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Parenting

What Politics Teaches Us

I had a sage friend who used to say, “The contradictions of life are endless.”

I’ve found that this expression in particular has helped me put things in perspective over and over again. When I have to be somewhere pronto, the traffic is inevitably at a standstill. The more I try to keep things organized, the harder it is to find my keys. And when I am most mindful of what I eat, I am also most likely to gain weight. (Note I said mindful, not calorie-counting. That could be more of a distinction versus a contradiction.)

Recently I found myself mining that sage well once again when it came time to explain to my kids the nuances of each political party. This is the first presidential election where they both had a series of homework assignments aimed at understanding the political process in general, and also specifically geared toward helping them distinguish between the two main parties in order to decide which side they most identify with — regardless of what their parents think.

I am actually a very outspoken person with strong political views in my offline life. On my blog, Facebook, Google +, Twitter, and all virtual places I leave my mark, I have been very careful to keep my sharpest opinions to myself. A friend of mine was struck by how vanilla I am in public spaces, and when pushed, I explained to him, “I don’t want to turn anyone off to reading my blog because of my views. I guess I just want to be liked.”

Like Sally Field, that comment was at once telling, bold, and on many levels, pathetic. And also the ultimate contradiction — I feel so strongly about women’s rights, civil rights, striving for peace, saving our planet, the separation of church and state, and being a society that together works for the greater good, and yet, I just want to be liked. In this age of extreme bipartisanship and polarization, I’m all Kumbaya. What the hell is wrong with me?

Maybe it’s wallowing in the quagmire of contradictions that’s dragging me down. Take, for example, this exchange between my kids and me:

Kids: What do Republicans believe?

Bitch’in Suburbia (BIS, aka their mom): Republicans are more conservative and believe in small government, the free market, and the rights of the individual. Except when they want to pass legislation that severely limits personal freedoms, like a woman’s right to determine what’s best for her own body and people being able to marry whom they love, regardless of sexual orientation. They want the U.S. to be strong militarily, but then again, the last Republican president presided over the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression, and the current Republican presidential candidate says that our ruined economy is the single biggest threat to our national security. And they often reject science, despite the fact that 98 out of 100 climate scientists say global warming is a reality, and only Hurricane Sandy has the power to silence Wall Street.

Kids: OK… that’s confusing. So what do Democrats believe?

BIS: Democrats are more liberal and believe in a larger Federal Government, tax programs to pay for the public programs that support the welfare of the less privileged in our society, and that we need to do what we can to make sure all of our citizens get a fair shake. Except for when they cave and compromise their values to the point where benefits are so watered down that the people most in need have to struggle to even get a drop. Democrats also tend to be less militarily inclined, except when it comes to, say, carrying out a relatively covert drone war in Pakistan where not only targets are hit, but also every innocent woman and child in the area since drones are efficient, but not always accurate. And they are pro-environment and pro-alternative energy sources, even as they brag about how drilling for oil has increased on their watch.

Kids: Now we’re totally confused. Are there any other choices besides Republicans and Democrats?

BIS: Yes. No. Sorry.

I realized that my explanations were pretty unsatisfactory and relatively cynical, but my own first presidential voting experience was colored by the fact that I was an economics major in college during the Reagan Revolution as supply side economics — the “trickle down” theory — was put into practice. It wasn’t hard to see that government spending had to come from somewhere, but if there weren’t taxes to finance it, then we’d just have to get money the old fashioned way: by taking out loans. The pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps mentality resulted in borrowing someone else’s shoes for the prom. And so much for individual freedom — sorry kids, your ancestors have already predetermined your economic destiny for you.

Then Clinton came along and balanced the budget — even came up with a surplus! But he couldn’t keep his dick in his pants, got himself impeached, and screwed the whole country. Thinking about his rights as an individual put in a pin in the balloon of the greater good.

Contradictions abound, so what’s a person to do?

In parenting circles, I believe this is all called a teaching moment. When I discussed the debates with my kids, I was honest enough to say I didn’t understand everything the candidates said, but I did my best to paint the picture in broad strokes. I told them that political strategists build their bases on moral and social issues, and this strategy has been a Pandora’s box, opening both parties up to the influence of radical thought coming from places like The Tea Party and the Occupy Movement. And so kiddies, most devout Christians support Republicans (even though taking care of the needy was something that Jesus did — and would — do), just as peace-loving liberals like me vote for Democrats (even as Guantanamo stays open, the Orwellian practice of warantless wiretapping continues, and Afghanistan and Pakistan remain war zones, four years later).

So if you see me on Tuesday, voting (which if you are 18 or older, please do!), just know that I’m considering the contradictions, but voting my conscious, guided by the sage wisdom of Native Americans (you know, the people we systematically killed and enslaved in order to build our free country): “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.”

And may the best man for the job win, and someday, may the best man for the job FINALLY be a woman.

NOW GO VOTE & feel free to share this video from the non-partisan organization Real Complainers Vote with your children – there are a couple of red-letter words in here, but that’s why it’ll really appeal to the kids! (No contradiction here, just the truth, Ruth!)

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