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March 1, 1996

Can Congress Revive Civil Society?

With responses from Gertrude Himmelfarb, Don Eberly & David Boaz


In their 1975 book To Empower People, Richard John Neuhaus and Peter Berger challenged policymakers to protect and foster the "mediating structures" -- neighborhood, family, church, and voluntary associations -- that stand between the private individual and large government institutions. "Wherever possible," they wrote, "public policy should utilize mediating structures for the realization of social purposes."

Twenty years later, Washington is heeding the call. In October 1995, Senator Dan Coats introduced a package of legislative proposals to help empower local, community-based institutions that are addressing social problems. Crafted with the help of William J. Bennett, a codirector of Empower America, the "Project for American Renewal" comprises 19 separate bills designed to use public policy -- and public resources -- to energize mainly private efforts to meet human needs. Coats defended his legislation at a recent symposium at The Heritage Foundation; what follows are his remarks and critiques by some of the symposium's participants.

Senator Dan Coats
Re-funding Our "Little Platoons"

An intellectual revolution is underway concerning the nature of our social crisis. It is no longer credible to argue that rising illegitimacy, random violence, and declining values are rooted in the lack either of economic equality or of economic opportunity. These positions are still current in our political debate, but they have lost their plausibility.

America's cultural decay can be traced directly to the breakdown of certain institutions -- families, churches, neighborhoods, voluntary associations -- that act as an immune system against cultural disease. In nearly every community, these institutions once created an atmosphere in which most problems -- a teenage girl "in trouble," the rowdy neighborhood kids, the start of a drug problem at the local high school -- could be confronted before their repetition threatened the existence of the community itself.

When civil society is strong, it infuses a community with its warmth, trains its people to be good citizens, and transmits values between generations. When it is weak, no amount of police or politics can provide a substitute. There is a growing consensus that a declining civil society undermines both civility and society.

In this discussion, the importance of civil society is something I want to assume, not argue. But it leads to another question: Does this intellectual revolution have political consequences? Should it influence the agenda of Congress, or is it irrelevant to our work?

Let me begin by saying what is not at issue. I do not argue that government is sufficient to the need. Nothing short of a Great Awakening, as Gertrude Himmelfarb has noted, is sufficient to the need. But I do argue that conservatives have duties beyond waiting for another Charles Wesley. Realism about government's limits is not a substitute for effective public policy. I am convinced that political reflection on these themes is important not only for its own sake; it provides the next, necessary stage of the conservative revolution.

Government clearly has had a role in undermining civil society. Families, churches, and community groups were forced to surrender their authority and function to bureaucratic experts. Fathers were replaced by welfare checks, private charities were displaced by government spending, religious volunteers were dismissed as "amateurs", whole communities were demolished in slum-clearance projects. The power to replace an institution is the power to destroy it.

So the first item on the political agenda is a re-limited government, leaving enough social space for civil society to resume its role.

But this brings us to a problem. The retreat of government does not automatically result in the rebirth of civil society. It is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient one. As Professor John DiIulio has observed, when a victim is stabbed, you need to remove the knife. But removing the knife will not heal the wound.

In Russia, the retreat of government has resulted in what one expert calls "anarcho-capitalism" -- closer to the Mafia than the invisible hand. Even if this result had been known beforehand, it would not have been an argument to retain the communist system. But it is an argument for respecting the potential for social dislocation when civil society is weak. Robert Woodson of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise has said, "[T]he moral centers of black life were decimated by liberal policies." We should not ignore the potential for suffering, especially in our cities, when government retreats.

The decline of civil society threatens the future of our political order. It requires us to ask certain questions out of a reasonable, justified desperation. How do we creatively, but not intrusively, strengthen the safety net of civil society? How do we encourage the transfer of resources and authority, not just to state governments, but to those private and religious institutions that shape, direct, and reclaim individual lives?

There is not -- and could never be -- a government plan to rebuild civil society. But there must be ways to actively take the side of people and institutions who are rebuilding their own communities, and who often feel isolated and poorly equipped.

