I spent several years working with U.S. congresswoman Nancy Mace. Up until 2013, she was my partner in running this news outlet. No one knows better than I do how smart Mace is, how hard she works and how principled (and passionate) she is when it comes to the things she believes in …
Also, Mace’s libertarian-leaning, fiscally conservative beliefs are generally in line with my own … which is why I am optimistic she will emerge as one of the more consistently pro-freedom, pro-free market votes in the U.S. House of Representatives.
She’s well-grounded ideologically …
Given Mace’s intellect, work ethic and underlying philosophical mooring – it does not surprise me in the least that she is quickly making a name for herself in Washington, D.C. And unlike Nikki Haley, I believe Mace’s rise has real staying power – if for no other reason than she has something beyond mere ambition fueling her ascent on the national stage.
Like I said, there are actual beliefs underpinning Mace’s elevation …
Still, I have some concerns over the way Mace has chosen to advance herself … concerns which I have been unhesitant to share on this news outlet.
In many respects, Mace has been “too clever by half,” to borrow the old phrase … engaging in political machinations that may have afforded her short-term benefit, but which could cost her credibility (and support) in the long run.
Mace has also been a bit metronomic when it comes to her political positioning … in the process enraging the base that delivered her a resounding victory in last spring’s GOP primary election (and which is key to her success in future Republican primary races).
But the real unforced error, in my opinion, has been Mace’s ongoing branding of herself as a “single mother.”
A month ago, I published a column which addressed criticism of Mace’s single mother claim – first raised by conservative columnist Ilana Mercer. According to Mercer, Mace is guilty of “self-aggrandizement and drama” in using “lefty language for political leverage to describe her familial situation.”
“A single mother is a term the Left, and now the thoroughly co-opted Right, has adopted to glorify unmarried mothers and fatherless ‘families,’” Mercer wrote. “It was meant to excise the father from the picture and undermine the nuclear family.”
As I noted at the time, my immediate response to such criticism was to “recoil.”
“Something about it just seems … unseemly,” I wrote.
But I also pointed out the flip side to this coin, specifically the extent to which “politicians routinely exploit their families – or use their familial status – as a political selling point.” In fact, for many politicians their familial status often “becomes part of their core political messaging – something they calculatingly leverage for electoral advantage.”
In such cases, I believe these politicians open themselves up to scrutiny and criticism.
Has Mace attempted to leverage her familial status for political gain?
Absolutely … as further evidenced by last week’s announcement that she was forming a “single parents’ caucus” in the U.S. House, a “bipartisan brainstorming group” which will address “the challenges facing single parents.”
Mace – the chairwoman of this new caucus – also announced her intention to create a new federal child care subsidy devoted exclusively to “single parent families” who have struggled during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Never mind those struggling parents who stuck together through Covid, right?
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Of course, my real skepticism lies in Mace’s definition of what constitutes a “single mother.”
How does she define this term? And what aspects of her personal situation does she apply to this definition?
Technically speaking, any unmarried person who has at least partial custody of children under the age of eighteen can lay some claim to being a “single parent.” Of course there is a wide range of divergence here, isn’t there?
Degrees of single parenting, if you will …
Sometimes, one parent is dead, disabled or derelict – and as a result is utterly incapable of contributing anything (financially or otherwise) to the rearing of children. In other cases, another parent can be a liability – or even dangerous. In such cases the single parent, in addition to assuming all of the responsibility for raising the children, must also undertake the responsibility of protecting his or her children from an unstable partner.
In these cases, the term “single parent” clearly applies – seeing as the entirety of the obligation for the children’s welfare falls exclusively on the shoulders of one person.
Often with additional obligations …
That is the purest definition of “single parent” I can think of …
In other cases, though, separated or divorced spouses raise their children collaboratively – or at the very least with shared resources. Again, there are different degrees of “co-parenting,” but generally speaking a person who is receiving financial, emotional, physical, logistical or other forms of support from the other parent when it comes to raising their children is engaged in some form of co-parenting.
Obviously, circumstances vary considerably when it comes to the degree of assistance and collaboration provided by the other parent … all of which must be considered in assessing “single parent” status.
In fact, in some of these cases a “single parent” may have both a cooperative spouse and another responsible adult with whom they cohabitate – meaning they could conceivably be getting more help with their children than a traditional married parent.
Every situation is unique, in other words … and constantly evolving.
In other words, the degree to which someone is a “single parent” can be different from one day to the next.
So … what is Mace’s situation?
It is public knowledge she divorced her former husband Curtis Jackson in 2019, but the details of their separation – and the status of their parenting arrangements – has not been publicly disclosed.
Wait … is that any of my business? Normally, I would say “no” – but again, Mace has made being a “single mother” such a central part of her story she really shouldn’t be surprised when people seek context for that claim. You know … like asking whether Jackson shares custody of his children with Mace and whether (and to what extent) he provides her with financial support.
Those are relevant considerations under the circumstances, right?
Unfortunately, Mace’s office didn’t seem particularly keen on providing the answers to such questions. In fact, in addition to refusing to respond to my questions on the subject, one of Mace’s staffers took umbrage to such interrogatories – pointedly asking me whether I was asking similar questions of other members of congress.
Well, no … because other members of congress aren’t making political hay by announcing the formation of a “single parent” caucus.
(Click to view)
Bottom line, I think context matters in this case, and I told Mace’s staffer exactly what I will tell you …
There is a distinction between a person who is divorced and co-parenting with spousal support and a person whose spouse (or former spouse) is totally out of the picture.
And if someone holds themselves up as a “single mother,” they should be willing to talk about what that term means to them – and its distinctions – and how they believe it applies to their life.
But here is the main reason why I believe Mace’s “single mother” fixation is a foolish “identity politics” gambit on her part (beyond the fact that it opens broad swaths of her personal life to defensible scrutiny and criticism).
Unlike a lot of politicians, Mace already had a compelling personal narrative. She didn’t need to double down on some focus-group tested “relationship status” to make herself more impressive or attractive as a person or a candidate.
Mace was the first woman to graduate from The Citadel, South Carolina’s formerly all-male military academy. In her professional life, she worked her way up from a waitress at Waffle House to build several successful businesses from scratch. She became one of South Carolina’s top political operatives and a key member of former U.S. president Donald Trump’s “First in the South” presidential campaign. She then sought – and won – election to both the state legislature and the U.S. congress (knocking off an incumbent in the latter race).
Pretty damn impressive if you ask me …
Oh, and from everything I saw during the time I worked with Mace … she is an amazing mother. Single or otherwise.
Isn’t that enough? It should be …
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading.
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