My 8-year old son asked me a question the other day that I actually didn’t know how to answer. No, he didn’t ask where babies come from – although he has asked that before and I typically change the subject. It’s way too soon for that conversation. His question was actually more complicated. It was about politics and he wanted to know whom I was voting for President. My expression was blank as if he asked me where babies come from but unfortunately this time I wasn’t going to get away with changing the subject. The simple reason for my blankness – I actually don’t know.
I’ve always been a political junkie and have been fascinated with our political process in general. My early days of learning about our political system, like many of my generation, came from the highly educational teachings of Schoolhouse Rock – who could ever forget how easy it was to memorize the Preamble or learning how a bill became a law with I’m Just a Bill?
During the 1976 presidential campaign (Gerald Ford vs. Jimmy Carter) my 6th grade class was split into two groups. I was put in Carter’s group and I thought my dad was going to spaz out and go tell my teachers to switch me (he was not a fan of Carter). Our assignment was to come up with campaign slogans and songs for our candidate. With my mother being a schoolteacher she mailed our songs to Jimmy Carter’s campaign office. Apparently they got noticed and several months later – after Jimmy Carter was sworn in as the 39th President of the United States – I received a typed letter thanking me for my hard work and letting me know that he was going to do a great job for the country as the new president. The letter was accompanied by an 8X10 headshot of the peanut farmer president – which I threatened to have framed for my father’s office.
I also had the opportunity to actually see our political process in action when I accompanied my mother to Austin, Texas when she was a member of the Texas State Teachers Association. She and her colleagues went to discuss important teacher stuff with some of the Texas legislature and before their meeting began; we were invited to visit the gallery to watch a floor debate of a pending bill. Wow, how cool this was going to be – or so I thought. You see they weren’t discussing pay raises for teachers or even how to lower taxes on everyday Texans. Nope, they were arguing over the size of a beer can. Yes – our political system at its finest – and only in Texas, I might add. G-d Bless the Lone Star State!
While I’ve never been one to discuss my political beliefs out loud (like religion, I believe political preference is a very personal choice and shouldn’t be rammed down someone’s throat, especially if you don’t agree with your friends and family), I’ve also not been one to straight party vote, much to the chagrin of my father in 1996. Nothing is more interesting than electing a president. And in today’s world of 24/7 news coverage, and the Internet where any decent candidate can be reduced to rubble, who would even want to be president? It really is a thankless job. Everyone is waiting for you to fail and if people never liked you to begin with, they will never recognize when you’ve actually done something good. Sadly, becoming president of the United States no longer means you may be the smartest person in the room or even most qualified – just the most popular who raised the most money.
As parents we exhaust ourselves daily with teaching our children manners, the importance of telling the truth, getting along with friends, respect, integrity and the golden rule – things most of these candidates are not showing the American people during this election cycle. Instead we have name-calling, grown men (and a woman) constantly interrupting others while they’re speaking, being fast and loose with the truth, bullying, potty talk, and not treating others, as they would like to be treated – the golden rule.
The current slate of presidential candidates we have today is very fascinating, to say the least. And while I’m happy that my son is becoming interested in our political process and how it all works, I feel the need to shelter him from the debates and rhetoric from pretty much all of these candidates. Children talk – to each other – and the last thing I want my son talking about with his friends is the size of presidential candidates’ hands or other things.
Being president of the United States is about leadership. Who do we see as the best person to lead us into the future? Is it any of these candidates? I don’t know. I still have a month before New York holds its primary so I’m hopeful by then I’ll have some clarity and be able to make a good choice for my vote. In the meantime, I am going to channel my son’s curiosity by answering his questions as best I can and teaching him the importance of exercising our right to vote. And when all else fails – there’s always the Schoolhouse Rock videos.