This is the theory that Bill Bennett and I have adopted in the "Project for American Renewal." Government cannot directly restore what it has crippled. But we believe that deferring to and depending on these institutions in public policy would have a positive effect. As Robert Putnam of Harvard University has argued, the resources of community, unlike physical resources, become depleted when they are not used. They must be exercised or they atrophy.

Our goal is to exercise civil society by turning over federal roles to private institutions. In practice, we hope to tilt public policies in favor of intact families. We want to strengthen grass-roots community organizations. And we propose to shift welfare responsibilities to private and religious charities. Every dollar spent by families, community groups, and faith-based charities is more efficient and compassionate than any dollar spent by the federal government.

The centerpiece and symbol of the package is the "Comprehensive Charity Reform Act." It would allow individuals to donate $500 of their tax liability to private, antipoverty organizations. This measure would take about 8 percent of federal welfare spending and provide it directly to institutions actually winning their war on poverty, armed with spiritual vitality, tough love, and true compassion.

My objective is to promote a new ethic of giving in America. When individuals make these contributions to effective charities, it is a form of involvement beyond writing a check to the federal government. It encourages a new definition of citizenship -- one in which men and women examine and support the programs in their own communities that serve the poor.

This is exactly how I came to be involved in these issues. My initial interest was not academic. I had the experience of seeing how religious charities not only feed the body but touch the soul. They are dramatically effective, while the programs I reauthorized year after year in Congress did not even bother to keep track of their dismal results.

One of my favorite examples is the Gospel Mission in Washington, D.C. It provides one of the most vivid contrasts to government failure I have ever seen. It has a 12-month drug rehabilitation rate of 66 percent, while a once-heralded government program just three blocks away rehabilitates less than 10 percent of those it serves. Yet the government program spends many times more per person.

To explain the difference you need to talk to those the Gospel Mission has served. One addict who came to the shelter after failing in several government programs says, "Those programs generally take addictions from you, but don't place anything within you. I needed a spiritual lifting. People like those at the mission are like God walking into your life. Not only am I drug-free, but more than that, I can be a person again."

Marvin Olasky has talked about the need to "defund" government and "refund" those faith-based institutions that actually work. Bill Bennett and I have taken this not merely as an interesting observation but as a challenge. The Project for American Renewal is not the definitive answer, but it is the beginning of a debate we can no longer avoid.

Naturally, we've encountered criticism, which has centered around three questions. First, is the project a violation of the letter and spirit of devolution? Nothing could be further from the truth. What we advocate is a particularly radical form of devolution. Some conservatives only seem comfortable transferring federal resources and authority to state bureaucracies. Our package would redistribute power directly to families, grass-roots community organizations, and private and religious charities. It is hardly a conservative position to argue that, of all the institutions of American society, only state governments merit our trust. Our goal should not only be to redistribute power within government, but to spread power beyond government.

Second, should there be any role for the federal government in these matters?

My response is that conservatives need to pick their fights. States are better positioned to do many things -- but not to do everything.

Federalism is useful, but we need to avoid a 10th Amendment utopianism. Bill Bennett tells the story of a governor who sought a series of federal waivers from him when he was President Reagan's education secretary. Bennett responded that they would be granted, but only if the governor also sent of list of state obstacles to reform. The state regulations far outnumbered the federal ones.

State officials can repeat the same mistakes as their federal counterparts. State welfare bureaucracies can be just as strong and wrong as federal programs. We need the wisdom to concentrate on those areas where we can be most effective, even if it means a federal role in jump-starting reform. It is a paradox that it takes an active federal government to divest itself of its own power. Federal inertia serves the cause of bureaucratic centralization.

Third, does the project -- with its tax credits -- contradict the Republican economic agenda, particularly the flat tax?

I support a flatter, fairer, simpler tax code. But I am convinced that eliminating the charitable deduction would be social engineering on massive scale. The level of charitable giving is closely correlated with the treatment of charitable contributions in tax law. Abandoning this commitment would invoke the law of unintended consequences with a vengeance.

There are many in the Congress who could not and would not support such a reform. And many of the most serious flat-tax proposals now recognize this fact, carving out an exception for charitable giving. Those are the only initiatives with a political future.

I believe we are led by policy to creatively surrender federal authority to civil society. But there is a political point to be made as well.

