May 21, 2008
FAMILY VALUES: AMERICAN AND FRENCH STYLE
by Myriam Miedzian
New York City Republican Congressman Vito Fossella has announced that he will not run for a sixth congressional term this November. The odds that voters would re-elect him are close to nil. The recent revelation that Fossella, married with children, has a three year old child with his mistress of many years has put an end to the political career of this staunch pro-family values Conservative.
By contrast, French voters had no problem with the fact that Francois Mitterand -- who passed away in 1996 after having been France's longest serving president -- was married with children, and also had a daughter with his mistress.
The difference in reactions to Fossella and Mitterand's second families is due in large part to basic differences in definitions of family values in each country.
In the U.S. politicians are defined as pro-family values if they:
• Oppose abortion.
• Oppose stem cell research.
• Oppose gay marriage.
• Give lip service to the sanctity of traditional marriage and the importance of the traditional family.
• Attend church regularly.
As far as the French are concerned, these issues have little if anything to do with family values. For them "pro-family" means supporting policies that play a major role in helping families -- parents and children -- in their daily lives. Politicians are considered pro-family values if they vote for continued government support for:
• Universal, accessible medical care.
• Family allowances paid to parents of young children to help them with the costs of raising children.
• Minimum of four day stays in hospital for mothers giving birth.
• Social workers available cost-free to help parents of newborns with child-rearing, finances, and other issues.
• State-run day care for children from the age of 4 months, with payment based on parents' income, and free preschool programs for all children starting at age 3, all with teachers who have completed a two year program in pedagogy.
• Free education, elementary school through university, including graduate school, medical, law, and other professional schools.
• A work year of approximately 1440 hours and one month paid vacation which makes for more "quality time" for parents and children. (Americans work approximately 1800 hours per year according to World Policy Institute researchers. The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation days and paid holidays, according to economist John Schmitt of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.)
Family values politicians would be quick to reject these kinds of benefits as constituting unAmerican socialism, and would undoubtedly allege that they are the reason France has an enormous national debt and a dysfunctional economy.
France certainly has its economic problems (including the same kind of problems we have with jobs going to third world countries), but, according to the International Monetary Fund, with a population a little over 60 million, it ranked as the world's 6th largest economy in 2007. Not too shabby.
According to the 2007, CIA World Factbook, the French and U.S. national debts are both estimated at approximately 64.7% of each nation's GDP (Gross Domestic Product). A major part of our national debt is due to Pentagon spending -- just under $600 billion in 2007. The first five years of the war in Iraq added about $400 billion to what was already by far the highest military budget in the world. According to Noble Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, the war will continue to significantly increase our national debt since it is very likely to end up costing up between 1 and 2 trillion dollars. A major part of France's national debt is caused by the services and benefits listed above which are arguably investments in its future economic and social well-being. Many of these services and benefits -- paid vacations, annual work hours ranging from about 1350 for Holland to 1670 for the U.K., universal healthcare etc. -- are typical of most Western European countries.
While anything approaching the French definition of family values is unthinkable in our anti-socialist, pro-corporate, anti-tax, rugged individualist "government off my back" nation, the upcoming U.S. presidential election will indicate whether Americans are ready to take a small step forward in redefining family values. Will they vote for Republicans whose rhetoric espouses family values or Democrats whose programs and policies value families?
Myriam Miedzian is the author of Boys Will Be Boys, and writes frequently on social and political issues. Her website is: