Lessons of the '80s

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The ’80s are back. Charlie’s Angels are raising the blood
pressure of teenage boys across the country, America has a Republican
president with a strong interest in national defense, and you can once again get Izod shirts at Rich’s.

As a child of the ’80s, I can happily report that our nation’s return to a lifestyle of 20 years ago has its perks. Do you feel safer than you did, say, 10 years ago? You should, since crime rates for Alabama are down to 1980s levels. And, at the national level, crime rates are down to 1973 numbers. Do you feel that your family means more to you than it did a decade ago? More of us apparently do, since Alabama’s divorce rates are about as low as they were in – you guessed it — the ’80s. In these two very important ways, the ’80s are back.


Our nation’s return to the ’80s is not all good news, though. A scary
part of revisiting the past is knowing — and often dreading — what comes
next. Just like Michael J. Fox in the 1980s classic Back to the Future
doesn’t want to see his parents follow the same path to the hum-drum
future he is ashamed of, it is frightening to consider how our own
descendants may repeat the same mistakes we made a generation earlier.

One of those mistakes was the way the American public handled the spread
of AIDS. As early as 1981, the first reports of gay men dying due to an
unexplainable breakdown of the body’s immune system began to surface. At first the disease was believed to strike gay men only and spread in a
homosexual community that was frequently promiscuous. As it was passed
on, AIDS also began to kill the heterosexual female partners of gay men.
Only later was it discovered that AIDS could be passed to unborn
children from pregnant mothers who were infected, thus creating children
who were condemned to death.

America could have saved many of these innocent lives by reasserting the
importance of fidelity within the traditional family. However, after
the explosion of no-fault divorce in the mid-to-late 70s, few in our
society considered themselves in any position to question someone else’s
lifestyle. By abandoning its moral obligation, America opened the door
to the toleration of “alternative lifestyles” and their attendant risks
to health and happiness.

Flash forward to 2003. The recent decision by the United States Supreme
Court to refuse to declare consensual sexual homosexual relations
illegal because of the “cultural acceptance” of the rights has been seen
by some, including myself, as a step in further dismantling the
traditional heterosexual, two-parent family, an institution already
suffering from divorce and cohabitation. In defense of that conclusion,
I offer that the proponents of the high court’s decision believe this
victory has ramifications that will ultimately lead to the mainstreaming
of homosexual “marriage.” If this movement away from the understanding
of what constitutes a family continues to go unchecked, the children of
our present generation will grow up ever-mobile, adrift and trying to
enjoy relationships that have all the permanence of a cell phone plan.

When a few decades pass, I wonder how those children, now adults, will
cope with the world around them. Perhaps they will follow the lead of
the same folks who gave birth to them, cut their family ties at an
ever-earlier age, and spend the remainder of their lives in a futile
search for commitment-free relationships that somehow won’t dissolve at
the first sign of stress. Or, just maybe, our youth will dress up in
crisp white shirts, power ties and tartan, and shock the generation that
begat them by returning to the family virtues of man-to-woman commitment
and the fidelity that their parents shunned. Maybe.

Despite its reputation for giving us MTV, big hair and aerobics, the
’80s also gave us many blessings, including the rise of conservative
government principles, Individual Retirement Accounts and the fall of
communism. Perhaps our children will create their own great ideas in
the spirit of the ’80s. We can be certain, though, that their chances
of success will be severely diminished if we continue to further embrace
attitudes and beliefs about the family and society that 20 years of
experience have shown to be destructive.

”’John R. Hill, Ph.D. is director of research for the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.”’