Ross Douthat wants more American babies

Ladies, I don’t know if you’ve heard this yet, but we’re not pregnant enough.  know. Bananas… It’s the kind of thing that only a true, enlightened and thoughtful white man can say to us, with a straight face. And that man, is Ross Douthat:

In the eternally recurring debates about whether some rival great power will knock the United States off its global perch, there has always been one excellent reason to bet on a second American century: We have more babies than the competition… But that’s no longer a sure thing. American fertility plunged with the stock market in 2008, and it hasn’t recovered.

Oh? Is this some sort of joke, my dude? You gonna go all Handmaid’s Tale on a girl?

I mean, I have concerns too. With our population shifting demographically by the total number of non-white births, the electorate–and civilization itself!–is shifting. Declining marriage rates, single mothers just mucking up the whole system with their unruly children, women having careers and delaying marriage and child rearing and running off and having those abortions–these are just the kind of things that lead us to this kind of decay. I totally, totally get that. And! And! to boot, we didn’t re-elect or elect other white men to national offices to represent a family planning policy that would codify these beliefs. Oof, what were we thinking???

I may be alone on this one, but in the context of  a shifting electorate as evidenced by the exit polls of the 2012 election, I can’t help but note that while the US birth rate has dropped to its lowest rate in eight decades, this is hardly a cause for an alarmist in sheep’s clothing column that the entirety of American civilization is headed to decline because women aren’t knocked up enough. Not when there are so many other spectacular examples that we could really, really spend some time discussing and solving (read: prison industrial complex as an example among a multitude of examples.) 

Amanda Marcotte goes in pretty hard on Douthat, a worthy read, but I’d like to point you this particular point:

Conservative men have always had an obsession with starting ‘em young and keeping ‘em knocked up, which protects a way of life these men have grown accustomed to: lotsa babymaking makes it difficult for women to compete with men economically, increasing female dependency on men while at the same time sticking it to liberals who worry about boring things like providing education and a clean environment to the children we do have.

Douthat offers:

Government’s power over fertility rates is limited, but not nonexistent. America has no real family policy to speak of at the moment, and the evidence from countries like Sweden and France suggests that reducing the ever-rising cost of having kids can help fertility rates rebound. Whether this means a more family-friendly tax code, a push for more flexible work hours, or an effort to reduce the cost of college, there’s clearly room for creative policy to make some difference.

Ross Douthat seems to be talking out of both sides of his mouth. The social democracies of Europe, the scourge of the conservative movement, now touted as an option to address our decline of American (read: white) baby births? That’s really interesting.

It’s also an oblique argument that he’s selling (and signaling) to the conservative white male base. It’s the most reasonable sounding thing in the world to say we should have more babies, when you consider arguments from the Paul Ryans and the Todd Akins of the world that say rape is a sound way to create new life, and when other conservative legislators want to argue that the legal definition of life should be determined by the pain sentience of fetuses. When you look at the conservative family policy we could have put in play on the national level, but didn’t, Douthat’s views sound so reasonable in comparison, right?

SYREETA MCFADDEN is a Brooklyn based writer, photographer and adjunct professor of English. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches and Storyscape Journal. She is the managing editor of the online literary magazine, Union Station, and a co-curator of Poets in Unexpected Places. You can follow her on Twitter @reetamac.

Syreeta McFadden is a contributing opinion writer for The Guardian US and an editor of Union Station Magazine.

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