I’ve been sloshing through all the predictable Kubler-Ross stages of liberal grief over the midterm elections – denial, anger, bargaining (“If we lose the World Series, can we keep the House?”), depression, acceptance.
But I’m no great political pundit. This blog is no fivethirtyeight.com.
So the aspect of the elections I want to write about involves my daughter, a high school junior.
B. has, so far, turned out to be a solid liberal/radical/progressive. She argues with her classmates over things like the death penalty and unfettered capitalism; and unlike many of them, she thinks about politics even when she’s not required to do so for a history essay.
That’s all good. And it’s easy to see the roots – our own family values, the tikkun olam that was reinforced in her Jewish education (her Bat Mitzvah drash was on how to treat the ger, the stranger in our midst, and she connected that concept to Darfur), the progressive schools she’s attended, and growing up in the liberal milieu of the Bay Area.
But there are aspects of her political outlook that also worry me. Over the weeks leading up to the election, she asked more than once, “Why are Americans so stupid?”
I knew what she meant – she was asking how Tea Party activists getting Medicare can rail about the evils of government spending, or how folks scraping by on $50,000 a year can vote for candidates whose economic agenda is to give more tax breaks to really rich people. Those are things that make me crazy too.
But I don’t want her politics to be based on contempt or cynicism or some kind of elitist superiority. I don’t want her to categorize all Republican voters as “American idiots,” or to see the bad things about this country without seeing the good.
I was like that at her age. I was mad at America over Vietnam, Chile, sexism, you-name-it. It took living in Israel in my 20s for me to really appreciate the U.S. Here’s what did it: The realization that — even among the most wonderful, most liberal, most peace-minded Israelis and Palestinians — no one wanted their child to marry someone from the other camp. They wanted peace, they wanted equality and justice, but then they wanted to be left to their tribal selves.
That seemed so sad. And it made me feel, maybe for the first time, clearly American.
So now I have a daughter who resents the hypocrisy of the Tea Party types but is too young to appreciate how far we have come in electing a black president… who feels anger at our history of slavery without a corresponding pride in the courage of the American abolitionist movement.
I worry that we didn’t do enough when she was little to teach her the positive things about America. We ranted about George Bush and Iraq; but did we talk explicitly about the positive history and values that we felt he was betraying?
I worry that living in the Bay Area makes it easy to be insular and self-righteous. It’s so easy here to surround oneself with liberal friends who share one’s views on gay rights, climate change, abortion, progressive taxation. (Heck, that’s a big part of why we choose to live here!)
And I wonder about whether we did a good enough job in this part of our parenting.
We were very intentional in some aspects of parenting. With Judaism, for instance, we made a conscious decision to light candles every Shabbat. And with body image, I swore my baby daughter would never hear me say the phrase “I’m fat.”
But I never consciously thought about how to impart a progressive view of the good things about America and its history.
Honestly, I read my fair share of child-rearing books when B. was young, but I don’t think I ever saw one on this – “Beyond Flag Waving: Raising Your Child to be a Progressive Patriot.”
This goes beyond parenting, maybe, into the realm of actual politics. We lefty-liberal-blue-state types are very good at trashing the Sarah Palins and Christine O’Donnells of the world – at gnashing and moaning over the things we don’t like in American politics.
Would we do better at the polls if we put more effort into clearly articulating the things we love and believe in about America?