John McCain on Fathers’ Rights

Arizona–Background: I recently discussed McCain’s candidacy in Reflections on Super Tuesday, Part I: The Far-Right’s Hysterics over John McCain & Immigration. To learn more about my views of the presidential election, click here.

Now that John McCain is apparently going to be the Republican presidential nominee, several readers have written to me asking how I think he’ll be for fathers and noncustodial parents. I don’t know, of course, but from what limited information we have, the answer is not a positive one. I’ve heard McCain refer to the issue once and only once, in the incident described below. If anyone else knows of McCain expressing an opinion on the issue, please let me know.

Below I reprint the posting I made right after the McCain/Fathers’ Rights incident last March.

Aspiring Republican presidential candidate John McCain contemptuously dismissed fathers’ concerns over family law at a mid-day town hall meeting in Cedar Falls, Iowa today. Shared parenting activist Tony Taylor asked McCain if he “would be bold enough to address the issue of equal access to children for fathers that have gone through divorce.” McCain testily replied:

“I’m sorry to disappoint you, I am not going to overturn divorce court decisions. That’s why we have courts and that’s why people go to court and get a divorce. If I as President of the United States said this decision has to be overturned without the proper appeals process then I would be disturbing our entire system of government… But for me to stand here before all these people and say that I’m going declare divorces invalid because someone feels that they weren’t treated fairly in court, we are getting into a, uh, uh, tar baby of enormous proportions.”

In other words, McCain is saying, “the family court issue is a mess. Given the power of the women’s groups and the lack of power of fathers’ groups, there’s nothing for me to gain and much for me to lose in tackling the issue.”

It”s unfortunate, but McCain’s assessment of the politics of the issue is probably accurate at this point, and is one reason why we often can”t get politicians to meaningfully act on our issues. And as unfortunate as McCain”s response is, to be fair, he at least answered the question honestly. Whereas most politicians will give some vague, meaningless answer designed to appease the questioner into thinking he was going to do something about the issue, McCain made it clear he had no interest in the issue.

Also typifying the weakness of our movement, McCain’s remarks have been very controversial, but not for the right reason. McCain referred to the issue as a “tar baby,” meaning a sticky mess, which reforming family law certainly is. Yet “tar baby” also has a racist connotation, and Tony Taylor is black, perhaps the only black person in the room. McCain’s use of “tar baby” is being widely reported, and McCain apologized for using the term.

To watch video of the incident, which begins right after Taylor asked his question, click here (Note: It is now available by subscription only–GS). To learn more, see the CNN story McCain apologizes after using the phrase ‘tar baby’.

Taylor, to his credit, has been traveling around confronting candidates’ on fathers’ issues. He told me that as of today he has yet to receive a meaningful, positive response to his questions from any candidate.

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