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Romney, the single mom and the AK-47

Watching the US Presidential election from afar feels a bit like watching reality television. It seems interminable and very little of what the characters say seems to make sense.

On that front, at least, Tuesday night’s second debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney didn’t disappoint. While Mitt’s incomprehensible and disingenuousbinders full of women” gaffe set records as an instantaneous meme, I was more staggered by his bizarre pirouette on the question of assault weapons.

Each candidate was asked what they would do to keep assault rifles off the streets. Romney, after first reassuring everyone, including the National Rifle Association who have endorsed him, that he would not be introducing any new gun-control legislation, turned to those reassuring ideas of the do-nothing politician: “Education”, and “changing the culture”.

If you can afford the two minutes it takes, then watch his whole answer:

So profoundly does Romney believe in the changing of culture, that he pivoted directly to a beloved conservative talking point: single mothers.

Gosh, to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone, that’s a great idea. Because if there’s a two-parent family, the prospect of living in poverty goes down dramatically. The opportunities that the child will, will be able to achieve increase dramatically. We can make changes to the way our culture works, to help bring people away from violence and give them opportunity.

The comment, even with Romney’s mumbled qualifier (“lotta great single moms, single dads”), single parents - at least those who weren’t working an extra shift or putting their kids to bed - took offense.

Any doubts about whether Romney’s social conservatism is genuine should have been erased right there. The urge to blame single and unmarried parents for the most spurious of problems doesn’t get any more reflexive than that.

I have a couple of problems with Romney’s comment, and more generally with the Republican inability to resist treating single mothers as though they carried the plague.

First, they commit the high fallacy of extrapolating from correlation to causation. Are single parents more likely to be poor as a consequence of their relationship status, or are they more likely to be single parents as a consequence of their poverty? I’m happy to admit the links are probably complex and the flow may be bi-directional. But even if you could show that becoming a single parent caused the poverty, you would need to convince me that somehow, gosh, telling our kids that they should marry, would reduce poverty and violence.

More importantly, and here is where evolutionary psychology and evolutionary economics come into their own. These sciences (science, and especially evolution being another Republican weak point) suggest that the very core of Republican doctrine - their positively misanthropic policies on welfare, health care, family planning and taxation - reinforce the links between poverty, single parenthood and violence.

As economist Bestsey Stevenson tweeted:

Do you know how to support 2 parent families? Give both moms & dads a safety net: health insurance, paid sick leave, good middle class jobs

Sounds a lot like Obama’s platform to me.

At a deeper level, the surest way to reduce teen pregnancy and the number of young, poor, unmarried mothers (and I think these are the mums Romney blames for gun violence - rather than unwed uber-mum Angelina Jolie) is to reduce income inequality.

I have written about this before, when Mike Huckabee (remember him) got all hot and bothered about Natalie Portman giving birth before she had swanned down the aisle.

First things first: Why do women become single moms? Mostly, it isn’t a choice. Or at least the kind of choice wealthy politicians make, like “Do I cut support for Planned Parenthood, or raise taxes on the richest 1% of citizens”. For many women, the choice is between raising a child alone or not having a family at all; or between leaving an indolent or violent spouse or staying in a situation that is worse than single motherhood.

The number of single parents is, among other things, a symptom of: - the inequalities in wealth between the rich and the poor, - whether women (particularly poor and marginalised single women) have access to contraception and safe abortion.

It seems to me that the policies Republicans hold most dear, including a bronze-age approach to family planning, and welfare and tax policies that favour the wealthy at the expense of the middle class and the poor, might be the root causes of the burgeoning infestation of single parenthood that threatens to overrun the American way of life.

Inequality isn’t just a correlate of rising numbers of poor, single mothers. It is a cause. And, among many other things that inequality causes, it also causes violence - specifically the kind that involves angry young men killing other angry young men.

