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Adopting a cause

Babies and kids are the grease that make the rusty, decaying wheels of American politics run just a little bit more smoothly. From kissing babies on the campaign trail to " saving the children " from homosexuals, no matter the political office sought, candidates can’t lose when they appeal to the heartfelt tug of little tykes. But even in this context, the Bush administration’s announcement that First Lady Laura Bush and Hollywood he-man Bruce Willis will team up to promote the adoption of older children in foster care must be seen as a whorish attempt at garnering the sort of cheap, sentimental popularity and media coverage that this compassionately conservative administration is sorely lacking. Everything about this campaign, from the public-service announcements to the Web site ( that will match children with would-be parents, feels creepy. Most especially, the choice of recently divorced Bruce Willis — a big Bush supporter, no doubt impressed by the president’s " wanted dead or alive, " Die Hard brand of blow-’em-up diplomacy — as though the actor were using the issue to solidify his kinder, gentler image from The Sixth Sense.

Now why would the administration be promoting an adoption imitative? Gee, think it might have something to do with the tremendous outpouring of publicity generated by Rosie O’Donnell’s campaign to change Florida laws prohibiting gay men and lesbians from adopting? A law supported by the administrations of both George W. and his brother Jeb, governor of Florida? (Question: with his own daughter in rehab and jail for a serious, recurring drug problem, would Jeb qualify as an adoptive parent?) Does anyone really believe the Bush administration would be embarking on this campaign if O’Donnell hadn’t embarrassed the president and his brother on national television during an interview with Diane Sawyer?

If the Bush administration really cared about the fate of children (of all ages) in foster care, it would put its money, and its political clout, where its mouth is. For example:

• Are they going to increase federal aid to state foster-care programs — which, in Massachusetts, for example, give families just $14.92 a day to care for children five years old and under?

• Are they going to put pressure on Jeb Bush’s administration to clean up what must be the country’s worst foster-care system, one that has so far reported at least half a dozen kids permanently " lost " in the system, as well as several deaths?

• Are they going to pressure Jeb Bush’s administration to overturn the law that forbids gay men and lesbians from adopting children in Florida?

• Are they going to rethink their draconian welfare-reform programs to make sure that all children affected by it will receive decent, full health care, including vaccinations that are vital to their health now and in adulthood?

• Are they going to reject the intense pressure from right-wing Republicans and anti-abortion groups that has forced them to withhold a previously committed $34 million dollars to the United Nations Population Fund, which provides family planning and reproductive-health care to 142 poor and developing nations around the world?

Adoption is a vital and pressing issue. Not only is a nation judged by how it treats its children (as well as those of other nations), but adoption — when it is treated seriously and respectfully — may well be transforming for a nation whose culture is fraught with terrible divisiveness over issues of class, race, and ethnicity. As Adam Pertman, author of Adoption Nation (Basic, 2001), noted in his keynote address to the 2001 annual convention of the American Adoption Congress: " Make no mistake about it: adoption is helping to change our world in big ways that sociologists, historians, researchers, and journalists are only beginning to identify. "

In other words, it’s much more than a political issue. Wonder if Bush understands that.


Issue Date: July 25 - August 1, 2002
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