Friday, October 31, 2008

Politically Incorrect

We're all fairly political. Not that we all agree—Matty is just left of center, while Andy is just Libertarian—but we always have the news on in the kitchen, where we tend to hang out in the early evening as Matty or I prepare dinner. So it's not surprising that most of the kids in the house know that there is an election going on, and those above the age of 4 can even identify the candidates. (Declan, however, misidentified the gentlemen on a recent Newsweek cover as Barack Obama and John McCain (it was actually Joe Biden), but who can blame him? Old white-haired guys all look the same to a 4-year-old.)

Erika, recently asked Andy a question about Obama, and Andy replied, "Barack Obama wants to steal our money."

Matty was appalled. "Andy, you can't say that," he urged.

"Okay," Andy replied. "John McCain also wants to steal our money."

Needless to say, this did little to calm Matty, who, rather than say something he might regret, scooped up the boys and retreated to our bedroom. Where, I should point out, Declan asked plaintively, "Why does Barack Obama want to steal our money?" I lied, "Uncle Andy was just joking."

Matty wasn't mad about the affront on Obama, but rather the overly simplistic and completely inaccurate characterization of both candidates. Kids are literal. They know what stealing is. People who steal go to jail. Collecting taxes isn't stealing.

Later, I heard him telling Erika that Obama and McCain were two different candidates with different positions on many issues and that some people liked Obama and some people liked McCain, just like some people like McDonald's and some people like Burger King.

Clearly, we want our kids to share our values and beliefs. And I sympathize with Andy, the lone Republican-leaning Libertarian in our liberal-leaning household. But painting our politicians as criminals is not the way to do it. Painting them as fast food franchises is a much better option.

I'm not being glib; a 7-year-old child has no concept of real politics. But she does know that Chicken McNuggets are better than Chicken Tenders, but that Wendy's burgers are far superior to McDonald's. In other words, she knows that there are some great things about each fast food outlet, but none of them is perfect.

As parents, all we can do is present our kids with the facts as they can understand them, and know that as they get older, they will make their own decisions and form their own opinions. Maybe they'll agree with us. Maybe they won't.

A few days later, Erika told me at breakfast that she didn't support Obama because he wanted to take her money. I started to correct her but she interrupted me, "I know what it is, it's called taxes." But what does a 7-year-old know of taxes? All she knows is that if she can't keep her money, that's one less Webkinz she can have.

Amy thought we should keep the TV news off in the kitchen when the kids were around, at least until the election is over, but I think that misses the point. Now is the perfect time to start exposing our kids to politics, in any way they can understand. And if that means a few more visits to Wendy's, that's fine with me. (It's much better than McDonald's, anyway.)

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