The Politics of Child Care

Richard B. Stolley
November 6, 2000


This article was published on CFK
in November 2000, during the U.S. presidential campaign.


I have covered presidential campaigns as a journalist, and have more than a little sympathy for the candidates. It is a cruel business—traveling constantly, tumbling off bus or plane to deliver the same speech, make the same small talk, smile the same smile, eat junk food, lose laundry, fret that the reporters traveling with you will overhear some unfortunate comment, and when you have a few moments to yourself, dial a fat cat on your cell phone and plead for money.

At this point, Dear Reader, you may be wondering: Okay, okay, but when is he going to get around to the subject of child care? Good question. The sad truth is that I am still waiting for the candidates to get around to the subject. An Internet search reveals that they have not ignored it altogether. Al Gore has come out for universal pre-k education, which is good, but pretty expectable for a Democrat.

On the Republican side, George W. Bush has called for greater child care funding, without going into much detail.

Child care remains, God help us, a controversial issue in America (one of the departed Republican candidates, Gary Bauer, has been suggesting its abolition for years), so the candidates have tackled a few other children's issues with the enthusiasm we could only wish they showed for early education.

Gore has taken a courageous stand against kids' smoking. Bush believes Abstinence Education should receive as much funding as Sex Education. These are not political positions that will shake the foundations of the Republic (or make kids' lives significantly better either).

These guys may be missing an important ingredient in their campaign messages. And that is concern among women voters for genuine, not cosmetic, help for children in America. You know those millions of dollars that candidates must raise? Some of the money goes for polls to find out what the public is thinking—about them and their ideas.

Lifetime television recently did some polling for them, and we can only hope they are listening. The results show that women are worrying about a lot of sensible things, like medical benefits, violence, pay equity and workplace discrimination, guns, the high cost of college. They also worry about what is happening to children, and not just their own.

Sixty percent of all female voters believe that "working parents do not have enough good child care options," and it bothers them a lot. And even more, a two-thirds majority, wish that the government would provide paid family and medical leave to parents who have recently had or adopted a baby (as a number of other industrialized countries already do).

The Lifetime poll is both heartening and fascinating, and it should be tucked into the briefcases of all those campaign managers and speech writers who are trying to propel their bosses into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Some of us hoped that the present occupant of the White House might be "the children's' President," especially after he convened the first-ever White House conference on child care in October 1997. But a few weeks later, he became the subject of sensational headlines of quite a different nature, and hope for a major breakthrough on child care vanished.

In his final State of the Union message, Bill Clinton included three paragraphs on the subject. But the chances for any new Clinton-sponsored legislation in this session of Congress seem minimal. It's time now to wish Clinton well, and direct your attention to his successor, whomever. Do whatever you can to force children and child care onto this year's political agenda. Kids don't vote, but you can help make them count.

Get the Scoop
For comprehensive information on child care, and tips on how to get involved, visit the Child Care Action Campaign site.

Don't forget to check out the Connect for Kids Child Care topic page, in our Reference Room.




Richard B. Stolley, Chairman of the Board of Child Care Action Campaign, is also Senior Editorial Adviser of Time, Inc. This commentary is adapted from a column that appeared in the March edition of Child Care ActioNews.