The State - Listening to Bush as a Parent
The following op-ed appeared in THE STATE (Columbia, South Carolina) on January 31, 2006.
Listening to Bush as a parent
By Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
In my day job as a United States senator, I will be listening closely today to President Bush's State of the Union address. But like millions of Americans with the all-consuming job of parent and grandparent watching on TV, I hope the president has a conversation with us, too. The true state of the union is found in the state of America's families.
Stressed-out parents know they have the best job in the world, but it's not the easiest one. Yet how well we raise our children will determine America's future. This country will pay a huge price if the president uses lofty language about an "ownership society" that piles all the risk onto our families. Parents should not own all the problems.
Past presidents understood government had a stake in raising good citizens. Franklin Roosevelt's GI bill offered returning World War II soldiers a college education and money to buy a home, and built America's middle class. Lyndon Johnson gave parents Head Start; and Bill Clinton provided family medical leave so mothers and fathers could care for a sick child without being fired.
Tonight, I hope to hear the president address our concerns as parents and grandparents.
Security is our first priority. Nothing is more important than making sure kids are protected from physical harm. Since Sept. 11, we cannot take them through a metal detector at an airport or drop them off at the mall without worrying about a terrorist.
I'd like the president to outline a broader plan for our security. We know how he wants to track down terrorists around the globe. But how will he invest time, effort and money in protecting our tunnels, trains and nuclear plants? How will we reduce our dependence on foreign oil? And how will we be ready to respond if an attack occurs? Katrina blew away any illusion we're prepared.
Second, the president needs to acknowledge parents have enormous bills to pay. Since he took office, health care premiums are up 50 percent, and that's before the child sees the doctor. Filling up the tank costs 55 percent more; college costs have soared 57 percent.
These days a middle-class family has both parents working and they're still just a few missed paychecks away from trouble. Too many South Carolinians who had their jobs outsourced to Mexico and China know what I mean.
I hope he addresses how we can make college more affordable, because many struggling parents are being forced into shifting the burden to their kids. Students attending a public university can expect to graduate with student loans that could take them until middle-age to pay off.
I also hope he outlines a financial plan for the country. In the last five years, he has piled up a trillion dollars in debt; our grandchildren will be stuck paying that bill.
Third, there is much talk about values, but the president should offer more support for at-risk youth. As parents, our obligation is to make sure our kids know the difference between right and wrong. But it is getting harder with gangster rap, pornography on the Internet and sexually explicit violent TV shows. We cannot do this alone.
Finally, I hope the president speaks to the parents who have sons and daughters in Iraq. He has to level with them about his plans to bring them home, while securing our vital interest in Iraq.
Parents don't want to hand over child-rearing duties to government. But our leaders should understand raising good children takes help. If we respect and support parents, the state of our union will always be strong.
Sen. Biden represents Delaware in the U.S. Senate.