Should babies wear political propaganda?

The year was 1980. I was two, so the legend goes, and sitting on my uncle’s lap while he read the newspaper. I pointed to a picture of Ronald Reagan and said: “That man’s a pig.” Everyone was so proud. 

More than twenty-five years later, we’re in the midst of another election year. The “pigs” are out in full force and, as a grown-up, I’m well-versed in who they are. I should be. Since birth, I’ve been deeply indoctrinated by my liberal family.

I remember trying to catch red, white and blue confetti on my tongue during a Walter Mondale rally. I remember carrying signs for Dukakis around my neighborhood and making calls to pro-choice voters on his behalf when I was eight. If my father or mother believed in God, She was in the ACLU.

I loved carrying signs, shouting my beliefs and debating my third-grade classmates. So why did I flinch the other day when someone offered my one-year-old a “My Mama Loves Obama” onesie? After all, her mama does, indeed, love Obama. But the thought of seeing my politics on my toddler’s chest gave me pause. I may shout Obama’s name from on high, but should it be one of my child’s first words?

Babies have been making the rounds this campaign, as always: wearing slogans, holding signs and being kissed by candidates. One writer for Slate managed to get his infant daughter photographed with each of the candidates at the New Hampshire primary. And it’s easy to see why: babies make politicians look good. What’s more endearing than a teary-eyed politician embracing a sweet little infant, his man-paw made more tender and gentle by its proximity to a feathery-soft baby? The theory: “If candidate X loves that baby so much, he must love mine, too.”

David Shuster’s recent comments regarding the Clintons’ “pimping” of Chelsea Clinton may have made poor use of the term, but that is exactly what I fear I would be doing should my daughter receive a kiss from a candidate. Still, I am not immune to a precious photo. I never really mind seeing a baby who supports my candidate or my causes. But nothing makes me sicker than a small child espousing, say, homophobic rants. When I see a child stumping for a cause I abhor, my first thought is one of pity. That poor child must be so brainwashed. So, as a child who once protested, held signs and chanted “George, stay out of my Bush” in Washington, I have to wonder if the brainwashing goes both ways.

The truth is, my political leanings have always had a knee-jerk quality, a childlike simplicity. When I really sit down and think about it, there are some issues on which I swing more conservative. My stance on immigration is moving into McCain territory. And while I will always support gay marriage and a woman’s right to choose, my opinion on the latter issue has been forever changed by my first child.

In my family there was little room for deviation. I was taught that not only was the other side wrong, they were stupid. And there is nothing more loathsome to my parents than stupidity. Neither of them ever even entertained the possibility that I might think for myself and draw conservative conclusions.

I have struggled for years to find my own voice in spite of the rhetoric in my head. For me, the world was like Star Wars, divided into good – Democrats – and evil – Republicans. It made things much simpler, but I would not wish that on my child.

A recent article on CNN asked if all this political stumping is good for children. The therapist they interviewed said no. In fact, she said that for children to grow up to be critical thinkers, they needed to seek and learn and come up with own positions. That made sense to me. I may have concerns about the direction of the country, but my kid is new to it all. There’s plenty of time for her to see the system’s flaws. I’m sure our values will trickle down whether or not I take her to a few rallies. But I plan to at least try to let her make up her own mind.

I want a daughter who is a critical thinker. Of course, I also want a daughter who is a Democrat. I want a daughter who is a critical thinker. Of course, I also want a daughter who is a Democrat. I’ve been a believer long enough to know that I would struggle should my child become a Republican. I’m in favor of debate and dinner table conversation with spark, but I am not in favor of a child who supports the war in Iraq or thinks Bush is doing a great job. Then again, my child can only say one syllable of the word “bottle.” We have some time before political arguments come into play.

When this election first started to heat up, I visited websites with candidate-laden baby clothing. I picked out two shirts I wanted her to have. Both were for Obama. After some consideration, I emptied my cart and bought them in my own size only. I did, however, buy her a onesie that reads, “Love makes a family.” She doesn’t know what it says any more than she knew what super delegates were at stake when I took her with me to vote on Super Tuesday. She was more fascinated by the little black pen and long piece of paper than with the country’s future. But I was pleased to have her there. Welcome to Democracy, I thought.

Photo courtesy of Kelly Kienle

Article Posted 9 years Ago

Videos You May Like