Monday, November 3, 2008

Preschool Politics

Shouts of “Obama, Obama” have resonated through our house today. My daughter, who won’t be able to vote for another 14 years, has decided she is an avid Obama supporter. (Well, actually, she's decided she wants to vote for Obama and Hannah Montana.)

This is, of course, more a statement of her identification with me than of deeply held political beliefs. (At least her support of Obama. Hannah Montana is, I suppose, as close as a 4-year-old comes to deeply held political beliefs.)

During the primaries, I taught her to say “We love Hillary,” which she would repeat upon prompting. And since the Democratic convention, I’ve occasionally made comments about supporting Obama. But we really don’t talk politics that much in our house. Her father is supporting “the other side,” so for the sake of family harmony, we tend to avoid political debate (which apparently is not a view shared by our daughter today).

I was somewhat surprised a few days ago, when Ashley piped up in the car with what has become a familiar refrain over the last few days, “Mommy, who do we vote for?”

“Obama,” I replied.

“Obama,” she repeated. “That’s because McCain thinks girls are stupid.”

I was a little taken aback at my daughter’s memory. This was a comment I had made to her shortly after John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate. I haven’t repeated it since – partly because of that decision to avoid political debate in favor of family harmony and partly because I don’t know how to explain to a 4-year-old that supporting women’s access to opportunity is about more than simply naming a woman to a political ticket.

I do believe that McCain’s selection of Palin was a calculated political move designed to appeal to both conservative Republicans and women, especially those who were excited about Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Palin herself, has commented that the Republican ticket is the one more supportive of women because “we’re the only one with a woman on the ticket.”

But I see very few McCain-Palin policies that speak to the more gender-specific issues in which I’m interested. McCain voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, saying that women need more access to training and education rather than laws banning pay discrimination. Training and education is great – but it’s not much help if your employer can still pay you less than male coworkers and remain immune from any legal repercussions if you don’t learn about it in the right amount of time.

And while Sarah Palin may be proud of the fact that she took only three days maternity leave with her last child, that’s not an option that should be thrust on every new mother. In fact, I suspect Sarah Palin was able to take a short maternity leave because she has options not available to most women. Palin has frequently brought her children to work with her – not something most of us can do. Her husband has apparently been able to take a leave of absence from his job – something that’s not financially viable for most American families. And yet, I doubt you’ll find Palin championing paid family leave, which would guarantee the rest of us the ability to care for our children at the times they need us most without having to sacrifice our jobs or financial security.

There are countless other McCain-Palin positions with which I disagree, and I am offended that McCain or Palin would believe that her gender would outweigh all that. So, I do think McCain lacks respect for women’s intelligence and decision making, or in 4-year-old language, he thinks girls are stupid. I was just surprised that my daughter remembered that off-hand comment from a few months ago.

Since that conversation in the car a few days ago, Ashley has become a regular Obama cheerleader. I probably find it cuter than her father, who is convinced I’ve somehow brainwashed our child. (And, I have to admit I’d probably be less thrilled about her sudden political awareness if she were chanting McCain cheers.)

I’m glad my daughter has taken an interest in politics – even if she doesn’t really understand it all yet. I do hope to pass on to my children the beliefs that make me firmly a Democrat – that family values are about policies that support families, not about supporting a set of moral beliefs, and that we are our brother’s keeper with a societal obligation to those less fortunate. But most of all, I hope to pass on an interest in the political process and a belief in the importance of being politically involved.

I’ve been both highly political and fairly apathetic at different points in my life. I’m back to being politically engaged because I’ve come to believe that community – in our neighborhoods, our country and our world – is important and that it is created and defined by the types of public policy our leaders enact. I believe it’s important that we make our voices known and that we work for the type of communities that we want to see.

I hope Ashley’s interest in politics will grow as she does. And, even if one day, she is chanting cheers for a candidate that I don’t support, I hope she believes in her ability to influence the communities of her life.

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