And when the violence claims the lives of young men, and sends others to prison, that also pushes up the number of single mothers by creating a shortage of men. Young women and girls have to compete among themselves for the few marriageable men available. And that means having sex earlier and more often, and under less ideal circumstances than they otherwise might have. And that occasionally leads to pregnancy and single motherhood.

These are exactly the circumstances in which women need affordable contraception, discreet family planning services and safe abortion.

So, how best could the winner of this election reduce both the number of gun-related deaths and the number of single mothers?

For one thing, he could stand up to the plutocrats and work to narrow the deepening income chasm between rich and poor. For another, he could stand up to the evangelicals and ensure that women have affordable contraception and that on those rare occasions when a poor and desperate woman needs to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, she can do so safely and without harassment.

I’m not sure the even Mitt Romney could land that pirouette.

Join the conversation

34 Comments sorted by

  1. Gerard Dean

    Managing Director

    So, Mr Brooks, I gather you are not so keen on guns.

    I was recently showing a group of Chinese businessmen around my factory and the conversation ebbed and flowed until guns came up. The interpreter asked if private citizens in Australia could own firearms, I answered to the positive, they were surprised. I asked if China allowed private gun ownership, no came the answer - I was surprised.

    These businessmen cannot speak their minds, they cannot vote and they cannot worship a god of their choice and they cannot own firearms. There faces said it all.

    In Australia and the UK and New Zealand and Canada and the USA we can speak our minds and vote and choose to worship or not worship the god of our choice, and we can own and use firearms.

    Just remember, the countries that ban private firearm ownership would also ban The Conversation.

    Grow up.

    Gerard Dean

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  2. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    “women need affordable contraception, discreet family planning services and safe abortion.”

    I think the author could be under the influence of feminism.

    However, it seems the author is suggesting that it is better to kill the child in the womb, rather than have it brought up by a single parent.

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    1. Linus Bowden

      management consultant

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      If the mother thinks that, then you betcha. Any young (or old) woman who gets pregnant and puts her hand up and says, "I really cannot do this. I am too poor, too fragile, too alone, too just don't want to" we should move hell and high water to accommodate her wish to abort. If mom is that unconfident of being able to raise the child, even before she feels that first kick, I say we trust her and take her word for it.

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    2. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Linus Bowden

      Oh, so the abortion industry is actually the industry of "kill the child to save the child"

      Some evolution of the human species that would create.

      But I wonder why so many women are "too poor, too fragile, too alone"

      Do you have any ideas of your own, (without reaching for a feminist handbook)?

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    3. Linus Bowden

      management consultant

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Which chapter of the feminist handbook? The one that says all men hate women? The one that says heterosexuality is misogynist? The one that says a woman is liberated in a polygamist marriage? The one that says that makeup is self-harming? Or my favourite, the one that says that if civilisation had been left in the hands of women we'd all still be living in grass huts?

      I have read them all. But the more important influence on my view was being mugged by a gang of urchins in a western suburbs public housing estate. After that I was convinced of the merits of retroactive abortion as a cos-effective social policy; much cheaper than prison or rehabilitation.

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    4. Dan Abrahmsen

      Public Servant

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      OK I'll bite...

      Firstly, abortion can be purely a question of preserving the mother's bodily autonomy. If the mother withdraws her consent for the fetus to use her body, that's all that is required, in the same way that no-one can be compelled to give blood or donate an organ against their will. What else should we require to satisfy us?

      Secondly, you talk about a fetus as if it is a child, I'm going out on a limb here but I suspect that not even YOU think a fetus is the moral equivalent of a child. A thought experiment for you...

      You are inside a burning fertility clinic, on the floor before you is an unconscious 5 year old child and a large metal canister which you know to contain 5 viable, frozen fetuses ready for implantation back into a willing womb. You can only carry one or the other and collapse of the building is imminent. Which do you choose?

      As a follow up, how many fetuses would need to be inside that canister before you would pick it instead of the child?

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    5. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Dan Abrahmsen

      “women need affordable contraception, discreet family planning services and safe abortion.”

      So if women have affordable contraception and discreet family planning, why do they need abortion?

