by Kristy Campbell
The California gubernatorial race this past election was ugly and full of negative character assaults and political ads that addressed personal issues rather than issues of social, educational, or environmental concern. In the weeks leading up to the election, politics and leadership were nightly topics at my house as I tried to explain the American political process to the kids.
One night, while I was watching television with my 10-year twins, a couple of political ads came on during a commercial break. My daughter said, “I don’t get why they have to be so mean to each other. “ My son jumped in, “you have to be mean to be in politics. It’s part of the job…you lie and make up stuff to get people to believe what you want them to believe.”
I was stunned at the level of his insight. American politics has certainly become more about the massacre than the message.
The political discussion was timely, as Student Government elections were concurrently happening in the kids’ schools. The school halls were filled with posters carrying supportive messages and new ideas. In explaining my theory on where politics has gone awry, I had asked my kids to imagine the kids running for office in their school. I then asked them to imagine if the school allowed negative campaigns and smear tactics instead of keeping the focus on “kind words, positive messages.” I explained that it would be allowable to put up big posters all over school saying:
“Michael took an extra juice box from the lunch line in 1st grade! He can’t be trusted!!”
“Georgia is mean and ugly and you should hate her!”
“This school sucks!!”
The kids’ eyes about popped out of their heads. I was on a roll.
“Michael used to POOP HIS PANTS! Do you really want him as President?”
The kids joined in the ridiculousness until my son blurted out that you could even call someone a “whore.” My head snapped around to look at him, and my son immediately apologized.
We’d had the “whore” discussion earlier in the month when the word was all over the media as well as discussed during the final California gubernatorial debate between candidates Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown. When the kids asked what the word meant, I explained using the 10-year old version of the definition and said it was important to note that although Jerry Brown himself didn’t say the word, as a leader, he had to take responsibility for the incident. I further explained that while he was apologizing during the debate, he admitted he didn’t think it was a bad word…at least not as bad as the “n” word.
Both of them were shocked, since they knew if Jerry were at my house using that kind of language, he’d get a nice dose of hot sauce on his tongue, as I don’t tolerate bad words and I don’t qualify the degree of “badness.” Their school has a tough policy on language as well, so the kids are clear that offensive words and messages aren’t allowed here, there, or anywhere.
This year more than any other year in the past it really hit me that we have higher expectations of our elementary school candidates and campaigns with regard to respect and integrity than we do of our adult politicians. Schools across the country are currently spending a great deal of time and effort developing anti-bullying campaigns and ‘character counts’ campaigns, so it would seem that now is the time for adults to start modeling the kind of behavior we are asking our children to embrace. Kind words. Supportive messages.
Personally, I think a 10-year old needs to be added to every political campaign staff, as it is only then we will start to see real political reform in the way campaigns are run. Throw in a bottle of hot sauce and we could be off in a new direction.