Error message

You must have JavaScript and cookies enabled in your browser to flag content.

Once Upon a Time

When Childcare for All Wasn't Just a Fairytale

Embed Episode Preview: 

Add to toolkit

Remove from Toolkit

Embed Episode Preview: 

Add to toolkit

Remove from Toolkit

Childcare in America is a patchwork—uneven in quality, unaffordable to most and failing many of our youngest children. How might American life might be different today if all of the nation’s children had access to high-quality early care and education for the past four decades? We almost did.

In 1971, a bi-partisan Congress, still influenced by the Civil Rights movement and War on Poverty, passed a bill providing high-quality childcare, home visiting and other services to every family which wanted it, the Comprehensive Child Development Act (CCDA). But for the bill to become law, it needed President Nixon’s signature.

Patrick Buchanan, a young White House speechwriter at the time, reveals how powerful conservatives, “the elite of the conservative movement,” he calls them in the film, went to work behind the scenes, recasting the bill as government intrusion in the family.

At the 11th hour, Nixon vetoed the bill. On camera, Buchanan reads the veto message he penned for Nixon. It tarred the CCDA as “a communal approach” to child rearing. The veto was the first time “family values” were invoked to undermine families. It marked a seminal inflection point from our nation’s progress towards a more inclusive society to the “fend-for-yourself” America of today.

But there is a federally-funded childcare program for the nation’s largest employer: the U.S. military. In 1989, 18 years after Nixon’s veto, Congress mandated that the armed forces offer high-quality care to all families and employees of the military. At Camp Pendleton Marine Base, we witness some of the best childcare in the country, all of it affordable, child-centered and strictly regulated.

We once came achingly close to winning childcare for all. What will it take to enact effective child and family policies today?

Organizations, Articles and Books


Patrick Buchanan

White House Adviser 1969-1974

Brig. Gen. Vincent Coglianese

Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base

Marian Wright Edelman

President, Children’s Defense Fund

Sid Johnson

Legislative Aide, 1969-1976

Maria Langley

Director, Browne Child Development Center

Laura Lovett


Walter Mondale

Former Vice President & U.S. Senator

Clare Sanford

Enrollment & Nutrition Manager, YWCA of Minneapolis Children’s Centers

Phyllis Schlafly

Founder & President, Eagle Forum

Robert Self


Joe Weiner

Spouse of Clare Sanford

Edward Zigler

Director, Office of Child Development & Chief, U.S. Children’s Bureau 1970-1972




James Rutenbeck

Executive Producers

Larry Adelman and Christine Herbes-Sommers


Elizabeth Shea

Supervising Producer

Wendy Riseborough

Associate Producers

Franziska Blome and Leigh Lanocha


Louis Weeks, P. Andrew Willis and Tom Phillips


Llewellyn Smith

Directors of Photography

Richard Chisolm, Tom Fahey, Mark Falstad and Dakin Henderson


Jonathan Cohen, Dwayne Dell and Heidi Hesse


Carmela Lomonaco

Archival Research

Heather Merrill, Jacqueline Gutierrez, Ron Kurpiers and Scott Russell


Leslie Strain


Brian Duffy, Todd Greenberg, Doug Quade and Ace Salisbury

Sound Mix

Damon Addleman and Dean White at Modulus

Color Correct

Kristen Salerno


Steve Guy


Bill Politis and Joe Pollock

Music Recording Studio

Clean Cuts, Baltimore

Series Associate Producer and Director of Public Engagement

Rachel Poulain

Series Creator and Executive Producer

Larry Adelman



  • AP Archive
  • Boston Public Library
  • John Brademas Center, NYU
  • Children’s Defense Fund
  • Corbis
  • CriticalPast
  • Eagle Forum
  • Edward Zigler
  • Ellen Hovde
  • FILM Archives, Inc
  • Getty Images
  • Historic Films Archive
  • LBJ Presidential Library
  • Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division
  • KSTP-TV Archive, Minnesota Historical Society
  • Minnesota Historical Society
  • National Archives and Records Administration
  • NBC Universal Archives
  • Pond5
  • Property Shark
  • Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum
  • Sid Johnson
  • T3Media
  • The Long Beach Press-Telegram
  • Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University


