The Bush administration has rediscovered the family. A year ago, White House minions strove to torpedo the Final Report of the National Commission on Children, worried that its recommendation of tax relief for families with children might upset the hallowed “budget agreement” with Congress. Today, with one eye on the embers of Los Angeles and the other nervously on the polls, the Bush team is in the family way.

The theme first reappeared as an explanation for the Los Angeles riots. The programs of the Great Society, Marlin Fitzwater lectured the country, “have undermined family values.” Translated from pol-speak, this means “have encouraged illegitimate births among blacks.” For his part, Mr. Bush promised that he would use enterprise zones to restore family values in the cities.

A few days later, Vice-President Dan Quayle struck out on his own, arguing that “the failure of our families is hurting America deeply. . . . Children need mothers and fathers. A welfare check is not a husband. The state is not a father. . . . Bearing babies irresponsibly is, simply, wrong.” He then moved to his famed attack on the TV character “Murphy Brown,” chiding “her” for “mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another ‘life-style choice.'”

The conventional media gasbags quickly pounced on Mr. Quayle, gleefully anticipating his political castration. But alas, the opinion polls came to his rescue. I happened to be watching a New York City newscast that day, featuring a team of all-female commentators denouncing this “gaffe” and celebrating the huge embarrassment it would bring the White House, when they turned to their “900 Line” pollster to measure the popular outrage. Clearly unscripted, the latter reported that 74 percent of New York City callers supported Mr. Quayle. A pall descended on the set, and the anchorperson confessed, “I frankly don’t understand.” This real-life Murphy Brown broke for a commercial.

The Vice-President, in fact, gives every sign of earnestness on the question, and understands the power of his modest, but real, pulpit on moral questions. Mr. Bush, for his part, sees “family values” as another wedge issue, the obverse side of his Willie Horton coin, a way to play on black-white tensions for electoral advantage while camouflaging his administration’s studied disregard for family issues during its first three-and-a-half years.

Indeed, the very basis of the Bush analysis of inner-city morals is flawed. If black illegitimacy is the culprit, then “the failed programs of the Great Society,” launched in the 1965-68 period, had nothing to do with it. The real statistical evidence could be read to argue that these programs actually helped reduce the problem. Census Bureau data show that the dramatic rise in the black “illegitimacy rate” (births per one thousand unmarried black women, ages 15-44) occurred well before the Kennedy-Johnson years, climbing from 35.6 in 1940 to 100.8 in 1959. During the Great Society era, the black illegitimacy rate actually declined from 100.8 in 1961 to 76.0 in 1975.

What the Bush administration labors to avoid, here, is”the painful truth that America’s moral and cultural unraveling has very deep roots. Politically, it was the New Deal—not the Great Society—that drastically altered the incentives. The Social Security Act and its subsequent accretions worked to bludgeon the natural family economy, transferring all of the dependency functions (the care of the old, the sick, the weak, and the young) from families to the state. “Wouldn’t be prudent” to touch that sacred cow. Equally painful would be the admission that the grand national mobilization of World War II launched the sexual revolution, disrupting inherited local and religious restraints on the libido. “Wouldn’t be prudent” to point out that modern wars—even the “Good War” or the “Easy War” (the divorce rate for Persian Gulf War vets is soaring)—always bring social and moral dislocation in their wake.

George Bush truly believes in what Murray Rothbard has called the welfare-warfare state. As fighter pilot, moderate congressman, CIA director, and Chief Executive, Mr. Bush has been devoted to advancing and protecting the state apparatus constructed by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Enterprise zones and most other parts of the Bush-Kemp “New Vision” are merely variations on the New Deal managed economy, and can only augment the government’s control over private life, including private family life. This explains the near enthusiasm shown by the Nation, the New York Times, and other outlets on the left for the Bush-Kemp urban plan, and it also explains why the urban nightmare of the 1990’s has only just begun.