For as long as politicians have been kissing babies, they’ve been using kids for political advantage. So what is the best, right way to use children in a political debate?
That seems particularly salient this week, now that the NRA has released its ad calling the president an “elitist” for having his “kids”—it didn’t say daughters—protected by arms while being “skeptical” about armed guards in schools. For his part, Obama invited children to help promote his plan to curb gun violence. On Wednesday the president had four of them join him on stage—representatives of the large numbers of children who wrote the White House following the Newtown massacre. And next week, marchers—many of them young people bused in by school and church groups—opposed to Roe v. Wade will march on Washington to protest the 40-year-old ruling.
Every parent, every person has to decide what you consider untoward and inappropriate. If you put your child in a Reelect Mayor Quimby shirt, that’s your business, of course.
So which of these—if any—are crossing a line?
That NRA Ad. The NRA ad is so over the top that it’s been widely ridiculed, including by MSNBC broadcaster and former Republican Rep. Joe Scarborough. Scarborough said that it looks more like a Saturday Night Live ad.
But is it unfair to ever mention the president’s daughters, especially if not by name? I’m not so sure. This particular ad was as illogical as it was odious. The president’s children aren’t the same as everyone else, and their security needs are different—not to mention that the Secret Service is different than a massive program to hire retired cops to guard playgrounds. But if one asks if it's OK for the Clintons and Obamas to send their kids to private school while opposing school-choice plans that give money to kids to attend private school, that’s a more reasonable question. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama could well have sent their kids to public school, as Jimmy Carter did.
For me, the NRA putting its imprimatur on a video game seems more odious.
Putting Kids Onstage. It’s an honor and the memory of a lifetime to be on stage with the president, as four young Americans were on Wednesday. And their parents surely supported it. So who’s to complain—especially since the issue at hand is protecting children from gun violence? It’s not like you’re putting them out there for tax reform.
Still, it was awkward when the president had them on stage on Wednesday. Somehow, to enlist children—to essentially use them as props, albeit with their parents' consent—to support nearly two dozen executive orders and legislative proposals on gun control seems questionable. It seemed less questionable when the vice president cited one of the Virginia Tech shooting survivors who was in the audience and who still has bullet fragments in him. There, you’re at least dealing with an adult.
Kids Marching. Lots of protests have kids marching alongside their parents, and that will certainly be true at the March for Life next week. There are plenty of associated youth functions, and if the past is any indicator, you’ll see a lot of school buses around town bringing kids in. Children get their political values from their parents, and they either embrace them or reject them (e.g. Hillary Clinton’s switch from Goldwater Girl to liberal). Everyone has the right to bring their kid to a free assembly to make a stand about what they believe. Whether that’s appropriate or not is up to individuals. But it’s a question worth asking as politicians seem to increasingly want to be the saviour of children.