For the Future
March 4, 2011
My 8-year-old daughter hates Justin Beiber. She can’t stand his whiny music and can’t figure out what Selena Gomez sees in him.
So I know I’ve done something right. I took comfort in that fact when she told me what she wanted to be when she grew up.
“Mama,” she announced last month. “I want to be president.”
Wow. Well, I know that one’s all my fault. As a political reporter, I’ve been dragging her to events since she’s been in utero, starting with a University of Iowa Hospital stop on now-U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s 2002 re-election campaign for governor of the Hawkeye State. She has pictures with almost every 2004 presidential wannabe (yes, even slimy John Edwards — I didn’t know, I swear) from the Iowa caucuses.
She’s been in tow for several stops on the 2006 campaigns of Jennifer Granholm and Dick DeVos. She’s twice heard President Barack Obama speak at rallies during the ’08 election. And at the only 2010 gubernatorial debate between Rick Snyder and Virg Bernero, she was sitting right by my side.
It’s little wonder that when we sit down to watch the Cubs lose (yeah, I said it) with my folks back in Chicago, my daughter always asks, “Who are we voting for?”
I know every parent tells her child that he or she can be president one day. But after covering politics for more than a decade, I have to say that I cringe at what my daughter would be subjected to if she ran for our country’s highest office.
What mother would want to see her child’s patriotism and even nationality questioned like Obama’s have? Who would want to see his intellect derided like George W. Bush’s was? What sane mother would want to see every fiber of her child’s personal life shoved under the national microscope?
As a journalist, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that many stories written about President Demas-to-be would be silly (“What’s on your iPod?”) or sleazy (“Did you cheat on your husband?”).
There would be very few pieces to paste in the scrapbook about my daughter’s firm stand against the Libyan despot or her plan for a simpler corporate tax system. That’s not very sexy — and many reporters don’t really understand complex policy nowadays. I don’t expect that to change by the year 2044. Who knows if we’ll have much of a media to speak of by then, anyway, besides dreadfully written blogs and naked babes delivering the headlines via holograph.
But how do I possibly explain all that to an 8-year-old? She thinks being president is the greatest job in the world, that it’s a chance to truly help people and make the world a better and more peaceful place. Why would I want her to believe anything less? That’s exactly what kids — really, all Americans — should believe.
And I honestly don’t know how to explain the shortcomings in my profession — why some reporters would try to drag her into their cesspool with seedy coverage. Who wants to have this conversation?
Question: “Mommy, do you ever write stories about what politicians like to do in the privacy of their own bedrooms?”
Answer: “Not unless they call a press conference with their teary-eyed wife at their side, honey.”
Look, I’ve already talked to my daughter about the Civil War and slavery, the Holocaust, two world wars, discrimination, poverty, famine and disease. There’s a limit on how much horror to which you can really subject a kid who still likes going to Disneyland.
But at my core, I am still an idealist. I believe we need the best leaders we can find, which means that intelligent and dedicated people can’t get spooked at the unsavory parts of our electoral process. We need them to run and try to make a difference.
So I sat down with my daughter and explained what she could do help prepare her to become president — everything from volunteering at the local animal shelter to going to law school. And I ran down exactly what the job would entail, from figuring out how to best protect the Great Lakes to deciding when we go to war.
The rest is up to her.
There is an upside to my daughter’s newfound ambition, however. Unlike many of her classmates, she knows what the president, governor, Congress and the legislature actually do.
And I daresay she has a firmer grasp on tax policy than the average voter. My third-grader knows that I pay for her school, the roads we drive on and the parks we play in with a chunk of the money I earn and the things that I buy. She knows that I make sure I have more money coming in than I spend, and the governor and lawmakers have to do the same for the State of Michigan.
And now I have a nice carrot to dangle in front of my daughter when it’s time to do word problems and grammar worksheets.
“You have to do this so you get into college. And you can’t be president if you don’t graduate from college,” I tell her, something that’s 100-percent true in the modern era, at least.
And, yes, it’s true. I often will happen to add that many of our fine commanders-in-chief have gone to Harvard.