Should the Kids Watch the Political Conventions?

My biggest job as a father is to prepare the kids for the adult world and that means exposing them to a wide variety of real world experiences.  Partner that with the civic responsibility to vote and the upshot is that it’s also my responsibility to also provide a real world perspective on the American political system.  There will be conversations about the candidates through the Autumn – especially with Middle’s enrollment in an Honors Government/Civics course – and I’ll take one of the kids into the polling booth with me to see how it functions.  But should I make sure that they’re able to see the purely Americana phenomenon of a quadrennial political convention?  Is there value in letting them see the process – and spectacle – of a political party nominate the candidate?

The process is historic, reaching back beyond Lincoln to the now-defunct Whigs and Federalists whose barbs and newspaper attacks make Fox/CNN look like child’s play in comparison.  It’s also grueling for the candidates as well as the rest of us.  Kissed babies, deep fried oreos and calloused hands combine with breathless coverage of the candidates’ personal lives and policy wonkery make for a truly odd experience.  The Republican nominee is offsetting his Cayman/Swiss accounts with his wife’s comments on Fox News that she purchases his clothing for him at Costco while the incumbent president is trying desperately to keep his vice-president from blaming the start of the Second World War on the Latvians – yes, it’s absurd but no more absurd than some of the other things that he’s said.  But through all of the mess, the highlight of the process is the political convention, where the delegates are allocated and counted to determine the party’s choice for nominee.  It’s hoopla and entertainment and if fortunate, some actual policy might be adopted and decisions made in the limelight, but that’s only if someone somewhere has screwed up royally.

Any history buff can tell you that this is nothing new and that backroom deals have been made since the earliest days of the nation.  There have always been political brokers and bosses but with the absence of a pervasive 24/7 newsmedia, many Americans actually believed that the system worked and they had a say in the process.  But I look at the system and process now and am wildly unimpressed and cynical about the entire circus; what is the value of watching it with the kids when I believe that it exists solely as a Potemkin facade for a corrupted political process?  Am I doing my children a disservice by giving time to a political sideshow that’s as rigged as the 1950’s gameshow, The $64,000 Question?  On the one hand, they desperately need to understand how the process of democratic elections work and they also need to understand how each person’s input should matter.  But that isn’t the same thing as getting sucked into a slick sideshow designed and programmed to generate a mindless, manipulable enthusiasm. 

Why the disgust?

  • The legislative branch of government utterly disregards the overwhelming opposition of the public and bails out a single sector from it’s own self-inflicted wounds – yes, I’m still on this kick.
  • Two branches of government are thoroughly unable to provide even such a basic tenet of stewardship as a functional budget.
  • The government continues to fund prisons – via the private sector – but is unwilling or incapable of pursuing major financial fraud; there is now a de facto dual system of justice dependent solely upon one’s economic status.
  • The Chief Executive believes that he has the right and power to determine when an American citizen can be assassinated.
  • Politicians of both sides decry spending out of one side of their mouths while promising continuing goodies out of the other side.
  • Our tax code is so complex and opaque that even tax attorneys can obtain different results from the same set of financial data.
  • Debate is reduced to soundbites and nastiness so that a real exchange of ideas is rendered almost impossible.

Do you want me to continue? 

Children and teens are wildly susceptible to sensational claims and comments; we’ve allowed them to become so cocooned in their own electronic world that they might possess a diploma or degree but are poorly prepared for the workings of the real world.  If it’s ultimately my responsibility to teach them about the world, I want to do it without having to compete with the programmed glitz and asshatery of the political parties which are designed purely for smoke and mirrors.  There will be conversations about the election and candidates, as there have been already and along with taking them to vote, we’ll follow the election night coverage.

One convention – the Republican – is now in the record books and none of us turned it on.  When Romney was nominated and spoke, we watched the Food Network’s Chopped.  Even though the President will speak during the Democratic convention, I guarantee that the set will either be off or turned to something else.  When the smoke has cleared, then we can have some discussions about what all of this means without the nonsense.


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