      Doesn't affordable contraception and discreet family planning work?

      Or do they want to reject the father, and then kill the child to save it from single parenting?

      Perhaps I shouldn’t ask so many questions in an academic and feminist type environment.

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    6. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Linus Bowden

      I know what you mean.

      http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/crime-stoppers/victim-tells-police-of-bus-stop-horror/story-fnat7jfp-1226498110425

      I have also forced myself to read a few feminist books and articles, and listen to a few feminist radio programs.

      Enough said about that.

      As I have been elaborating on elsewhere on another forum on The Conversation, if there is to be single parenting (and the trend might take time to reverse), it is generally best to have single parent fathers.

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    7. Dan Abrahmsen

      Public Servant

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Because sometimes contraception fails? Because sometimes circumstances change and women change their minds about the idea of continuing a pregnancy? Because sometimes a woman doesn't choose to have a baby with someone that they DO choose to have sex with? Because sometimes a woman gets pregnant despite not agreeing to have sex with someone? Because sometimes something goes wrong with implantation and continuing the pregnancy will kill the mother?

      'Or do they want to reject the father, and then kill the child to save it from single parenting?'

      Who is 'they'? Do you mean the woman? If you do mean the woman I'm not sure I understand the question.

      I note that you ignored my questions.

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    8. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Dan Abrahmsen

      To answer your question, I don't agree with artificial reproduction clinics such as IVF clinics, which you want to call "fertility clinics".

      Also I am not a qualified fireman.

      I do think counselling should be given to women before or after an abortion, as so many abortions are repeat abortions, but I can remember once being verbally slapped about by a feminist for mentioning this.

      Abortion is the second most common surgical procedure in Australia, but from the pathetic data feminism/social science has gathered, it could be that certain ethnic groups are using abortion as a form of contraception.

      I don't think the public should be asked to fund that ethnic tradition.

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    9. Dan Abrahmsen

      Public Servant

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      'To answer your question, I don't agree with artificial reproduction clinics such as IVF clinics, which you want to call "fertility clinics".

      Also I am not a qualified fireman.'

      That doesn't actually answer my question. You're sidestepping which suggests that maybe you find your own reaction to the thought problem I outlined problematic for your view that a fetus is morally equivalent to a child?

      Feminism/social science is not a group or body that collects data. The ABS, state governments, Medicare and insurance companies do. Do you have any data to back up your claim of ethnic groups using abortion as a form of contraception?

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    10. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Dan Abrahmsen

      With all the debate about abortion, few people mention much data, because there is very little data being kept about abortion in this country.

      I attribute this to the stranglehold feminism has on social science and increasingly medical science, resulting in near asphyxiation and death of those two sciences.

      In the US, it appears they are attempting to liberate themselves from feminism, and gather some actual data about abortion, and that data shows marked differences between various ethnic groups.

      http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6001a1.htm

      These differences were mainly between black, Hispanic and white women. Note also there were significant differences between age groups and between married and non-married women.

      Australia now has a high proportion of Asian ethic groups who are concentrated in capital cities. Of course, in certain Asian countries, abortion is very commonplace.

      http://www.abortionhelp.com.au/library-chinese#1

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    11. Dan Abrahmsen

      Public Servant

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      You're misguided if you think medical or social science are close to asphyxiation or death.

      The CDC report does mention a marked difference between various ethnic groups in terms of their rate of abortion but at no point does that report suggest that they are having abortions BECAUSE they are black or hispanic nor does it report that they are using abortion as a contraceptive. What we have here is a correlation, not causation and you're making stuff up.

      As for the second link, you've linked…

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    12. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Dan Abrahmsen

      The cat was accidentally let out of the bag some time ago when an abortionist in Sydney spoke on the ABC, and said the vasty majority of his patients were Chinese women, who thought abortion completely normal in their home country.

      Very little data is kept on abortion in Australia, making it one of the most suspect, mistrusted, dubious and feminist of surgical procedures.

