As someone who’s followed politics and elections as long as I have, pretty much nothing surprises me anymore. Attack ads, funny commercials, “oops” moments. They’re all to be expected. But I thought that using candidates’ children as targets of attack was pretty much off limits, especially after the 2000 presidential campaign when supporters of George W. Bush engaged in “push polling” to suggesting that John McCain’s daughter, Bridget, who was adopted from Bangladesh, was actually an African-American child he had fathered out of wedlock.
I wish I were making that up, but I’m not. McCain was in the lead at the time, but after those efforts his campaign was pretty much over. Jon Huntsman doesn’t want that to happen to his run for the White House.
As a mom by international adoption myself, I found that whole McCain episode despicable, not just for using a young child as negative political ammunition, but also because of the unspoken underlying message — there’s something wrong with your family if you’ve got a child that is a different race than your own.
Fast forward to today’s crazy 2012 presidential campaign. This time, the targets have become Jon Huntsman’s two youngest daughters — 12-year-old Gracie who was adopted from China and five-year-old Asha, who was born in India. They’re the stars of a new negative ad produced by some group calling themselves “NHLiberty4Paul,” asking in their “Manchurian Candidate” ad, as if its a bad thing, “China Jon’s Daughters: Even Adopted?”
In the 2000 presidential race, McCain tried to ignore the attacks, hoping they’d go away. Huntsman is taking the opposite approach, saying to reporters that he could only comment on how stupid it is to suggest there was something sinister or Manchurian Candidate-like in his family’s decision to adopt.
The larger question for me, as a mom by adoption, is this — when will our society stop viewing families formed by adoption as something that’s “other.” News reports dealing with families generally don’t make a point of commenting about whether children are biological members of their families. So why do so many people feel the need to point out if adoption was involved? Are they scared? Nervous? Uncomfortable? I think it’s a combination of all those things, but most of all it’s just wrong.
As adults, we can handle it when an inappropriate remark is made about how our families came to be. But our kids can’t. Huntsman is doing a great job making both the press, and whoever this “NHLiberty4Paul” is, back away. But their actions and insinuations are going to linger with Huntman’s daughters — especially his twelve-year-old — forever.
I know because we’ve been there as a family. Obviously no one has ever suggested my husband and I were Communists for adopting our daughter from China. But every comment our daughter ever reads or hears that is in anyway negative or hurtful about the fact that she came to us through adoption is like having a rug pulled out from under her sometimes shaky sense of self and where she belongs in this world.
For those who want to play dirty politics, I can’t stop you. But leave Huntsman’s kids — and mine — out of it.
Joanne Bamberger writes the blog PunditMom, and is the author of Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America (on sale now at Amazon!), a bipartisan look at how women online will be a force to be reckoned with in the 2012 election!