President Nixon and Childcare

The first five years of a child’s life have become an ideological battleground. American society emphasizes the developmental significance of early childhood experiences, seeing the first five years as critical in establishing personality, ideology, and values. Biological theories of a genetically predetermined personality, sexuality, and racial identity have been replaced with cultural and social conceptions of development.[1] Early experiences are seen as integral to character formation, thus presenting opportunities for children to be swayed by particular ideologies during these determinative years. Because of the highly influential nature of early childhood, political issues that impact this population often conjures up deep-seated ideological divisions and mobilize divergent constituencies to fervent political action.

Perhaps the most central childrearing debate of the twentieth century has been the merits of institutional group care versus fulltime maternal care within the home. In 1971, the advocates of the institutionalized childcare achieved a landmark victory when Congress passed the Comprehensive Childcare Act (CCA) as part of the Economic Opportunity Amendments of 1971. Women’s rights groups, civil rights leaders, business pioneers, and politicians came together across party lines to push the monumental legislation through Congress over several months of lobbying. The CCA was designed to meet the growing day-care demand and to remake day care into a developmental service available to every child who needed it. The legislation included provisions for medical, nutritional, and educational services for children from infancy to fourteen years of age. Welfare mothers, the working poor, and the middle class could all receive the services on a sliding fee scale.[2]

The legislative victory, however, was short-lived. Nixon vetoed the bill in December of the same year and Congress failed to override his veto. The bill was vetoed for a number of reasons including concerns over states’ rights, residual suspicion of large-scale spending after the perceived failure of Johnson’s Great Society, and ambiguity over the logistics of implementation. Despite the myriad of motivations for the veto, in his veto message, Nixon chose to emphasize just one primary motivation: the protection of the family. For Nixon, the veto message of the Comprehensive Childcare Act was an opportunity to recommit himself to the family agenda of the conservative Christians who had voted for him in 1968.  Nixon’s strong condemnation of the bill reinforced the negative social and political image that had been attached to day care in the United States from its inception.[3] The stigmatization of childcare, solidified by Nixon’s decision in this veto, set the development of a universal childcare system in the United States back for decades to come.

[1] Joanne Meyerowitz. “How Common Culture Shapes the Separate Lives: Sexuality, Race, and Mid-Twentieth Century Social Constructionist Thought.” Journal of American History. 2010: 1057-1084.

[2] Berry, Mary Frances. The Politics of Parenthood: Child Care, Women’s Rights, and the Myth of the Good Mother. New York: Penguin (Non-Classics), 1994.

[3] Jill Norgren. “In Search of a National Childcare Policy,” The Western Political Quarterly, Volume 34, No. 1, Special Issue on Women and Politics. March 1981: 127-142.

[4] Elizabeth Rose. A Mother’s Job: The History of Day Care, 1890-1960. Oxford University Press, USA, 1999.


About stephspangler

Emory University Class of 2012 Childcare Policy and the Presidency
This entry was posted in Public Policy. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to President Nixon and Childcare

  1. Adrienne says:

    Perhaps re-introducing such a bill might distract sufficient resources by the right to have them leave contraception alone for a while. Why is there no progressive women’s agenda?

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  12. Jas says:

    The rearing of children is not the responsibility of the government, or the taxpayers who don’t have children of their own. Property owners already support the education system which has steadily declined in the quality of education, so that now a college student can barely pass an 8th grade exam from 100 years ago. The decline is increasing exponentially in recent years, as more and more schools are extinguishing the flames of creativity and individual thought.
    Our government can scarcely perform the duties they are Constitutionally required to do, without adding more responsibilities…

  13. Mr James says:

    CCA is the very helpful act for all the parents for their child care issues.

  14. Mrs. Kate says:

    (CCA) is a very important part of the Economic Opportunity,nice posting.

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