Special Thanks To:

The United States Department of Defense

Special Thanks to the Families, Children and Staff of:

  • Browne Child Development Center, Camp Pendleton
  • DeLuz Child Development Center, Camp Pendleton
  • Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton
  • YWCA of Minneapolis Children’s Centers
  • Nancy Adler
  • Susan Bales
  • Jeffrey Bell
  • Jessie Bencosme
  • Bill Bentley
  • Jane Bertrand
  • Stephen Bezruchka
  • John Bitale
  • Tom Boyce
  • Paula Braveman
  • Jeanne Brooks-Gunn
  • Jeffrey Brosco
  • Jerome S. Bruner
  • Patrick Buchanan
  • Brendan Carroll
  • Debbie Chang
  • Jean Cheng
  • Steve Clermont
  • Donald Cohen
  • Sally Cohen
  • BGen Vincent Coglianese
  • Robert Coles
  • Janice Cooper
  • James Comer
  • Stacy Cunningham
  • Lawrence Daressa
  • Lori Dorfman
  • Mario Drummonds
  • Marian Wright Edelman
  • Helen Epstein
  • M. Stanton Evans
  • Brent Ewig
  • Frank Farrow
  • Amy Fine
  • Cathy Fischer
  • Lynette Fraga
  • FrameWorks Institute
  • Deborah Fraser
  • Michael Fraser
  • Marc Friedman
  • Janet Golden
  • Cheryl Gray
  • David Hage
  • Neal Halfon
  • Patti Hassler
  • Charlotte von Hemert
  • Clyde Hertzman
  • Ellen Hoffman
  • Colleen Holmes
  • Trevor Huxley
  • GySgt Sergio Jimenez
  • Kathy Johanson
  • Caitlin Johnson
  • Sid Johnson
  • LtCol Jason Johnston
  • Mary Kaeding
  • David Keene
  • Michael Kiernan
  • Nancy Krieger
  • Maria Langley
  • David Lawrence
  • Jodie Levin-Epstein
  • Kriste Lindenmeyer
  • Aviva Lipkowitz
  • Joan Lombardi
  • Laura Lovett
  • Michael Lu
  • Bert Lubin
  • Col Nicholas Marano
  • Maureen Marovitch
  • Kerry McCuaig
  • Gwen McKinney
  • Matthew Melmed
  • Biljana "B" Milenkovic
  • Lisa Cylar Miller
  • Meredith Minkler
  • Cornelius Moore
  • Walter Mondale
  • Kimberly Morgan
  • MajGen Mike Myatt (ret.)
  • Troy Olsen
  • Christina Orth
  • Roxanne Palmatier
  • Kris Perry
  • Michael Petit
  • Al Race
  • Shannon K’doah Range
  • Gillian Ray
  • John Rich
  • Daniel Robinson
  • Clare Sanford
  • Alisha Saville
  • Phyllis Schlafly
  • Robert Self
  • Joanna Shoffner Scott
  • Louise Scrivani
  • Ann Segal
  • Louis Senecal
  • Janet Sewell
  • Vicki Shabo
  • Jack Shonkoff
  • Kathryn Kish Sklar
  • Linda Smith
  • Esta Soler
  • Jo Sonn
  • Nancy Stachell
  • Nora Tarr
  • Joe Theissen
  • Makani Themba-Nixon
  • Kelly Thomson
  • Cecelia Tichi
  • Richard Viguerie
  • Jane Waldfogel
  • Joe Weiner
  • Edward Zigler
Discussion Guide (PDF) Transcript (PDF) Full Synopsis (PDF)