There is only one thing more important than what Republicans do in the budget debate. It is what they say the day after it has ended. If our only appeal to Americans is a balanced budget and devolution to state bureaucracies, the Republican revolution is likely to falter.

No lasting political realignment can occur without an element of vision and hope -- a message that our worst social problems, while persistent, are not permanent. Hope is what turns a sociological debate into a compelling political theme. If we do not develop such a theme, Republicans will become social Darwinists by default -- accepting the survival of the fittest. But we know where that hope is kindled -- among individuals and groups engaged in the hard, noble work of restoration. Their victories are among America's great, untold stories. No alternative approach to our cultural crisis holds as much promise as the success of these "little platoons," precisely because they have qualities not found in government at any level -- spiritual renewal and authentic compassion. As a matter of public policy, and as a matter of prudent politics, it is time to aggressively take their side in the battle to recivilize American society.

Dan Coats is a Republican Senator from Indiana and the creator, with William Bennett, of the Project for American Renewal.

Civil society has thus been severely weakened by government. But it also has been weakened by the culture in general. More important, it has been corrupted by the culture. In fact, some of the institutions in civil society are thriving as never before. There are powerful philanthropies and foundations, more than we've ever had before, and some have unprecedented wealth; there are private schools and colleges, social agencies, civic institutions, cultural organizations, and churches of all kinds. And all are flourishing in civil society.

But not always to good effect. Senator Coats describes civil society as an "immune system" against social disease. But civil society has been infected by the same virus that has afflicted the culture in general. The theories and practices that have been so detrimental to our educational system -- affirmative action, multiculturalism, outcome-based education -- have been initiated and promoted by private foundations and universities. Some of the most egregious projects funded by the National Endowment for the Arts have been proudly exhibited in local museums supported by the cultural elites of those communities. Even the churches, both mainstream and New Age churches, have contributed to what I would call the "de-moralization" of society, the kind of permissiveness and self-indulgence that is so conspicuous in our culture at large. The family is the bedrock of civil society. But it, too, is in a bad state -- witness the prevalence of illegitimacy, divorce, transient "relationships," neglected children, households where the main cultural vehicle is television, with its incessant messages of promiscuity and violence.

It is not enough, then, to revitalize civil society. We have to start thinking about "remoralizing" civil society. And that is a far, far more difficult task. And here -- paradoxically -- is where the government can be helpful. Unlike some of my conservative friends, I've never been a libertarian in economic affairs; nor am I much of a libertarian in social and cultural affairs. In our present situation, it seems to me, the remoralization of society requires that we avail ourselves of all of the resources that we can command -- public and private, religious and secular, governmental as well as civil.

This may be the most important lesson I learned from the Victorians: They did not bifurcate their lives. They did not distinguish between private virtue and public virtue. Nor did they try to keep religion out of the public square. The Dissenters, for example, had no objection to the established Church of England (there was no serious movement for the disestablishment of the Church throughout the entire Victorian period). Secularists habitually joined with religious groups -- utilitarians with Evangelicals -- in promoting various measures of social reform. Government officials responsible for the distribution of public relief cooperated with private charities, their common purpose being to prevent the "de-moralization of the poor" -- what we more politely call the "culture of dependency." They used, in short, whatever resources were available, in civil society and in the polity, to help stabilize and remoralize society.

It's often said that you can't legislate morality. But we have, in fact, done just that. The civil-rights legislation in the 1960s had the effect not only of legally proscribing racial discrimination but also of proscribing it morally. The fact is that individuals, communities, families, neighborhoods, and churches do not function in isolation. They cannot sustain traditional values that are at odds with those being promoted by the government, by the courts, and by the culture. All values, even traditional values, have to be legitimized. And in a secular society, the main organs of legitimization are government, law, and the culture.

Conservatives, then, must not only eliminate laws and social policies that have illegitimatized traditional values. They also must devise laws and social policies that will legitimize traditional values. One might say that our legislators and policymakers are as much our moral instructors as are our teachers and preachers. This is why the Project for American Renewal is an important document -- not only for the specific measures it proposes, but also for the principle it conveys: that government -- responsible, modest, self-critical government -- may be a useful ally of civil society in the remoralization of society.

