This fascinating, wide-open presidential election cycle motivates more and more people to become actively interested in current events. Regardless of the outcome, this can’t help but strengthen our nation’s civic activism.
My 15-year-old son has actually become slightly engaged in the political process as well. We’re not ready to take off the tightly knit ski hat, cut our hair, pull up our pants, and don a coat and tie like Michael J. Fox in the 1980s sitcom “Family Ties,” but it’s a start. Indeed, this slowly emerging interest had me channeling Kenneth Branaugh in the remake of the movie “Frankenstein” when said creature stirred for the first time and he looked to the heavens and wailed, “It’s Aliiive!”
Productive intellectual inquisitiveness in the adolescent teen male must always be encouraged, no matter how flickering the flame. Words must be chosen carefully so as to gently fan that flame rather than put it out.
And so, on primary nights, the lad has asked me to turn the television onto CNN “so we can watch the scores.” It’s not a logical leap from ESPN, I guess, and politics is the biggest spectator sport in this country, so I do nothing to disabuse him of the notion.
His comments with respect to Mrs. Clinton would sit well with her adversaries. He’s dumbstruck at how she can conceivably be trying to change the rules with respect to Michigan and Florida.
“That sucks,” he say. “Isn’t that cheating?”
Our discussion about Barak Obama struck me, however. He asked me if I liked Obama. I said that I did like his style and would be OK with him as our president. I said I worried about his foreign-policy experience and how much his social programs would cost me in terms of increased taxes, but that I think he would be refreshing.
He said he thought I liked McCain and asked why I hadn’t asked another son to take the McCain sticker off the truck he drives that has been adorning the rear bumper since late in 1999. I told him that I do like McCain and that I intend to vote for him.
This puzzled him. With his head cocked quizzically like the image of the little dog staring into the victrola horn that was long the RCA logo, he asked, “But how can you like Obama if you are going to vote for McCain?”
I explained that it was OK to respect someone who held different political opinions than yours. I talked of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill having a belt together at the Capitol after battling each other over tax cuts. I mentioned that Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch were fast friends. I then explained who Orrin Hatch was.
I reminded him that if I couldn’t respect people of differing viewpoints, then how was I able to stay married to his mother. He said he figured it was because I was cheap and didn’t want to give up half of what I own.
And then it hit me. This teen was born in 1992. All he knows are the Clinton and W. Bush years. All he’s heard about are whitewater, perjury, oral sex, impeachment proceedings, the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, stolen elections, swift boating, cutting and running, and the fact that “Bush lied and people died.”
There hasn’t been civil political discourse in his lifetime. He’s seen nothing from our national leaders to suggest respect for differing viewpoints. I reminded him that the two incumbents I beat when I have run for selectman are people whom I still respect, noting that I have talked often with the most recent individual I beat, and we share common views on many local issues. I threw out the tired line that people can disagree without being disagreeable about it.
This past Sunday I sat down to watch Meet the Press. Obama second Sen. Dick Durbin and Clinton second Sen. Chuck Schumer postured over the role super delegates should hold in the Democratic National Convention and whether the Michigan and Florida delegates should be recognized.
Will this thing turn into a circular firing squad? Will it turn nasty, disillusioning the millions of young voters and nominally civic minded teens tuning into current events for the first time in their lives?
Young people questioning adults as to how they could like someone for whom they didn’t intend to vote is a symptom, not a cause. It is the Geiger counter crackling in our ear that should be warning us of the excessive toxicity and radioactive nature of the posturing that has been oozing out of Washington polluting our national political discourse for essentially a solid generation.
We need more young pups gathering around the RCA Victrola that is our political system. Here’s hoping the political leaders keep the partisan attack dogs leashed, if not euthanized, so we do not scare them off.
Mr. Woollacott is president and founder of Renaissance Group International Inc. Contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.