants.

If education were enough, we would have stopped there. We did not, which ought to tell us something. Shaming, shunning and the very real threat of lifetime impoverishment are required. And still, millions of people are sticking a big middle finger up at your ideas on smoking.

People like to smoke, and they wil continue to do so regardless of what you say. Same with sex. You can get a lot of them to quit, but those who refuse will suffer the consequences.

It would seem to make sense to take that into account. At least when analyzing the costs and benefits.

#3 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On November 14, 2012 @ 11:28 am

I have to say, I was raised in the sort of upper-middle class, Blue State environment that Church Lady is extolling. I live in a midwestern state now, at a state university, and have exposure to people from a wider variety of socieconomic backgrounds and from a less uniformly culturally liberal background. Including a friend of mine who had a pregnancy scare last summer, and her best friend who got pregnant this spring in her last year of college, and is getting married and keeping the baby. I’m going to say, I find the attitude towards children and pregnancy in Michigan immensely healthier than in Newton, Massachusetts, where most of the families I grew up with would probably hammer home the message of ‘condoms, condoms, condoms, with abortion as a backup’, instead of the message of ‘children are a beautiful thing, and having a child will probably be one of the best things in your life’.

Sure, it’s better to be married, or at least together with your partner for the long term, if you have a child. But if you want a child, if this is a basic part of your life plan, and for most women it is, then you shouldn’t let concerns about marriage stop you. Ultimately, your children will probably make you happier than your career will.

The failures of the upper middle class liberal model are pointed out pretty clearly by the fact that highly educated women have an abysmally low birth rate, Massachusetts has a pretty low birth rate (and much of that is driven by the working class, religious, and minority population of the state), and (here’s the key point): college educated women end up having *substantially fewer children than they would like*. They would like between 2-3 children, and they end up having (on average) around 1.

No, the model Church Lady talks about so blithely, and that I was raised believing, doesn’t ‘work’. And understandably not: it’s based on a fundamentally sterile, godless, materialist view of the world, that’s in contrast to our deepest nature.

I don’t endorse single parenthood, but it can be done much more effectively than it’s done today. Most children in Scandinavia aren’t raised by married couples, they turn out fine. Single parenthood, whatever its problems, is a price I’m willing to pay for not stigmatizing unmarried women and their kids, for not seeing a rise in the number of infants murdered in the womb, and for not condemning large numbers of women to permanent childlessness just because they couldn’t find the right spouse. And yes, that’s going to mean the government has to take a much larger role in taking care of those mothers and their children. That, again, is a price I’m happy to pay for building a society that has sane and healthy ideas about love, sex, children and relationships.

#4 Comment By Church Lady On November 14, 2012 @ 1:06 pm


“Lower class families didn’t use to produce these kinds of outcomes. It’s not because things used to be all rosy and great in the lower classes, it’s because they had strict moral values.”

When was this, exactly?


Unmarried mothers gave birth to 4 out of every 10 babies born in the United States in 2007, a share that is increasing rapidly both here and abroad, according to government figures released Wednesday.

Before 1970, most unmarried mothers were teenagers. But in recent years the birthrate among unmarried women in their 20s and 30s has soared — rising 34 percent since 2002, for example, in women ages 30 to 34. In 2007, women in their 20s had 60 percent of all babies born out of wedlock, teenagers had 23 percent and women 30 and older had 17 percent.

In 1940, just 3.8 percent of births were to unmarried women.”

So that’s a tenfold increase in unwed mothers since 1940. It’s good to know a little history.

As for your comparisons to smoking, obviously some people can and will give a big FU to anyone telling them what to do. Can’t help that. And I’m not a believer in taxing single mothers, obviously. But the notion that because we can’t completely solve the problem through education and cultural attitudes, that we should do nothing, is just amoral nihilism.

#5 Comment By Church Lady On November 14, 2012 @ 1:17 pm


Most children in Scandinavia aren’t raised by married couples, they turn out fine.

Scandinavia has a completely different culture than we do. If you want us to be more like Scandinavia, you have to change the culture in ways that seem a lot less probable than changing single-parent trends. And of course, you have to completely change the system of government and economics.

And this just pisses me off, frankly:

Single parenthood, whatever its problems, is a price I’m willing to pay for not stigmatizing unmarried women and their kids, for not seeing a rise in the number of infants murdered in the womb, and for not condemning large numbers of women to permanent childlessness just because they couldn’t find the right spouse.

But of course you’re not paying the price, single parents and their kids are. Oh, sure you pay some slight increase in taxes for social welfare programs, but those don’t actually alleviate the overall costs to these people and their kids. You seem to be content with them shouldering the burden of this cultural attitude, while doing nothing about it other than offering band aids.