Gertrude Himmelfar is professor emeritus of history at the Graduate School of the City University of New York. Her most recent book is The De-Moralization of Society: From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values (Knopf, 1995).

Don Eberly
The New Demands of Citizenship

Dan Coats has issued a challenge for us to join in a new intellectual revolution, and join it we must. The most promising aspect of this revolution is that its recovery of the term "civil society" suggests that this concept may once again take deep root in our policy debates and in the public imagination. Civil society may very well supply the framework for a promising new social policy for the 21st century.

In his book The Quest for Community, Robert Nisbet suggested that the great challenge of modern society is "protecting, reinforcing, nurturing where necessary, the varied groups and associations which form the true building blocks of the social order." Nisbet's concern at the time (the 1950s) was that the human yearning for community, which is rooted in our social nature, would likely feed the hunger for a pervasive centralized government if not properly directed toward the restoration of real, functioning local communities. Our failure to heed his warning has left us with precisely the dangerous combination he feared -- a powerful central state combined with radically weakened social institutions.

In considering solutions to America's cultural decline, we would do well to keep in mind an ancient Chinese proverb: The possibility of progress begins when you call a problem by its right name. The present crisis in America is a crisis not merely of political and governmental dysfunction, but of societal disintegration.

We are witnessing today a dangerous depletion of the spiritual and psychological qualities upon which democracy and limited government depend. Our character-shaping institutions are collapsing in the face of a hedonistic mass culture increasingly characterized by violence, incivility, and a flagrant disregard for human dignity. We Americans are in rapid retreat from the very idea of society.

If we are to reverse this trend, we must change our conversation, and quickly, from the deterministic logic of the social sciences, which shift responsibility for antisocial behavior from the individual to the larger society. And we must move beyond our preoccupation with governmentalism -- that is, what government does, how it does it, or what it stops doing.

Can Congress restore civil society? No one here believes that Congress can do more than help to set the conditions for such a recovery. But we should question whether Congress is prepared to do this much. Politicians must recognize that their ultimate success in policy reform depends precisely upon a deeper social renewal that can only originate in our hearts, homes, and local communities. The real question, then, is how do we, as a political community, respond to Nisbet's challenge to nurture the varied groups and associations of civil society.

There are many positive contributions that social policy reforms can make toward this end. Peter Berger and Richard John Neuhaus, in their classic work To Empower People, urged that the intermediary institutions and associations of civil society be recognized in policy reforms. They offered two primary principles to guide public policy formulation: first, that public policy should protect and foster mediating structures; and second, that wherever possible, public policy should encourage mediating structures to address social concerns. This is essentially what the Coats bill is attempting to do. Finally, there is much the individual politician can contribute to the recovery of foundational solutions: Elected officials can lead in rebuilding civic community and recovering effective charity in their districts.

The most important thing is that we get the intellectual revolution right. That requires understanding what civil society is, why it matters, and what we Americans can do to recover it. The debate that lies ahead may indeed spark one of the most consequential shifts in social policy we have ever witnessed. The bill signals a departure from our current obsession with either the state or the market as instruments for social progress. Civil society is a different sphere. It is an intermediary sector, where private individuals join voluntarily in associations that operate neither on the principle of coercion, nor entirely on the principle of rational self-interest. In fact, the modus operandi of life in civil society gives expression to the pursuit of the common good, where actions are animated by a spirit of trust and collaboration.

I have a caution here, it is that civil society not simply be embraced mostly for its utilitarian value in replacing the central welfare state. The stakes in recovering civil society go far beyond the replacement of the welfare state, as important as that is.

The mediating associations of civil society, as Alexis de Tocqueville tells us, are essential to both our democratic and economic systems. He noted that "feelings and opinions are recruited, the heart is enlarged, and the human mind is developed only by the reciprocal influence of men upon one another" operating in civil society. This sector generates the social capital -- responsible citizens capable of self-governance and trust toward others -- upon which our economic and democratic life depend. Lose this third sector, and you end up not with two sectors but eventually with only one: the bureaucratic state. The reason for this is that a society of isolated, atomized individuals is simply no match for the power and expansive ambition of the omnicompetent state. In fact, individuals who are cut off from the problem-solving, order-creating realm of civil society will almost certainly turn to government for order and safety, and yes, even for a sense of belonging and purpose. The result is a politically organized society which is held together mainly by force of state authority. Anyone who thinks that the monster of statism has been slain by the mere adoption of the policies of political devolution should think again.

