During the past couple of weeks, there has been a flurry of columns and blog posts written in response to a speech U.S. Senator Marco Rubio gave on the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty. Every day for the past few weeks I’ve read stories written by people who are arguing for or against Rubio’s point of view.
For instance, a headline in The Week reads: “Why Rubio’s plan to end poverty by promoting marriage is theologically bankrupt.” A headline for Think Progress: “No, Marriage is Not a Good Way to Fight Poverty.” The Washington Post had something to say about it, too.
In support of Rubio, nationally syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker wrote: “In the absence of marriage, single parents (usually mothers) are left holding the baby and all the commensurate challenges and financial burdens. As a practical matter, how is a woman supposed to care for little ones and/or pay for child care, while working for a minimum wage that is significantly less than what most fair-minded, lucky people would consider paying the house cleaner?” Then she suggested that poor, single mothers aren’t getting married because we live in a society that devalues and mocks marriage.
In The New York Times, Jared Bernstein pointed out that when the government comes up with initiatives to reduce the number of mother-only families, they are both expensive ($10,000 per couple) and ineffective. For Slate, Matthew Yglesias set up a beautiful argument for why Rubio’s plan won’t work. In response to his piece, Yglesias apparently received all sorts of emails and phone calls from people who wanted to persuade him that marriage was the answer for poverty, prompting this follow-up piece.
The arguments were smart, nuanced and so well-thought-out that, at first, I thought: What can I possibly add to this discussion?
Still, I was all fired up, so, today, I planned to write a whole post about how the government can’t mandate love. In this post, I was going to tell Rubio that most people — with the exception of people like Anna Nicole Smith — don’t marry for money. They marry for love. I was going to mention all of my single girlfriends who would just love to get married if only they could find a suitable person to spend the rest of their lives with. I was going to point out that no tax break would ever be powerful enough to make those suitable partners appear. When women complain, “All the good ones are married, dead, gay or incarcerated,” they don’t really mean, “But I’d marry one of the dead dudes if the government were willing to give me a tax break.”
Oh, I had so much to tell Rubio.
But then I read Rubio’s speech — the whole speech. (You can read the whole thing here if you’d like). I started counting all the paragraphs to give you an idea of just how long and nuanced it is, but I lost count at paragraph 70-ish. As a result, the following statistic might be a tiny bit off: about 90 percent of Rubio’s speech has nothing to do with marriage at all. Yes, he mentions statistics that show married couples tend to be more upwardly mobile than singles — statistics that, as it turns out, are pretty dang accurate. When PolitiFact analyzed his statistic that marriage decreases the probability of child poverty by 82 percent, their conclusion: Well, it’s more like 71 percent.
What most surprised me was this: In this very long speech, Rubio never once recommends the government do anything about marriage. In fact, if you read the whole thing, you’ll see he’s setting up an argument for state’s rights.
I’m a democrat. I don’t believe I’ve ever voted for a Republican, and I don’t plan on switching parties any time soon. It pains me to point out that Rubio’s words have been massively taken out of context.
Now, let’s be clear. I’m not telling you that Rubio doesn’t believe marriage is the solution to poverty. Perhaps he does. I’m also not saying that there aren’t other conservatives who believe the same. It sounds like Matthew Yglesias heard from many of them recently.
All I’m saying is this: Rubio didn’t talk about it during this particular speech. His words were taken out of context, and those out-of-context words sparked arguments among people all over the country.
And that can teach us all a lesson about love. Think about what happens in your typical marriage when two otherwise loving people end up in a huge, painful fight over nothing. One spouse says something like, “You look nice tonight.” The other fails to hear the words that were actually said and then snaps back, “Are you saying I don’t usually look nice? What’s your problem!?!”
Or maybe during a casual conversation about apple pie, one spouse mentions a recipe she saw on the Internet and then her partner snaps, “What? You don’t like the way I make it? What’s your problem!?!”
You get the idea.
There are plenty of good topics to discuss and compromise over. Quite often, however, we dig in over differences of opinion that don’t actually exist, and we destroy our inner peace in the process.
There’s a better way, and it’s called listening.
So regardless of what Rubio did or did not say during this particular speech or what he might say about marriage and poverty at some point in the future, I will say this: I wish we all — myself included — listened to our spouses more and jumped to conclusions less.
I wish we lived in a world where we talked with each other instead of at each other, and where we had the humility to admit being wrong and the courage to consider an unusual point of view.
And while I’m wishing for things, let me also say that I wish politicians found a way to work together to solve complex problems like poverty rather than endlessly fight about them and get nothing done in the process. I wish they listened more, too.
I wish we lived in a world where everyone had enough to eat and no one felt scared to do simple things like walk to the school bus. I wish all children were offered the same opportunities. I wish luck had nothing to do with success.
I wish everyone had access to a good and safe public education, and that everyone who wanted a college education could earn one.
I wish no one believed that all the good men were dead, and I wish everyone who wanted love could find it, keep it, and make it grow.
I wish everyone who wanted to get married had the right to do so.
It would be a beautiful world, one that I’d be happy to live in. Maybe we’ll get there together.
Photo credit: Getty Images News/Robert Giroux
Read more of Alisa’s writing at ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com.