Like so many politicians who’ve leapt overnight into national scrutiny, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence now faces intense journalistic vetting — which tends to include an onslaught of cringeworthy throwbacks. One day after Donald Trump named Pence his pick for vice president, reporters unearthed a 1999 essay he penned characterizing Disney’s “Mulan” as liberal propaganda.
“Despite her delicate features and voice, Disney expects us to believe that Mulan’s ingenuity and courage were enough to carry her to military success on an equal basis with her cloddish cohorts,” Pence wrote in the op-ed. “Obviously, this is Walt Disney’s attempt to add childhood expectation to the cultural debate over the role of women in the military.”
Next came fierce criticism of working mothers.
“Sure, you can have it all,” he wrote in a 1997 letter to the Indianapolis Star. “But your day-care kids get the short end of the emotional stick.”
Pence of the past seems like he really wants women to just stay home. (His wife, we should note, is a longtime teacher.) That moral argument, of course, has disintegrated over time, considering female breadwinners now support 40 percent of American households, and most families simply can’t survive on one income. It’s also trapped in worn-out gender stereotypes. Why aren’t we blasting working dads, Past Pence?
We don't know if Pence’s views have since changed — Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks didn’t respond to a request for comment. But if they haven't, he's increasingly out of step with his party. Last year, for example, Marco Rubio became the first GOP candidate to release a policy plan to make childcare more affordable, proposing new tax credits for working families.
Trump, for his part, plans to address childcare soon, providing an alternative to Hillary Clinton’s plan, which would cap family spending on the service at 10 percent of household income. Details have yet to be released, but aides say Ivanka Trump, his oldest daughter, is leading the charge. She’s a mother of three and executive vice president of development and acquisition at the Trump Organization.
Pence did highlight a real concern in his essay, though, citing a government study that found children in daycare didn’t show signs of slowed cognitive or linguistic development, but some showed less affection to their primary caretaker at home.
Researchers today aren’t worried about the emotional impact of daycare on kids — they’re worried about the emotional impact of low-quality daycare on kids. In a now-famous study, Harvard neuroscientist Jack Shonkoff concluded that leaving toddlers alone for long periods of time, which can happen at overcrowded centers, sends them into a state of mental stress. That interferes with brain development, they wrote, and could determine how well they do in school or control impulses down the road.
Guilt-tripping parents who must work to feed their babies isn’t the solution, though. Modern policy architects say America’s childcare is too expensive for parents, while daycare centers offer workers fast-food wages.
Those on the left want to see a massive public investment into childcare, which would attract more skilled caretakers and open more quality slots for children. Those on the right, which historically avoided this conversation, have started to propose conservative alternatives, including tax credits for business that provide care on-site.
“For years now, Democrats have been saying: We are focused on women in the workplace,” Sabrina Schaeffer, executive director of the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, has told me. “For whatever reason, Republicans keep ignoring these issues. It’s the absolute worst thing they can do. They need to understand, engage and offer better solutions. They can’t be afraid.”