Rick Santorum, Karl Marx and Child Support

Rick Santorum and his tea-partying cohorts have their knickers all in a knot about the government telling people what to do with their money. As in the government making them pay for health insurance. Or making them pay more income tax. Or using their tax dollars to educate other people's children.

At the same time, they're all pumped up about the sanctity of marriage and family. Marriage and family meaning mom, dad and kids, everyone neatly organized in a hierarchy, with dad at the helm, providing for the flock. And sanctity meaning no outside intrusion, no government telling them that their children have to learn about sex or birth control or gay people or evolution.

So how would Rick and the tea-partiers feel if the government told them exactly how much money they had to spend on their children every month? And wage-attached their pay checks and deposited those funds in their ex-wives' bank accounts? What if the government took a 401(k) titled in a tea-partier's name and gave part of it to his ex-wife without his consent? Or worse yet, took his real estate and made him pay his wife half the value of it? Talk about the heavy hand of the state invading the innermost sanctum of the family -- it's a tea-partier's worst nightmare.

But these are, in fact, our society's actual family values. We collectively agreed, sometime in the latter part of the twentieth century, to empower the government to re-distribute wealth within the family. We routinely force one parent to pay the other parent. It's called child support. In those fabled "one in two marriages," we frequently take property paid for by one spouse and give it to the other spouse. It's called divorce. And we're very comfortable with this re-distribution. We think it protects the young, the weak and the vulnerable. We believe it creates, to quote my state's divorce code, economic justice.

Wouldn't Newt Gingrich cry socialism? And wouldn't he be right? Let's be honest -- this is the best of Karl Marx, pure and unadulterated. "From each {parent} according to his ability, to each {child} according to his need" is a pitch-perfect summary of the policy underlying child support laws.

Just imagine if these laws came up for vote in today's legislatures. Picture the outrage, the denouncements, the fiery speeches about keeping the government out of our living rooms and our bank accounts. But if we count on parents to provide for their children, and spouses to share nicely after they split, what are we supposed to do when they don't? Doesn't it become all of our problem? And isn't that the point? Just like the homeless, the sick and the poor -- the extended family that is our community.

Let's be thankful that Rick, Newt and their brethren haven't started deconstructing family law yet, because if they do, it could be just like contraception: we could be about to witness the implosion of a social policy that we haven't given even a second thought to for decades. And we'll be caught unawares -- us women, that is -- hurtling back through time, casting off divorce laws along with birth control pills, in our race to a darker, earlier era where we will eventually land, barefoot, pregnant, and without access to the bank account.