Civil society, by definition, embraces institutions, groups, and associations, not individuals. It frustrates our dominant cultural impulse, which is to assert that the autonomous self is the only sovereign, and it grates against our dominant political reflex, which celebrates boundless individual choice as the highest good. The realm of civil society is free and largely autonomous, but it nevertheless imposes constraints and obligations on the individual and limits his choices. In other words, talk of civil society implies a return to authority and order. Many Western liberals -- whether in political or economic terms -- have embraced a notion of absolute freedom that is simply not self-sustaining.

So as we evaluate this legislation, we must remember what has happened in our political culture even as we discuss the need for mentoring, fathering, character-shaping charity, community empowerment, and curbing divorce. Public policy has shifted away from our decades-long impulse to empower isolated individuals. Policies are now being directed at asserting institutional authority, social obligations, and moral requirements over the individual. We must be clear: We are talking about restoring authority in the noncoercive realm of civil society, not the coercive realm of the state.

Freedom from the suffocating clutches of the social-service state is not simply a freedom to be left alone, as the latest conservative mantra has it. It is a freedom to become Americans again -- compassionate, civic minded, and committed to rebuilding the good society.

The risk of the present revolution in Washington is that it simply replaces a sterile statism with an equally sterile antistatism, which does little to give life to a dying society. Dismantling ineffective and costly government is important work, but it does not constitute by itself a social or political philosophy. Freeing up the market is a splendid idea, but it does not constitute by itself a vision for a well-ordered society, and the market contributes little by itself to the recovery of community. (Some would argue that its effects are precisely the opposite.)

If civil society reappears, it will have been due to two events. First, we will have taken seriously the coherent moral vision reflected in this bill and worked to lodge it deeply within our public imagination, using it as the framework for rebuilding institutions, renewing human dignity, and restoring a functional society. Second, we will have directed our politics to the task of mobilizing Americans to do what politicians cannot.

We must applaud the Coats initiative without raising a new round of false expectations. The legislation should be accompanied by the issuing of greater demands -- yes, demands -- on American citizens. We're reminded daily that they apparently want power back. Well, this means helping them recover an awareness of their own social duties. With its emphasis on localism, citizenship, and networks of civic engagement, this bill issues a bold moral challenge to every American, one that should not be dismissed.

The great question of our time is, 'How do we renew, regenerate, re-energize civil society?' " There is no compulsory program for civil society; it must be summoned forth. It will happen as we tap into the currents that have always renewed human society: religious revival, the quest for transcendence, moral order, and membership in community. This is important work, and work that every American citizen must embrace.

Don Eberly is the director of the Civil Society Project and founder of the National Fatherhood Initiative. He is also the author of Restoring the Good Society (Hourglass Books, 1994).

David Boaz
Conservative Social Engineering

Senator Coats is to be commended for recognizing that devolution of power from the federal government to state governments is not a sufficient answer to America's problems. He correctly notes that many of our problems require "the recovery of families, neighborhoods, churches, schools, and voluntary associations . . . an influence that is literally 'civilizing.'" He rightly points out that "even if government directly undermined civil society, it cannot directly reconstruct it."

It is important, as Senator Coats argues, to demonstrate that faith in limited government is not just a negative attitude toward government; rather, it is rooted in an appreciation of the complicated network of institutions and associations that bind us together and provide us with much of what makes life worthwhile. Unfortunately, while the senator has correctly identified the problem -- the decline of civil society -- he doesn't seem to understand the reasons for that decline. Despite his rhetorical skepticism about the efficacy of government, his 19-bill legislative package, dubbed the Project for American Renewal, shows a faith in government almost as breathtaking as that of the architects of the Great Society.