And yes, the price of not getting married really should be, not having kids. Seems very sensible to me. Just as the price of not actually learning how to sing and dance means you can’t be a pop star. I don’t think simply being poor should mean one can’t have kids (just not very many), but I do think that not being married ought to carry the social message that you shouldn’t be having kids.

As for Massachusetts, you may think they are immoral fools going to hell for their atheism, but they have the best public educational system in the country. And one of the best run state governments in the country. And all kinds of social goods that are lacking in places that have the kinds of values you praise. So a little humility is in order.

#6 Comment By Rob in CT On November 14, 2012 @ 1:52 pm

On the other hand, perhaps I am misinterpreting Church Lady and Rob. If they feel that demonizing single parents (and by extension, their children) is an essential part of a pro-marriage education curriculum

Demonizing? No. Someone who is in a challenging situation, though.

For me, disapproval (shame, if you like) wouldn’t be directed at single parenthood in all forms, but rather at the activities likely to result in unplanned pregnancy, particularly at a young age.

Unprotected sex is, obviously, the top target. In 2nd place, however, is casual* sex. This will put me at odds with some fellow liberals. And I also will remain at odds with some conservatives, because I have no religious motivation here, nor would I specifically demand abstinence until marriage. However, the point must indeed be made that if you are engaging in casual sex, even if you use condoms, you are still taking risks (obviously, unplanned pregnancy is only 1 of those risks. Others include STDs and the emotional fallout from the failure of a relationship you weren’t really read for). The more risks you run, the more chance there is of you finding yourself in the aforementioned difficult situation.

This message needs to be directed at all, including (mostly, I’d say!), the boys. Which is one of the reasons why just focusing on single mothers is a mistake, IMO.

One of the major cultural problems I see here is that guys are essentially praised by all for doing what would get a girl labeled a slut. I’d like both less “slut!” and more “dog!” “Player” should be a bad thing. Not a “oh you bad boy” wink wink thing.

* – I would define this as hookups with people you don’t really know, trust or expect anything from. The more you know them, trust them and the more mutual expectations there are, the less casual the relationship is.

#7 Comment By BN On November 14, 2012 @ 2:58 pm

“We can’t use rich people as our role models.”

Sure we can. Watch. “Single-motherhood should only be pursued if a woman has the solid financial resources and close family to be the sole provider for a child, including making provisions for that child should she die before the child grows up.”

The biggest mistake the anti-singlemotherhood crowd made was to cheer when Dane Qualyee went after Murphy Brown. Besides the ludicrousness of a polemic against a fictional character, he decided to pick on the one “role model” (second nod to the ludicrousness of TV role models) who was arguably one of the few examples of a single-mother who was likely to successfully and easily raise a child.

#8 Comment By Sam M On November 14, 2012 @ 7:53 pm

Church Lady:

“In 1940, just 3.8 percent of births were to unmarried women.”

So you are suggesting that in 1940, people had strict moral values, and that today they don’t? That an especially liberal claim coming from a liberal. I would submit that the average 1940 American would be considered a moral monster today. He’d be wearing a fedora, though, so there’s that.

“… the idea That we should do nothing…”

Wait. You are the one who has said you are against shaming and taxation. What else is there? Remember, education didn’t work for smoking. Shaming and taxation were required.

#9 Comment By Church Lady On November 15, 2012 @ 6:22 am


I’m not suggesting anything about the morals of 1940, except that they prevented unwed births quite well. I’m not interesting in turning back the clock, except on that particular outcome. I don’t presume that we have to go back to 1940 to solve this problem, but you did ask when it was that we didn’t have this problem, and I gave you the answer.

I’d also suggest that if a person from 1940 saw our rate of unwed births, they’d consider us the moral monsters. So what exactly is your point?

Re smoking, I don’t buy your notion that only shaming and taxation worked. For one, I think there’s been precious little shaming outside of elitist circles. I know a lot of smokers, and people who have quit, and none of them list shaming as the reason they quit. Social pressure, sure, but not literal shaming. They aren’t being excluded from society with giant “T”s painted on their foreheads. It’s just something that’s somewhat mildly frowned upon. The real driver that gets people to stop smoking are the very real health problems it produces, such as death. Amazingly, many people want to live, so they quit smoking. And so making people constantly aware of its deadly effects actually does work.

The reason people didn’t use to quit smoking, even though it was regarded as a nasty habit by many, is that they weren’t aware of the real health problems that it brings along. They lived in denial, and so did society itself. Even after the surgeon general’s warning, it took a while for it all to sink in. But it did, and the decline in smoking is due almost entirely to that awareness.

