I don’t write about politics.
One, because I love to focus on things that bring us together. From the lighthearted, like fashion, to the sacred, like faith.
Two, I don’t like to set myself up to be burned at the stake.
Really, that’s what political opinions have become. An opportunity for those that disagree with you to throw flaming arrows at you. I generalize, of course. I have dear friends with whom I have fascinating discourse on political issues, and we disagree intellectually. My father in law and I, who have quite different perspectives on political agendas, regularly have riveting and insightful (sometimes heated, but rarely) discussions over wine at his farm table.
But I love politics.
Or love what politics used to be.
I used to wake up on Sunday mornings and brew a pot of coffee and watch Meet the Press with Tim Russert and inhale the political news. His analysis was rich and fair and participants disagreed respectfully.
In those seasons, during my single 20s, my entire life goal was to run for United States Senate.
Those dreams are gone.
I can’t fathom jumping into the firestorm today.
But the political issues of America now are ever more critical, and I still like to approach them with intellectual curiosity. It’s the history/poli-sci major in me.
So I would love for my children to know some of the fundamentals of politics. What are the issues and what are their perspectives on each issue. Not based on the negative attack ad they saw on t.v. in between their favorite show or their parents banter regarding a particular issue (which does get heated during election season).
This post is still not about politics, specifically. A divisive Republican or Democratic world view of immigration or health care.
Rather, it’s about how we talk to our kids about politics. How we raise them to think for themselves. How we tee up what the issues of today are.
I live in Houston, Harris County, Texas. Geographically, my state votes overwhelmingly Republican and my city leans Democratic. The perfect place for the Matalin-Carville-esque marriage I have.
We have lots of races on the ballot this year. I went to the League of Women Voters website to print out their voters’ guide which I used to do regularly but had failed to do lately. For those of you who haven’t used this resource, LWV is a nonpartisan group who asks each candidate in your region the same questions and then prints them for your consideration. I recommend finding your local guide before you vote.
Then, I went to Harris Votes (my local voting website but your county will have one too) and printed off my sample ballot.
On Tuesday night, after dinner, I sat down with the kids and told them we were going to discuss some of the candidates. They boo-ed and hissed and said nooooooooooooooo.
I explained I had a guide with candidates answers. They would get to pick the candidate based on their answer, but I would not tell them the candidates’ names or political parties. I have one child who unswervingly espouses my husband’s political views (based on nothing but each of their passion), one child who tends to side with me in political debates, and one that waffles.
They are NINE.
Yes, we’ve been talking politics in front of them since one of the party conventions during our Disney World vacation when they were two.
They perked up. We get to pick who you are going to vote for?
Yes, I replied, you are going to help me choose.
They still have short attention spans, so I selected a U.S. Congressional race, a Texas Supreme Court race, and a Texas Senate race. I explained, simply, what a Libertarian was as they didn’t understand that party.
I read the answers for the first race which only had two candidates. Two selected one candidate and the other selected the opposing candidate. Then I told them who each candidate was. One child yelped, “Noooooooooo, she’s crazy. I wouldn’t vote for her!!!!” So we explored why he thought the candidate was ‘crazy.’ Hearsay and attack ads. I explained why I wouldn’t want to run for office now:
People will get up on t.v. and say Gindi believes THIS and Gindi believes THAT and Gindi wants all the people in her district to DIE! You see, it’s getting harder and harder to find the facts. And you would know those things weren’t true, but other children in other homes wouldn’t know. Because someone would be loud and entertaining and it wouldn’t matter if they were telling the truth about me. People could say mean things about you too – on the t.v. or on the internet. They could post mean things on Facebook and it could make people not want to vote for me even though it wasn’t true.
They paused. Took that in. I think they understood that sometimes what they are hearing is just the person with the loudest megaphone.
We moved on to the judicial races, which was harder. The answers were dense and they ask me what they meant. I tried to translate simply and wished, on behalf of my profession, there was an easier way to explain judicial philosophy. I am a firm believer that judicial, political party, races are a bad thing for a state or country because it infuses the judiciary with a political bent rather than a clear and fair perspective (not that anyone can ever have an entirely clear and fair perspective).
Finally, we closed with the State Senate race. I laughed because when I read the answers to the first question, what are the two most important things to your district, the Libertarian talked about government spying. Without any prompting, one of the boys said, that spying person is the Libertarian so I’m not picking him. Kids. They’re awesome.
Again, they picked someone they didn’t expect. We talked about why.
I’m still working my way through the guide because I truly don’t know who to vote for in each race. I am not a straight party voter and never have been. When the kids were younger, I was terrible about remembering to research the candidates and I’d leave some races blank and feel guilty. I might still leave some races blank. Feel free to judge me for that but in some races I truly do not care for either candidate. I know we’ll get one, but I can’t pick between them.
But I do know better about who I’m voting for in some races. And my kids helped.
Regardless of your party affiliation, or lack thereof, I hope this is something we can all agree on. We don’t want to infuse angry political rhetoric in our kids and then unleash MORE angry partisans on the world. Why don’t we instead infuse our kids with educated political reason? Ahhh, to disagree with someone and explain my reason why rationally.
It doesn’t matter how old they are – six or sixteen. We should be the ones teaching our kids about the issues and helping them to develop sound judgment. Maybe they’ll do better than we’re doing right now. We can hope.
And go vote. After you research the issues