Presidential Candidates’ Views on Child Support, Fathers’ Issues (Part I)

Reflecting the weakness of the fatherhood movement, fathers’ issues haven’t been much of a part of the current presidential election yet. However, as I’ve reported on this blog, several candidates have made statements on fathers and child support, including Republican candidate John McCain and Democratic candidates Barack Obama, John Edwards, and Bill Richardson. Of the four, McCain, Edwards and Richardson have been negative or largely negative, while Obama has said some positive things as well as some negative things. Their statements are briefly encapsulated below.

John McCain

In March, Republican presidential candidate John McCain was asked about fathers’ concerns over family law at a mid-day town hall meeting in Cedar Falls, Iowa. 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 can”t get politicians to meaningfully act on our issues. And as unfortunate as McCain”s response is, to be fair, at least answered the question honestly. Whereas some politicians will give a vague, meaningless answer designed to appease the questioner into thinking he was going to do something about the problem, McCain made it clear he had no interest in the issue.

John Edwards

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, as part of his new “Initiative to Strengthen Families,” pledges to restore child support enforcement cuts, explaining that restoring the enforcement funds will “increase collections by more than $8 billion over the next decade.” I’ve explained numerous times that this is an illusion–the overwhelming majority of child support debtors earn low-incomes, and increased enforcement measures cost more money than they bring in. To learn more, see my co-authored column Federal Child Support Enforcement Cuts Will Hurt Bureaucrats, not Children (Las Vegas Review-Journal & others, 12/17/05).

Barack Obama

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama criticized fathers around Father’s Day, saying, “Let’s admit to ourselves that there are a lot of men out there that need to stop acting like boys; who need to realize that responsibility does not end at conception; who need to know that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise a child.” He also calls for restoring child support enforcement cuts, under the same illusions that Edwards (see above) shares.

On the other hand, Obama’s recently introduced Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act of 2007 does have some positives. In my co-authored column Obama’s Responsible Fatherhood Bill–Not Enough Carrot, Too Much Stick (Wisconsin State Journal, 6/30/07), I explained:

“Currently many noncustodial fathers–particularly African-American and Latino fathers, upon whom Obama often focuses–are required to pay their child support to the state to reimburse the cost of public assistance, instead of to the children”s mothers. This is demoralizing for low-income men struggling to make a difference in their kids” lives.

“The Responsible Fathers Act will make this money go directly to the mothers, instead of the state, a policy which research shows helps bring fathers closer to their children. The bill will also expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and provide fathers with job training services.”

Bill Richardson

Democratic Presidential Candidate Bill Richardson says he wants to crack down on so-called “deadbeat dads.” When asked what his plan is on “strengthening families,” Richardson replied: “I believe the key is strong child support, finding those deadbeat dads. And, I would have stronger laws between states, because what happens is they move from state to state. We don’t have those reciprocal agreements. I would have a national law that would tighten child enforcement.”

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