THE SANCTITY OF WASTING GOOD MONEY

It used to be that Republicans scolded Democrats by saying, “All you do is throw money at a problem — that won’t fix it.”

Last week, however, the President George W. Bush and his administration were ready to throw lots of money — $1.5 billion — at a problem all the therapists in the world can’t fix: marriage.

Couldn’t they just ask Britney Spears to stay home?

Spears, you recall, recently visited a Las Vegas wedding chapel in a pique of 1) boredom, 2) intoxication, 3) a need to stay in the headlines or 4) stupidity, and married a childhood friend for about a minute and a half. The marriage was quickly annulled, and Spears laughed it off as if she’d just tried on a goofy hat.

Meanwhile, kids got a quickie course in quickie marriage: no harm, no foul, lots of publicity. Hey. Cool.

This is but a shred of what the Bush administration is up against when politics meets pop culture: $1.5 billion to “promote marriage?”

How exactly does a government that can’t get people to conserve gas, save water, stop using drugs or put away the pornography get its citizens to put rings on their fingers?

It can’t. It doesn’t. And it won’t.

Fighting Hollywood values

Now, I am all for marriage. I believe it is a cornerstone of society. I believe children are better raised, schools are better committed, and communities are better served when marriages are stable.

But the government doesn’t know the first thing about it.

Never mind that if you took all the divorces and extra-marital affairs out of Washington, you couldn’t get a majority vote on anything. And never mind that government programs traditionally get bogged down in red tape, paperwork and inefficiencies.

Never mind these four words: “Say No To Drugs.”

Yeah. That one worked wonders.

But even the most well-meaning program can’t fight the cultural messages being sent every day.

Perfect example: Last week, USA Today ran a fawning article about the newest celebrity couples, called “Hollywood’s Hooking Up.” It featured a half-dozen beautiful pairings — none of them married.

On Colin Farrell and Angelina Jolie, it wrote: “The randy Dubliner has a son, 4-month-old James, with model Kim Bordenave. Jolie and then-hubby Billy Bob Thornton adopted Maddox, 2, in 2001, then split.”

Nothing critical. Nothing harsh. These two beautiful people were not taken to task for turning their backs on infants in favor of turning their lips to one another. On the contrary: They were celebrated as a new, hot couple.

It is that way across America. Athletes, super-models, TV stars can talk about how excited they are to be having a baby with one person while clubbing with a new squeeze.

And you know how it works: If the cool people can do it, why can’t we?

Try fighting that with a pamphlet.

Fighting for votes

Check your history. Why is it that when marriage was its strongest, the government didn’t have silly programs to teach it? I’ll tell you why. Because parents did it. Grandparents did it. Husbands and wives did it by staying together. They set — here’s a forgotten word — an example.

Until and unless that happens in families, no amount of government suggestion will lead to it.

So why is the Bush administration — Republicans who traditionally stood for fiscal prudence — willing to throw $1.5 billion into the air?

To get re-elected. Bush’s tea-leaf reader, Karl Rove, feels he must have the arch conservative base this November in order to ensure his man a victory. Those folks love “traditional values.” So our tax money gets wrapped in a fuzzy ball and thrown at the altar of zealous lobbying groups that, ironically, don’t care as much about pushing marriage as they do making sure it stays heterosexual.

Won’t work. Can’t work. But hey, how can you fault a president in favor of weddings? Next we can spend $1.5 billion to promote apple pie.

The Bush administration should harken to a couple of rules that truly do make a good marriage: First, always tell the truth. And second, don’t throw your money away.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com.

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