Similarly with unwed births. Liberal elites already keep steadfast discipline going about this matter, and seem to have it well under control. It’s only in certain demographic groups that it’s become a normal and socially acceptable thing to do, but rather than sharing their disapproval for it, we liberal elites condescendingly refrain from judgment, and pretend it’s so wonderful that people are choosing alternative lifestyles, as if that were a good in and of itself.

So something like (remember I mean like, not exactly the same, since it’s a very different problem) the campaign against smoking can help reduce this problem. Not cure it, but even cutting it in half would be a huge advance. And that means, as with smoking, making people aware ad nauseum of the bad results that come from unwed births, and divorce and abandonment while we are at it. And, at the same time, extolling the healthy virtues of a married family life, especially in comparison to the real world difficulties of single parentage. Target those demographics where the problem exists, and be relentless about it. No need to try any active shaming, the point will get across, and become part of the culture.

As I think about it, an even better analogy than smoking would be something like the change in attitudes towards women and minorities over time, which involved a comprehensive awareness campaign through schools, media, entertainment, and business. Laws against discrimination actually only went so far. Changing cultural attitudes was much more important in making real gains in these areas.

#10 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On November 15, 2012 @ 11:35 am

Re: And of course, you have to completely change the system of government and economics.

Yea, I’m fine with changing our system of government and economics. I’m a socialist as pertains to economic affairs, if I didn’t make that clear.

Re: And this just pisses me off, frankly:

Yes, I know, it was intended to piss you off, because I find your views on this stuff deplorable.

Re: And yes, the price of not getting married really should be, not having kids. Seems very sensible to me

Fortunately, a great many unmarried women don’t share your opinion.

You’re really being quite silly here, and refusing to accept that your worldview (and let me remind you, I was raised in the epitome of blue-state, upper middle class liberalism) has costs. No one is denying that it’s *better* to be married, or otherwise in a long term relationship, if you have a kid. I’d encourage any young unmarried woman who finds herself pregnant, to at least very strongly consider marrying the father. My friend of a friend who got pregnant this spring, at 21, is doing exactly that. The question here is, is unmarried parenthood always the worst alternative? And the answer is, clearly, no. It’s better (for most women) than spending your life childless, and it’s better (for the child) than dying at the hand of the abortionist. And it’s probably better for society as a whole. Our birth rate is just about where it should be, not too high and not too low.

Your model, again, doesn’t work, and the proof is that not only do upper middle class liberal women have a lot of abortions, but they also have *two thirds fewer children than they would like*. That’s probably a good part of why women, on average, say they are less happy now than they were in the 1960s.

Unmarried parenthood is not an ideal situation, but neither is it always the worst alternative: there are many, many worse choices one can make in life. If your choice is between unmarried parenthood and abortion, or between having children without a spouse or not having them at all, I’d encourage most people to go ahead and have the baby. It will condemn you to a hard life, but – here is a shocking insight from the Christian tradition, and actually from most other moral traditions as well – the easy choice is very often not the right one.

#11 Comment By stef On November 15, 2012 @ 12:01 pm

@Loudon is a fool: Contra stef, single parenthood is not an economically rational model.

Tell me precisely why you assert that. Of course these women are “bad off.” It’s not a question of them being “bad off,” though. It’s a question of would they be worse off in Case A (young single motherhood with federal and state support) or Case B (being single, no health insurance, working low-paying part-time jobs, not being able to afford transportation, no hope of income-elevating marriage.)

Sometimes economic decisions involve the bad and the less-bad.

#12 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 15, 2012 @ 12:17 pm

This thread is fading fast on the scroll of pages, so this might be a vain post, but I have a question.

Why is marriage the only possible evidence of a long-term committed relationship? First a quick aside 😉 to Siarlys…

If a married couple will have the ultimate advantage for the trials and tribulations of having and raising children, what exactly is that advantage in real terms? Is it the piece of paper, or is it the socio-economic status provided to them?

Stipulating (mostly with agreement at least over principles) that a couple is much better suited to raise children than one person by herself, what is the real difference?

There are two: A second person to participate in the real work invovled, and economic benefits.

I propose a new ethic, suited to supporting the moral arguments: To the woman, I say if you are planning to get pregnant with a man who is showing the signs of weak commitment (not just refusing to become legally married), then you really should be thinking thrice about getting pregnant; further, if you are planning to bear a child without any commitment offering — you are yourself committed to being a single parent — then you have to find the ways to cover that other 50% or so of support having a legally wedded spouse would provide. If you can’t, you really should be thinking six times about getting pregnant.

I have little sympathy for people who start having children without knowing the basics of what comes next. I know many such couples who employed and unthought leap of faith when questioned about it. Sure, for some people, “it will work out” turns out to be true, but is having a child something for which one wants to be only randomly prepared?

