Wineke: Ron Johnson sets the debate on children

Ron Johnson Kwik Trip
Sen. Ron Johnson visits the Kwik Trip headquarters in La Crosse on January 25, 2022. Courtesy: WKBT-TV.

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin’s contribution to our national dialogue, Sen. Ron Johnson, says he has “never really felt it was society’s responsibility to take care of other people’s children.”

Given the way Johnson votes, that will come as no surprise, though it is surprising that he would say the silent part out loud. His attitude is at the heart of the national debate about the role of government in society, however.

One side of that debate holds that society does have a stake in the well-being of children and one side doesn’t.

It’s not necessarily a partisan debate, though. Right now, Democrats tend to be on the side of children and Republicans don’t. But West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin has famously suggested that we shouldn’t provide child subsidies from the national treasury because parents will just use them to buy drugs.

This is not a new debate. It underlies the question of whether we should provide public education, whether we should subsidize child care, whether abortion should be legal and whether adequate housing and medical care are rights or privileges.

Johnson, of course, is a bad representative of this kind of debate because Johnson is an idiot. He has suggested the insurrectionists who attacked the nation’s Capitol last year were peaceful protesters, that mouthwash might prevent Covid, and that vaccines are somehow inferior to “God’s” answer to disease.

In other words, Johnson probably has a good shot at getting reelected to a third term this November.

But I don’t think we should ignore the underlying societal questions he raises.

Parents, Johnson says, make decisions to have children and should be responsible for the costs of raising them.

Does that then mean that parents should also have the right to terminate pregnancies?

Parents are already deciding to produce fewer children than were born to previous generations and that means that, each year, fewer young people enter the workforce than older people leave it. Does that mean we ought to relax our immigration policies?

Or does all of this suggest that few of us actually think through the logical results of the social policies we hold?

Johnson is, obviously, a poor example of this national discussion. But, if Republicans manage to win control of the Senate this fall, he will be once more in a major position to influence the debate.

And he has “never really felt it was society’s responsibility to take care of other people’s children.”