      But there is some talk that abortion rates should be reduced, although nothing improves unless data is kept.

      I have heard pro-abortionists calling for abortion to be made more available, but never once have I heard a pro-abortionist call for better data to be kept about abortion.

      I doubt very much that pro-abortionists ever want abortion rates reduced.

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    13. Dan Abrahmsen

      Public Servant

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      'The cat was accidentally let out of the bag some time ago when an abortionist in Sydney spoke on the ABC, and said the vasty majority of his patients were Chinese women, who thought abortion completely normal in their home country.'

      That's called an anecdote and is not reliable data. You can't extrapolate from one person's experience.

      'Very little data is kept on abortion in Australia, making it one of the most suspect, mistrusted, dubious and feminist of surgical procedures.'

      Mistrusted…

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    14. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Dan Abrahmsen

      Abortion is a surgical procedure, and attempts should be made to minimise all surgical procedures.

      If there is any desire to reduce abortion rates, the first step should be to start collecting proper data on abortion.

      However, the abortion industrycan be quite lucrative financially, and of course abortion clinics seem to be the church for quite a few feminists, and the abortion table their alter.

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    15. Dan Abrahmsen

      Public Servant

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Abortion is not necessarily a surgical procedure but certainly can be. RU486 is a prime example of a non-surgical abortion method. It should be noted that neither abortion nor pregnancy are risk free undertakings.

      Data is kept on abortion, have you actually tried to find any?
      http://www.fpq.com.au/pdf/abortion_statistics.pdf

      You appear to be laboring under the delusion that abortion is a purely feminist issue and that being a feminist is a bad thing. Neither is true, abortion is an issue of civil rights and a person's ability to control their own body.

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    16. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Dan Abrahmsen

      “Accurate statistics on abortion are available for South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory only.

      Medicare statistics provide a conservative estimate of elective terminations of pregnancy. Medicare statistics do not include abortions performed in public hospitals.”

      http://www.fpq.com.au/pdf/abortion_statistics.pdf

      The statistics are useless, and can be misleading.

      Taking drugs to induce a miscarriage should be avoided also, but there is no great effort to find out…

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    17. Julie Roccisano

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Ahhh, which ethnic groups are you referring to there?

      I am pretty sure it is a very, very, very small percentage of women who use abortion for contraception when there are much less distressing and expensive means.

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    18. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Conversation Editor: Bring back the waving red flags of derision immediately. This drab grey just doesn't register outrage adequately at all. {Perhaps just coloured ones for Dale's contributions.}

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  3. Ian McDonnell

    Academic

    Professor Brooks states an ' incomprehensible and disingenuous “binders full of women” gaffe'. Even a second's thought gives the idea that his organisation has a very large number of women ready to serve in his government, and their names and profiles are kept in binders.

    Why is this incomprehensible? Why is this a gaffe? If it is incomprehensible, how can Professor Brooks claim it is disingenuous?

    And encouraging parents to both care for their children to optimise their outcomes is somehow an awful Republican plot?

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    1. Linus Bowden

      management consultant

      In reply to Ian McDonnell

      Ian it is pretty awful that by the time a man (or woman) gets to high office they cannot reel off the top of the tongue the names of dozens of women who are personal friends and colleagues, who are ready for high level government work. For god sake, Romney went To Harvard Business School and Law School, and had spent 20 years working in management consulting and venture capital. And he had to ask third parties to identify smart, experienced, proven, driven women? Anybody would think he had left Harvard and gone to work at the Vatican, not Bain.

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  4. chris matthews

    mediator

    Great article Professor Brooks: In a former life I was a single mum, unskilled with two children. Thanks to Gough Whitlam I was able to claim supporting parents benefit, go to Sydney University and get an economics degree. Some time later, after I was working full time, I obtained a law degree. I have paid back in taxes much much more than I recieved in benefits and free education AND I WOULD GLADLY PAY MORE in order for other women to have the chance that I had.

