Talking Politics with Other People's Kids
On a walk through our neighborhood this afternoon with a friend and our kids, her nine-year-old daughter started asking questions about the ubiquitous campaign signs for the local elections. She wanted to know who her mom was going to vote for and why, and her mother and I both admitted that we didn't know much about the local candidates or who we should vote for. Regardless, she said, she of course would vote this year, because she wants to vote for president. This led to a conversation that made me very uncomfortable.
First, some background. I'm a registered Democrat. I enthusiastically voted for Obama in 2008 and cried tears of joy when he was inaugurated. Until a few months ago, I was looking forward to voting for him again in November and was very unimpressed by any of the candidates the Republicans threw out. When Romney won the nomination, I was dismayed and disappointed. But I have since become quite disenchanted with President Obama's handling of certain foreign and domestic affairs and, through serious discussion with people whose opinions I trust and value, I have started to think I must, for my own conscience, vote outside my party lines this year.
However, I feel very strongly that, whichever candidate you support, you support him because you know the facts and believe, based on what he says he will do, that he will be the better president. I am angered by propoganda from both sides that fling lies and misdirection in my face.
My friend is someone I love and trust and go to for counsel on a great many topics. I think she is a beautiful person, a great mother, and very wise in some areas. We usually, though, stay away from discussions of politics, and I have never actually had a political conversation with her.
I think that my friend assumed that I think along similar political lines to her, and, today, she showed no hesitation in voicing her opinions, since she was simply answering her daughter's questions. I enjoyed contributing to the conversation by explaining, as simply as I could, the electoral process and the differences between the political parties. I was offended by the way my friend presented the difference between Democrats and Republicans. While I racked my brain trying to find neutral wording so that I would not sound like I was biased toward either side, my friend launched into an explanation went something like this:
"The Democrats believe that the government should be in control of everything and that they should take care of the people by taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor." Her daughter rightly responded, "Well, that's not fair." The Republicans, however, were paragons of virtue who "also want to take care of people, but they want people to learn to help themselves, and they believe that the government should not be in control of everything."
I know she didn't want to get into a discussion with her daughter about abortion, gay rights, and other elements of the parties' platforms, but this description offended me. I held my tongue, because it's not my business to interfere with how she wants to raise her daughter, but I ached to give the poor girl some facts. I was especially shocked when she proceeded to express dismay that, when a Jewish person was running for vice president, he lost, when a woman was running, she lost, but when a "black Muslim" ran for president, he won. "He's not a Muslim," I said. "Of course he is!" she responded. What do you say to that? It's a fruitless argument. So I shut my mouth. This was neither the time nor the place for that argument.
At one point, my friend went to talk to someone and left me alone with all the kids (three of mine and five of hers). Her daughter wanted to continue the conversation and asked me some more questions. I tried to answer without contradicting her mother, explaining that you should vote for the person who has values most similar to yours. She couldn't understand why anyone would vote for a Democrat (well, sure, if all you know about Democrats is what her mother had said earlier). I explained that there were other things that Democrats and Republicans believe, and some of those things are important to some people, while other things are important to other people. I said, of course we want to vote for someone who will help Israel and be good for the Jewish people in general, because that's important to us. It was very hard not to take the opportunity to "correct" her mother about her take on the political parties.
But when the girl said that her father had said that Obama is an Arab Muslim, I could hold my tongue no longer. Whether or not I like the man as a person, as a president, as a leader, or as a candidate was no longer at issue. The issue was basic fact versus propoganda. I said, "He's not an Arab. His father is from Kenya and his mother is a white American. He was born in Hawaii." "Oh!" she said. "He's an African American!" I said he was, quite literally. I don't want to undermine what her parents are teaching her, and I don't want to start anything at home, and I definitely don't want her to go home and say, "Jessica said..." and get in trouble with her parents. That's not my job as a friend, and I value my friendship with her mother almost more than any other friendship in my life. I wouldn't want her to limit my contact with her children because she's afraid of what I'll tell them. But it's so hard to keep silent when you know a parent is feeding their child deliberate misinformation like that. What's worse is knowing that someone I so respect truly believes such utter nonsense. Besides which, what does it matter? So what if he were a Muslim? It's okay for a Jewish person to become president, for a Catholic, for a Mormon, but not a Muslim? What's the difference, anyway?
At what point do you have to speak up to correct the information a child's parents are giving her? How much of my own internal political turmoil do I need to reveal? Should I have spoken up and said that actually I'm a Democrat, and here's why? Should I have admitted to being very torn over who to vote for this year, instead of allowing my friend to think I agreed with her wholeheartedly?
I think I need to have an intelligent discussion with my friend about this subject, but I don't want to interfere with the way she is raising her daughter. I do hope, though, that her daughter grows up knowing that it's okay to find out facts for herself and to challenge misinformation when it's presented. I also hope that she grows up loving and respecting her parents, rooted in a strong foundation of faith and knowledge, and, most importantly, true to herself.