The mantra I want to see, replacing “Don’t have sex until you are married,” is “Don’t have sex unless you are absolutely sure you are ready for the consequences of not trusting that your mate is actually committed to you for the long-term.” Marriage is neither a solution nor a panacaea, yet I see so very many people talk about it as if it is both. Cue all the discussions about divorce, abandonment… 🙂

#13 Comment By Church Lady On November 15, 2012 @ 1:21 pm


We of course disagree about abortion. Your values are what they are. What I find strange about your position is that you have taken view that guarantees an increase in unwed births. You are strongly anti-abortion and anti-contraception, which the old model was also, but you are also strongly of the view that people should just choose whatever lifestyle they want, having sex without marriage as they like, and having babies out of wedlock, simply because it makes them feel better. Whatever happened to the traditional notion that we have to make sacrifices for the sake of a stable society, for the sake of our fidelity to certain tried and true religious/cultural norms, and not merely pursue our own self-satisfaction?

Your views are simply not compatible with a stable societal structure. Even the Scandanavian model is not the same, because many committed couples there are having children without the benefit of legal marriage, in part because the legal system makes legal marriage largely irrelevant. But here in the US, outside some liberal elite cohorts, unwed motherhood means single-parenthood, with partners, married or otherwise, simply not being a part of the scene, and certainly not viable economic contributors to the child’s welfare. This produces not just a heavy reliance on the state, but a lack of social cohesion overall, and a great increase in childhood poverty and neglect. That’s not what’s going on in Scandanavia from what I know.

That elite women end up having less children than they would like is in large part due to the stresses of our economic system, and the simple fact that you can’t have it all. Women who choose an elite professional life, not only can’t be single mothers, they can’t have as many children as they might like. Life requires that we decide what our priorities are. Rod has covered this problem well.

Now, I do think that Scandanavian socialism is a pretty decent economic/government model. I wouldn’t mind having something like that here. But we are a very different people, with a very different culture and history and politics. I wouldn’t mind a shift in that direction, but I wouldn’t hold my breath either.

THe traditional model that ROd likes has much wrong with it, but it at least balances its priorities rationally, and produced a relatively stable marriage and family scene. I’m not against the sexual revolution, but I don’t think it has ended, and I don’t think our current situation is sustainable. It will need further evolution and change, and one of those changes, already very much in effect among liberal elites themselves, is an appreciation for the great value of marriage, and having children only within a stable, committed, loving relationship. That’s the model I came up with for myself as I was making my way through the chaos of that life. I don’t regret what some here seem to think is my whorish promiscuity, but I also think that committing myself to a loving marriage is the best outcome of all that, not just for me, but for most people, especially those who want to have children and raise a family. It’s important to affirm that some aspects of the traditional model really did get it right, if by means that I’m not much in favor of.

Interesting article here that touches on these topics:

Women who attempted get abortions but were denied are three times as likely to fall into poverty than those whose efforts were not blocked, a recent study conducted by researchers at University of California San Francisco found.

UCSF’s Bixby Center on Global Reproductive Health examined 3,000 interviews conducted with over 1,000 women from across the United States who had either received abortions or were turned away because their pregnancies had already passed the clinic’s gestational limit. The study aimed to determine the effects carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term had on women’s mental, physical and socio-economic health.

Researchers found that a year after seeking an abortion, more than three-quarters of the women turned away were on public assistance and 67 percent were below the poverty line. Fewer than half of those turned away held a full time job.

Figures dropped significantly for the women who received abortions.


#14 Comment By Elizabeth C. On January 28, 2013 @ 9:11 am

Your article says: “The truth is, single parents really did screw up somewhere along the way. That can’t be hidden. One doesn’t have to shame them, and one has to accept their situation as it is and help them as much as one can, but you still have to put out the message that this is a screwup to be avoided, and not part of the “new normal”.” I am a single parent, not by choice, but by circumstance. When I was pregnant with my second child my well-educated, religious husband decided to embark on a affair with one of his co-workers. He left me for her; ran up my credit cards; cleared out our joint bank accounts; never provided child support; did not maintain a regular relationship with our children; and eventually and tragically, died in an automobile accident. I am a well-educated professional, who has worked in a career and supported my children. Although I make a good salary, I have personally sacrificed to support my children with no assistance from anyone. I have one son in college and a second who will start in the coming fall. If I screwed up in any way, it was marrying this man in the first place. But I do not feel that way because I have two beautiful and accomplished sons.

But it very much offends me the way the media disparage single parenthood. I have a friend who was an unwed mother; she managed to complete her college education and gain a masters degree and has brought up an intelligent, well-adjusted son.

I have suffered discrimination as a single parent. Schools and individuals make certain assumptions (including that you are a bad parent and are poor). It is maddening.