First the good news: The centerpiece of Coats's plan is the Comprehensive Charity Reform Act, which would provide a $500-per-person tax credit for charitable contributions to groups helping the poor. That approach -- also found in legislation introduced by Senator John Ashcroft and Representatives Jim Kolbe and Joseph Knollenberg -- would shift charitable spending from government to millions of individuals and private organizations, and we can expect entirely exemplary results. Private charitable groups have a far better record than government agencies at getting people back on their feet, off welfare, and into stable work and family lives.

Now for the rest of the story. Coats says that the Project for American Renewal "is not a government plan to rebuild civil society" and that he favors "a radical form of devolution [that] would redistribute power directly to families, grass-roots community organizations, and private and religious charities." But in practice he apparently believes that the federal government should tax American citizens, bring their money to Washington, and then dole it out to sensible state and local programs and responsible private institutions. Surely we have learned that government grants do not create strong, creative, vibrant private organizations. Rather, organizations that depend on government funding will have to follow government rules, will be unable to respond effectively to changing needs, and will get caught up in games of grantsmanship and bureaucratic empire-building.

Moreover, nearly every one of his bills would further entangle the federal government in the institutions of civil society. Under the Role Model Academy Act, the federal government would "establish an innovative residential academy for at-risk youth." Under the Mentor Schools Act, the feds would provide grants to school districts wanting to develop and operate "same gender" schools. The Character Development Act would give school districts demonstration grants to work with community groups to develop mentoring programs. The Family Reconciliation Act would "provide additional federal funding . . . to implement a waiting period and pre-divorce counseling" for couples with children.

Many of these bills are intended to address real problems, such as the effects of divorce on children and the terrible plight of children trapped in fatherless, crime-ridden, inner-city neighborhoods. But why is it appropriate or effective for the federal government to intrude into these problems? Surely local school districts should decide whether to build same-sex schools or residential academies for at-risk youth; and if the people of, say, Detroit decide that such options would make sense, any theory of responsible, accountable government would suggest that the local city council or school board both make that decision and raise the funds to carry it out.

Many of Coats's bills deal with symptoms -- they try to reform public housing by setting aside units for married couples or to provide mentors for children without fathers -- rather than dealing with the real problem, a welfare system that guarantees every teenager her choice of an abortion or an apartment if she gets pregnant. Some of the bills accept the federal Leviathan as a given and tinker with it -- for instance, by requiring that every federal dollar spent on family planning be matched by another dollar spent on abstinence education and adoption services. Others just follow the failed liberal policy of handing out federal dollars for whatever Congress thinks is a good idea -- school choice, restitution to crime victims, maternity homes, community crime-watch programs.

Over the past 60 years, we've watched the federal government intrude more and more deeply into our lives. We've seen well-intentioned government programs become corrupted by the ideologues and bureaucrats placed in charge. We've seen schools and charities get hooked on federal dollars. The nature of government doesn't change when it is charged with carrying out conservative social engineering rather than liberal social engineering.

Let's not forget that if, say, Coats's Maternity Shelter Act were implemented next year, Donna Shalala, the secretary of health and human services, would be charged with implementing it. She might appoint HUD assistant secretary Andrew Cuomo to run it, or maybe unemployed ex-congressman Mel Reynolds, or maybe just some Harvard professor who thinks single motherhood is a viable lifestyle option for poor young women. One reason conservatives shouldn't set up well-intentioned government programs is that they won't always be in power to run them.

In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville noted that "Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations . . . to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they found hospitals, prisons, and schools."

So why have families, churches, and neighborhood associations atrophied? Government, especially federal government, is a big part of the reason. Programs from Social Security to school breakfasts make family members less dependent on each other. Bureaucratic welfare programs not only encourage unwed motherhood and fatherlessness, they usurp a traditional role of churches. Governments promise to feed babies, teach children about sex, build playgrounds, run museums, provide job training, rehabilitate drug and alcohol abusers, and care for the elderly. Little is left for mediating institutions.

How do we get back to the healthy civil society that Tocqueville observed? Here's a program: First, reaffirm the constitutional mandate of the Tenth Amendment. That means the federal government should withdraw from areas in which it has no powers under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.

