Family Values, The Conservative Hubris

People on both sides of the aisle have been trumpeting the phrase “family values” again after Mark Sanford won South Carolina’s first district Congressional seat four years after infamously leaving his post as SC’s governor to visit his mistress in Argentina. Sanford’s GOP opponent Curtis Bostic made a runoff race out of “family values” before Sanford beat him 57% to 43%. Liberal blogs such as the Daily Kos heralded Sanford’s win against Colbert-Busch as a GOP rejection of “family values” and a show of hypocrisy.

Many on the right and on the left have egg on their faces — those who thought that a Congressional seat in a deep red district of a deep red state was up for contention over Sanford’s extramarital affair. Many will muse on the relationship of policy & personal life, like our site’s Amy Otto did. Many will discuss the phenomenon of the philandering politician, an American tradition dating back to as far as Jefferson to Clinton, Edwards, Spitzer, Weiner, and Sanford today.

Instead, I’d like to look at this amorphous concept referred to as “family values.” This peculiar phrase is one that some proclaim to be a tenet of conservatism. At times, “family values” seems to refer to socially conservative positions. At other times, it appears to refer to the ideal of a nuclear family with a (married) mother and father with 2.5 children and a dog.

The latter usage is one that needs to be struck from the conservative lexicon.

It implies that the “liberal agenda” has cast a shadow over the preservation of the nuclear family. That liberalism encourages the decomposition of “family values.” Without question, extreme leftist positions espouse this. For example, Karl Marx called for the dissolution of the nuclear family. In my argument I am defining liberalism in the US in a way that is not at all akin to communism. I define it by the views held by the average rank-and-file registered Democrat who is not really involved in politics.

Now, if it is the case that “family values” refers to the ideal of the nuclear family, then two intertwining realities about this exact topic work to undermine conservatism itself. That is, if “family values” is an invaluable tenet of true conservatism.

  1. Many conservatives assume the role of dictating the “familially correct” and using noxious language & labels to describe those who do not conform to this mold …
  2. … And direct this language towards their own constituents. The stark difference between the rhetoric versus the reality on this very issue should give the “family values” crowd some pause.

Hammering the buzzword family values not only exposes a structural weakness within the movement, but potentially alienates fiscally conservative swing voters (or voters in blue states with high concentrations of wealth in their most populated areas) with a little more of a bleeding heart.

I am not arguing that the nuclear family shouldn’t be encouraged. I am not arguing against the statistics that demonstrate the nuclear family is best for children. But I am arguing that the unity (and dissolution) of the traditional family – or “family values,” let’s say – is not a left versus right issue. One’s politics do not reflect upon one’s ability to keep a marriage together, raise upstanding children, and encourage their families to succeed in similar ways.

The contingent of the conservative movement that harps on “family values” does us no favors.

So what is some of this noxious language that we hear from conservatives towards those outside the model of the the traditional family? Here is one example that immediately comes to mind given my experience as a single mother.

It’s well known that Ann Coulter published some intriguing statistics in her book Guilty: Liberal “Victims” and Their Assault on America – in a chapter named “Victim of a Crime? Thank a Single Mother.” She refers to single mothers as “sainted” within the these pages, as if they are put on a pedestal while accessing a treasure trove of government benefits. These “liberal ‘victims’” should have done what was proper and right after choosing life – giving up their children for adoption.

I hate to be a buzzkill, but any single mother – liberal or conservative – will tell you that being a single mother does not come with sainthood. It does not come with door prizes. It does not come with adoration or lack of negative judgment from others. And I happen to be in one of the bluest places in the entire country.

Now consider this. While Ann Coulter is a bomb-throwing attention whore whose strongly-expressed viewpoints on any subject garner attention, it is not as if this view is uncommon among conservatives. While the contingent is smaller than others, the echoes of its moral condemnations send a negative reverberation throughout the whole movement. The movement that is supposed to represent freedom and liberty from a tyrannical government is marred by those who dictate what decision a woman should make after not aborting her child.

The divorce rate is apparently rather high in this country (sort of) – at the very least, high enough that it is certainly not isolated to those with liberal political views. If increased rates of divorce are high all over the place and contribute to the destruction of “family values,” then conservatives must be a part of this uptick as well, right?

In spite of these seemingly insurmountable numbers, there are plenty of people who come from, or are a part of, a “nontraditional family” and are attracted to conservative views. Clearly these people are members of the conservative movement already – or may be attracted to conservative ideas but are put off by the tenor of some of the loudest voices in the mix.

However, the rabbit hole goes deeper than that.

Statistics also reveal a double-edged sword. If it is truly the case that the conservative focus on “family values” is clustered in the sectors of the nation that show up red on the map – it’s the complete antithesis of reality. At least based on the definition of “family values” that we’re supposed to be touting in true conservatism.

It’s old news that a 2009 report based on census data indicated that the northeast had the lowest divorce rates in the US, while the southern United States had the highest. In fact, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Massachusetts “ranked among the lowest in divorces.” It’s also old news that rates of teen pregnancy are higher in red states than blue states.


While the rhetoric of family values rages against the hotbeds of liberalism for these destructive actions in our society, it seems to be the case that the “hotbeds of liberalism” do it less than red states. While the teen pregnancy rate can be explained by pro-choice culture, that doesn’t explain why people divorce less often. How could the institution of marriage possibly remain sacred in these cesspools of leftist ideals among people who divorce less often than conservatives?

At least according to the maps.

The focus on “family values” and claiming to be a movement about “family values” exposes a conservative weakness: an apparent disconnect between their words and the actions of their own constituents.

One thing Internet & real life troll Stephen Crowder did get right is that the divorce rate has gone down in the US. Now, if the liberal stronghold on American culture is as entrenched and dogmatic as some conservatives make it out to be – is the leftist agenda to thank for this decrease in divorce rates?

Sound off.