Good news, bad news—Commentary's got both in a data-rich essay with just-begging-to-be-analyzed religious resonance. Just 15 years ago, note authors Peter Wehner and Yuval Levin, our nation's social stupor and moral decline seemed inexorable.
Now America's not only back on track, but our young people think it's hip to be square.
The rates of violent and property crime have dropped dramatically, the welfare rolls have shrunk, teenage drug use is down, abortions have declined, and educational test scores have risen.
And—perhaps most heartening to the authors, “In attitudes toward education, drugs, abortion, religion, marriage and divorce, the current generation of teenagers and young adults appears in many respects to be more culturally conservative than its immediate predecessors.”
Problems remain. The biggest is that the traditional nuclear family is in free fall. The number of marriages is down while cohabitation and illegitimate births are up. Our educated elites have lowered their rate of divorce, but the rest of the population ends legal unions with ease.
The authors cite enlightened social policies and changing cultural attitudes as the twin engines for positive societal change. And although they never mention religion as a driver of policy and attitudes, it's fairly obvious to anyone who has read the news for the past 15 years that faith and values have been central to the recent policies and changed attitudes that the authors hail.
Which leads me to a set of questions:
- How solid are these statistics? (there are no footnotes or citation to show where they're from.)
- Has religion been a factor in changing attitudes on crime, abortion, drug use, education?
- How has welfare reform worked and does it play a role in the growing income gap between rich and poor?
- What about studies that show young people to be more socially tolerant on issues ranging from homosexuality to religious difference?
If Wehner and Levin are correct, the Clintonites and Bushies helped direct a cultural revolution, but it doesn't feel as if 100 flowers are blooming.