    Romney and others of his ilk…

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    1. Lorna Jarrett

      Former PhD candidate, physics teacher

      In reply to chris matthews

      "I WOULD GLADLY PAY MORE in order for other women to have the chance that I had".
      What a gem of a comment - thankyou!
      We need more people like you. Preferably in Government.

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    2. Kate Rowan-Robinson
      Kate Rowan-Robinson is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Registered Nurse/Sexology Student

      In reply to chris matthews

      Great comment Chris. Like you I was a single mum and as the article states I made a desperate decision where being a single mum was preferable to the situation I was in. I raised my son while studying for a nursing degree and have since graduated, have happily paid taxes and paid a large amount off my HECS-HELP. Now I am able to continue my education to get an even better (and hopefully more well paid) career and contribute more back in tax. And like you, Chris, I am more than happy to give back with the tax I pay and give other single parents the opportunity to have an education and a better life for them and their kids.

      Romney and co show their ignorance to the plight of single parents when sweeping them all into the same category (binder?). I little compassion and understanding can go a long way, rather than preaching abstinence and marriage.

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  5. Tim Scanlon

    Debunker

    The term is assault rifle. Assault weapon is a nonsense term that confounds two different terms.

    If you want to figure out gun violence in America you only have to look at their cycle of poverty. That's where most of the gun violence comes from, actually, their violence full stop. Add to that their irrational love of guns (have a look at some of the gun training videos that show people at a shooting range in full camouflage gear, here it would be jeans and a shirt) and you have people who glorify violence and guns.

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  6. Linus Bowden

    management consultant

    Rob

    You are being way too over-the-top neomarxist - it was da capitalist structure, honestly, sir. Romney is correct. Lives of criminal violence and tawdriness breed in the crucible of single-parent communities and cultures. BUT, the thing is, NOBODY - men or women - has children thinking "gee, how cool, in a couple of years I'll be a poor, unemployed single parent, how cool"! There's nothing governments can do to stop relationships going sour - even Catholic marriages. With one, very ironic…

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    1. Rob Brooks
      Rob Brooks is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Professor of Evolutionary Ecology; Director, Evolution & Ecology Research Centre at University of New South Wales

      In reply to Linus Bowden

      Don't know about being called a neomarxist - guess there's a first for everything! But there is a difference between suggesting a Gini index approaching 50 (if I recall correctly) indicates too much inequality and pinning everything on the capitalist structure.

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  7. Linus Bowden

    management consultant

    "That also pushes up the number of single mothers by creating a shortage of men. Young women and girls have to compete among themselves for the few marriageable men available."

    Another fascinating phenomenon making the competition among women even more fierce is the asymmetry in the numbers of gay men versus lesbians. The best research suggests about 1% of American women are lesbians, while about 3% of men are gay. That 3% taken out of the mating pool for women is not balanced by the number of women taken out of the mating pool who are lesbians.

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    1. Lorna Jarrett

      Former PhD candidate, physics teacher

      In reply to Rob Brooks

      I'm not the only person who's commented that they know a lot more lesbians than gay men. Could it be that the 1% -3% numbers are outdated / due to dodgy methodology / subject to regional variance?

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  8. Miranda Buck

    logged in via Facebook

    The sons of well educated and employed single mothers do perfectly well. It is not the absence of a father that is the problem, and even if it were, surely then blame the father and not the mother? Gordon Brown had it right in the UK when he invested in pre-schoolers via the Sure Start initiative; the best way to raise peaceful, compassionate and succesful children is to invest in them and their communities early and often.

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  9. Peter Ormonde

    Farmer

    "I WOULD GLADLY PAY MORE in order for other women to have the chance that I had". ... Aw you suck Brooks! Was the queue following on from the damn book prize starting to fall off was it? I can feel the swooning from here.
    You alpha males - insatiable!

    Fellow alpha male and fashion guru Mike Moore has a disturbing view on gun violence in the USofA. He points north to Canada - that strange frozen place fair bristling with hunters and all calibre of weaponry. And a national gunshot death rate…

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