Second, cut federal taxes -- not by $500, but by a lot -- so that people have more money to spend, both on their own families and on charitable efforts. An important side effect of a large tax cut might be that more families discover they can live on one income and choose to have one parent stay home to care for children.

Third, under the principle of subsidiarity, return all the functions of civil society to the lowest level at which they can be adequately performed -- the individual, the family, the church, the neighborhood, the school, the community, if necessary the state government. Advocates of limited government need to emphasize that the absence of government is not nothing: it's individual initiative and creativity and the vast array of associations that make up civil society.

Despite all we've learned about the failure of government, Coats just doesn't seem to get it. His proposals reflect the Washington that Roosevelt built, the Washington where, if you think of a good idea, you create a government program.

But ultimately, you either believe in individual liberty, limited government, and free markets, or you end up inviting the coercive state into every nook and cranny of civil society.

David Boaz is the executive vice president of the Cato Institute, in Washington, D.C.

A Senator's Plan to Help Renew America

A summary of the bills Senator Coats introduced as part of his "Project for American Renewal":

FATHERING, MENTORING, AND FAMILY

  • The Kinship Care Act: Creates a $30-million demonstration program for the states to keep children out of foster care by placing them with qualified family members.
  • The Role Model Academy Act: Establishes a residential academy for at-risk youth, offering high academic standards and job training, that focuses on personal responsibility and discipline.
  • The Character Development Act: Gives school districts three-year demonstration grants to enlist community groups to connect children with mentors and other role models.
  • The Family Housing Act: Ensures that 15 percent of public housing is set aside for families headed by a married couple.
  • The Mentor Schools Act: Provides $1-million grants to school districts willing to develop and operate single-sex schools; supports mentoring of students by teachers and volunteers.
  • The Adoption Assistance Act: Offers tax credits of $5,000 to adopting parents earning less than $60,000, and smaller credits to those earning between $60,000 and $100,000.
  • The Family Reconciliation Act: Increases money to states, under the Family Preservation and Social Services Act, to fund predivorce counseling and adopt waiting periods of at least 60 days in divorces involving children under 12.
  • The Family Fairness Act: Gives a $1,000 tax credit to married couples who make at least $8,500 and receive the Earned-Income Tax Credit.
  • The Responsible Parenthood Act: Requires that every federal dollar spent on family planning be matched by another dollar spent on abstinence education and adoption services.

COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT

  • The Educational Choice And Equity Act: Authorizes demonstration grants for 100 school districts to give vouchers for low-income families to send their children to any public or private school.
  • The Restitution And Responsibility Act: Provides grants for states to strengthen the enforcement of restitution for crime victims, particularly through better data collection and stiffer sanctions.
  • The Assets For Independence Act: Creates a $100-million demonstration program to establish savings accounts among the poor. Family deposits -- used to fund housing, education, or the creation of a small business -- would be matched by churches, foundations, corporations, and state and federal revenue.
  • The Urban Homestead Act: Requires the Department of Housing and Urban Development to transfer ownership of all its unoccupied, single-family public housing within two years to local governments. Units would then be offered for sale to local community development corporations, which help low-income families find affordable housing.
  • The Maternity Shelter Act: Provides $50 million in vouchers for women to cover their costs at private and religious maternity group homes. Also provides grants to private nonprofit groups to repair existing maternity homes.
  • The Neighborhood Security Act: Gives grants to community organizations that confront crime in cooperation with local police, including citizen patrols and community policing.

EFFECTIVE COMPASSION

  • The Comprehensive Charity Reform Act: Provides a $500 poverty tax credit ($1,000 for married couples) for donations to charitable organizations; also allows nonitemizing taxpayers to deduct their charitable contributions.
  • The Compassion Credit Act: Creates a $500 tax credit for those who provide home care for the needy, including the homeless, abused women with children, unmarried pregnant women, and hospice patients such as AIDS and cancer sufferers.
  • The Medical Volunteer Act: Extends federal insurance against liability suits to any health-care professional who provides free medical services to a "medically underserved" person.
  • The Community Partnership Act: Provides demonstration grants for programs that match welfare recipients and nonviolent criminals with religious communities willing to offer moral guidance and practical help.