This morning, TakeCareNet  released the results of its survey of presidential candidates' positions on 26 public policies related to work, family, and caregiving. Co-sponsored by eight other organizations, including the Labor Project for Working Families, Momsrising.org, and the National Council of Women's Organizations, the survey addresses the "silent crisis of care": the absence of social support for working families (I know, I know, I hate that moralistic multi-focus-grouped phrase) that has made us a nation of stressed-out parents, daycare workers on poverty wages, and children who aren't getting the high-quality attention and stimulation they need. Number of Democratic candidates who responded: five (Clinton, Dodd, Edwards, Obama and Richardson). Number of Republican candidates who responded: zero. This is one area in which the parties definitely diverge.
While some of the Dems preferred their own policy proposals to those on the survey, all five support increased funding for childcare, both for mothers on TANF and families in general; public funding for universal, voluntary pre-school programs; expanding the Family Medical and Leave Act to cover workplaces with as few as 25 employees; allowing leave for appointments related to domestic violence; a minimum number of paid days off to care for sick family members; indexing the minimum wage to productivity and inflation; and more. I was particularly glad to see on the menu a scholarships for education and training, as well as higher pay, for child care providers. The magic of the marketplace is never going to bring us quality childcare, because most parents cannot begin to afford what that would cost.
Will the Dems actually campaign on care? Or will the policies laid out by the TakeCareNet survey join the long laundry list of wonkish positions you have to search their websites to find? Dems say they want the votes of women, and especially, as Katrina pointed out on her blog, want to mobilize single women, many of whom combine low-wage work with raising kids and/or caring for elderly parents. Yet, except on abortion rights, about which they speak as little as possible, Dems have not really made a pitch to women that goes beyond fluff and pr -- they're too afraid of scaring off the elusive white male voter: ew, the Mommy party! cooties! Yet care is an issue that affects men too. Even the Nascariest Nascar dad can see the advantage of nursery school.
People who mock the Dems for ceding big themes to the Republicans have a point, but last time I looked Family Values was one such theme. This year, Dems could show that it doesn't have to be code for abstinence, homophobia and Jesus. It can mean giving families the social support they need to raise the next generation and tend to the sick while earning enough to keep the ship afloat. By making it easier to combine work and parenting, these policy proposals, and others like them, can lower the stakes in the mommy wars and encourage fathers to take more responsibility.
Moroever, care issues cross class, race and gender lines: even among the relatively well-off, few people can really afford to buy their way out of the time crunch that is family life today. I'd like to see the Dem candidate, whoever that turns out to be, ask his Republican opponent what's not to like about indexing the minimum wage to inflation, or giving workers a few paid days off each year to care for a sick child.
If their failure to even fill out the TakeCareNet survey is any indication, that Republicans won't have much of an answer.