Sometimes in the course of campaigns, opposing sides circulate information that comes back to bite them.
This is one of those times.
On Wednesday, Democrats were up in arms over comments Jeb Bush wrote in his 1995 book that expressed criticism of divorce that occurred without a clear cause.
“[No]-fault divorce quickly became a tool for those who used the law not to escape physical or mental cruelty but to pursue career dreams and trade in their wives for something more appealing,” he wrote in Profiles in Character.
Cue the outrage.
“Bush has to hope the book stays out of print,” wrote Joan Walsh, Salon’s editor-at-large.
And at the Washington Post, opinion writer Catherine Rampell criticized Bush’s “histrionics about no-fault divorce” and called his views on the issue “strange and/or relatively retrograde.”
Behind the scenes, Democratic communicators pushed the “Jeb is anti-divorce” narrative calling it “insane.”
But here’s the thing:
Bush argued that no-fault divorce generally hurt kids, and that lawmakers might want to consider making parents to be more circumspect about ending their marriages.
In a 1996 Orlando Sentinel op-ed, Bush wrote that Florida’s no-fault divorce law provided important protections for women in abusive situations but also “threw the baby out with the bath water.”
“In real terms, divorce meant parents spending less time with their children,” he continued. “According to a number of studies, the absence of one parent in the household has been enough to result in an increased propensity for crime, suicide, out-of-wedlock births, depression and truancy.”
He then noted that some argued for “an extended mandatory cooling-off period” before letting parents with minors finalize their divorces, but added he wasn’t sure the cooling-off periods would be good policy.
Ultimately as governor, he didn’t move to implement such a rule.
The AP reported in 2002 that “Bush said that he does not want that [no-fault divorce] law changed, saying it could lead to abusive situations if it is more difficult for couples to split up.”
Now, in her 1996 book, It Takes A Village, Hillary Clinton argued a strikingly similar position.
“[W]ith divorce as easy as it is, and its consequences so hard, people with children need to ask themselves whether they have given a marriage their best shot and what more they can do to make it work before they call it quits,” she wrote, echoing Bush’s concerns about how divorce impacts children. “For this reason, I am ambivalent about no-fault divorce with no waiting period when children are involved. We should consider returning to mandatory ‘cooling off’ periods, with education and counseling for partners.”
So both Bush and Clinton were open to—but ultimately noncommittal about—policies designed to make it harder for parents of minor children to get divorced.
Clinton’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.
In one sense, Clinton went even further than Bush on the issue, suggesting in her book that divorce is a public health problem.
“I admire the way the Parent Education Program in Columbus, Ohio, treats divorce as a public health issue,” she wrote.
And she even invoked Bill Bennett, the Reaganite and conservative culture warrior, to make the case against divorce.
“One does not have to agree with all the remarks of former Secretary of Education William Bennett to welcome his acknowledgment before the Christian Coalition that divorce is hard on children,” she wrote.
Clinton didn’t leave her anti-divorce rhetoric in the 90’s.
During a Senate floor speech in 2004 arguing against a constitutional amendment that would have barred same-sex marriage (she was opposed to gay marriage until 2013), she invoked no-fault divorce again.
“Now, if we were really concerned about marriage and the fact that so many marriages today end in divorce, and so many children are then put into the incredibly difficult position of having to live with the consequences of divorce,” she said. “Perhaps 20, 30 years ago we should have been debating an amendment to the Federal Constitution to make divorce really, really hard, to take it out of the states’ hands and say that we will not liberalize divorce, we will not move toward no-fault divorce, and we will make it as difficult as possible because we fear the consequences of liberalizing divorce laws.”
Elsewhere in the speech, she was explicit about her concerns over the divorce rate.
“We are living in a society where people have engaged in divorce at a rapid, accelerated rate,” she said. “We all know it is something that has led to the consequences with respect to the economy, to society, to psychology, and emotion that so often mark a young child’s path to adulthood.”
It just goes to show when your potential nominee has a long record, it might pay to check it before you start questioning the other candidate’s sanity.