A Gallup poll conducted at the end of June finds that American parents, by about 2 to 1 (64% to 31%), do not want their children to go into politics.
No surprise there, right? One of the few things most Americans agree on is that Congress is doing an awful job. Of course American parents wouldn’t want their kids to join the ranks of the corrupt and incompetent! Didn’t Dante devote a special circle of hell to politicians in the Inferno?
The surprising news is that according to past polls, parents have never wished a position in government on their children. We’re talking about decades of data, going back to World War 2, the majority of which only asked about boys going into politics, not girls. The thought that a daughter might go into politics has only been statistically relevant since 1993. (1993? The first woman elected to The House of Representatives, Jeannette Rankin from Montana, served in 1917, but maybe Gallup didn’t get the memo.)
According to Gallup, “Compared with other possible careers, politics ranks fairly low in Americans’ pecking order. Another historical Gallup question has consistently found Americans mentioning a career in medicine or technology as the one they would advise a young man or woman to pursue. A career in politics or government has historically ranked well behind those professions as well as law, business, teaching, and engineering.”
So American parents for generations have told their kids to do anything but go into politics, and now we have a bunch of imbecile cronies entrenched in a corrupt, ineffective bureaucracy. Perhaps we’ve wished this on ourselves? Maybe that old saying has it wrong. Those who can’t do don’t teach, they run for office.
This is going to sound horribly old-fashioned and maybe even a bit looney, but I don’t think we can honestly hope for a functioning political system if we think so low of politicians we don’t want our kids to be one. Even lawyers, perceived by many to be bottom-eating scumbags, are held in better esteem because hey, at least they make money and don’t bleed the heart of the American populace. Politicians live off our taxes, only meet for 126 days a year, and can’t seem to balance a budget, and in my experience even politicians with good hearts are seen with a suspect eye, like something obviously must be kind of shady about them if they’re working for the government. No one gets to a position of power (like, say, the National Security Agency) without breaking a few laws themselves, right?
My son is only four-years-old, and his idea of the government is… well, exactly what, I’m not sure. He knows there’s such a thing as The President. Other than that? But this poll has me thinking now about how to spin the whole institution as he becomes older and more politically aware.
During my years as a middle school teacher at The East Harlem School, I led three trips to Washington D.C. and had the chance to meet people like the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke, then-Senator Hilary Clinton, then-Senator John Kerry, Representative Charles Rangel, and even, on the steps of the Capitol building, then-junior-Senator Barack Obama. I heard them talk about their jobs and what drove them to seek office, and they all seemed like well-intentioned, smart, and serious people who wanted to help our country and its Citizens. I always came back to New York feeling inspired, having seen that “the government” is actually made up of people, people who could have done any number of things but choose to work for their country.
I’m going to try to remember that optimism when I talk with my son about the government, and to manage my language. It can be easy to feel frustrated and powerless and just talk trash. Those bums in Congress! Obviously, our government isn’t working as effectively as we would like it too. But I want to plant some seeds of hope in my son’s heart. Because how are things going to get any better unless we start believing they can improve?