I’m writing this as Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is engaged in the eighth hour of his Senate filibuster to stall the vote on John Brennan for the directorship of the CIA. As happened during Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2010 filibuster, I took the opportunity to play a short live-feed for Middle before the family gathered for dinner; Youngest, Eldest and Eldest’s boyfriend were still not upstairs for the meal. Regardless, I did make it a point to spend a fair part of the dinner to explain multiple aspects of the political event.
There’s an age differential of eight years between Eldest and Youngest and in such a conversation, it’s helpful to lay the groundwork because a filibuster isn’t an everyday thing (the last one was Senator Bernie Sanders’ filibuster in late 2010). From there, the conversation moved through to other questions and it was eye-opening to find what they did and didn’t know. : What is a filibuster? What is a drone, why are they used and how extensively are they used? While it’s easy to say that overseas drone strikes are being used on terrorists, who’s defining who that particular person is and does it matter whether that person is an American citizen? An unspoken question that ran through my head was whether or not the US government would have attempted to assassinate Tokyo Rose, the American collaborator who broadcast for the Japanese during the Second World War. As the conversation progressed, I moved it to the heart of the matter, which is whether the President should be allowed to unilaterally decide what American should be summarily executed either abroad or in this country. One of the kids commented that the President should be able to do what was necessary to protect the country but the conversation swung back to the idea of due process; if the President believes that something should be done – especially to citizens in this nation – shouldn’t there be some process that must be engaged first? We already force due process for searches and wiretaps, isn’t it in the least bit reasonable to force the executive to prove cause for the taking of a life?
The issue beside that of due process for the proposed potential death of an American citizen was whether drones were a legitimate tool for domestic activity or whether they’re Big Brother overkill; how much should we be surveilled? Because I believe that the best lessons learned are those that link the larger issues to local life, I brought up the topic of nearby downtown surveillance cameras. We live near a city which is heavily surveilled, with widespread camera usage through the downtown area and frankly, one of the most surveilled in the nation. Who owns the cameras and who monitors them? Who paid for the cameras and their installations and when one response was “tax dollars”, the kid gave an incredulous look when he learned that they were all covered via private funding. How long are the tapes kept and who oversees the people overseeing the monitors? Does an unknown person have the right to literally follow us on our way around the city? My wife shot me a look as the kids laughed when I admitted that I’ve occasionally walked past a camera and flipped it off out of sheer annoyance at their ubiquitous presence; we condemn the use of the middle finger and have punished kids for it, but my response was that in this particular situation, it was a legitimate expression of free speech that registered my displeasure at their use.
The point is this. Take every opportunity to engage the kids in current events and teach them. Start with the basics and then build upwards from there, fleshing out their understanding and tying as many loose ends back to the beginning as possible. Keep the personal invective to a minimum and give them as many facts as possible; they’ll get a good handle on what you think by your conversation but if you think it necessary, save your full opinion for the end and in that case, make it abundantly clear with plain, straightforward language. It’s our job to prepare them for the world and thinking that they’ll get a good grasp elsewhere is a critical error.