This year marks the 20th anniversary of Hillary Clinton’s It Takes a Village, and given what's written there, Clinton must be sorry she isn't running for president of Scotland. After all, the Scots have been rolling out a law that implements much of her argument, namely that government—or "the village," as she quaintly keeps calling it—has to do more of the job of helping to raise "our" children.
Scotland's "named person" law empowers the government to designate someone as the nonfamily representative of every child from birth to 18 years of age, in order to ensure their proper growth and development. And yet even without such extreme legislation here, reading through Clinton's laundry list of social reforms for the betterment of all children, you have to be impressed at how much of what she recommended in 1996 has actually happened since then.
"Studies confirm the importance of breast-feeding infants," Clinton wrote. And lo, two decades later, hospitals have practically banned swag bags of baby formula, and some only dispense formula reluctantly, as if it were the narcotic Percocet, while simultaneously shoving lactation consultants at every mother who gives birth. The federal government has changed the rules for recipients of Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women and Infants (WIC) to extend much more comprehensive food benefits, with greater quantity and variety, for those who breastfeed, and Obama-care mandates employers set aside a space for breastfeeding employees.
"The case for quality early childhood education and programs like Head Start is stronger than ever, and we should be expanding them," Clinton wrote. And expand they have. When the book was written, Head Start was reaching 750,000 children on a budget of $3.5 billion. Last year it served one million kids with a total budget of $7.8 billion. Early childhood education has become such a dogma among the "village" elders that President Obama suggested there be a universal system for 3- and 4-year-olds in his last State of the Union.
Of course, there's less talk from Clinton—then and now—about whether we would feel a need for such early childhood enrichment and school readiness programs if the public school system were doing a better job of educating kids. The other fact that Clinton hasn't discussed recently is how the families for whom she professes her greatest love—the children of the poor and working class—are often priced out of licensed day care thanks to two decades of steady government pressure to "enrich" programming, professionalize early childhood education, and regulate providers—especially when it comes to health, hygiene, and safety—which have sent costs skyrocketing.
Health care has got to be the biggest accomplishment Clinton can claim, since many of her recommendations for prenatal and preventive care, her argument in favor of insurance companies accepting preexisting conditions, her insistence that the system be redesigned to keep costs down while expanding coverage to the uninsured were indeed the promise of Obamacare. Of course, the reality is quite different as a majority of Americans dislike the new system, many have lost their coverage, insurance companies are backing out of the marketplaces, and there is even greater pressure from the left to just do what "should" have been done in the first place: single-payer. Funny how Clinton never used the collapse of Vermont's single-payer state system against Bernie Sanders.
Not everything Clinton advocated has gone her way. "A decade of new research confirms that heavy exposure to violent and sexually explicit media triggers unhealthy responses from boys and girls alike, but we don't yet know the full effects of all this technology on our kids," she wrote for the tenth anniversary edition of the book in 2006, when she was senator from New York. Her proposed legislative solution—the Children and Media Research Advancement Act—"would coordinate and fund new research into the effects of viewing and using electronic media, including television, computers, video games, and the Internet on children's cognitive, social, physical, and psychological development."
The legislation never made it past the Senate, and yet it typifies Clinton's mode of argument throughout much of It Takes a Village. She takes a serious subject—in this case the potential harm to kids from popular culture and media—and, based on a selective understanding of scholarly research, she insists that there can be a solution and, as is so often the case for her, that the government should impose the remedy.
Her uncritical reliance on supposedly scientific discoveries about child development, psychology, and neuroscience is all the more shocking when you realize that there are already abundant examples of failure by policymakers attempting to convert the latest "science" into action. When legislators and regulators try to take a discovery and turn it into a uniform policy for the betterment of us all, the mistakes, inefficiencies, and costs can be astronomical. And often the solutions create more problems than they solve. For 30 years, the U.S. government went on a crusade against the use of butter, owing to the supposed "dangers" of saturated fats. But they were wrong about the dangers, and the heavy-handed nutritional guidance that resulted was arguably worse for our health than traditional ways of eating.