"Dear Sir Obama: Presidential Advice" reports the humorous and (sniff) beautiful things that children are recommending Obama do once he assumes office. The article is an interesting glimpse into what children expect from government, and from life in general. But, as I think the editors of the New York Times expected their readers to be impressed by the inspiring idealism for some of agendas, it is also an insight into the infantile character of the way liberals understand government. (The tradition of liberals asking children for direction in deciding public policy goes at least as far back as Jimmy Carter. See it on YouTube.)
One nine year old girl gave this list.
1. Make everyone read books.
2. Don’t let teachers give kids hard homework.
3. Make a law where kids only get one page of homework per week.
4. Kids can go visit you whenever they want.
5. Make volunteer tutors get paid.
6. Let the tutors do all the thinking.
7. Make universities free.
8. Make students get extra credit for everything.
9. Give teachers raises.
10. If No. 4 is approved, let kids visit the Oval Office, but don’t make it boring.
She's all set for the future.
I wondered what advice my own children would give the incoming President, so I explained the exercise to my two eldest, ages nine and eight, and sat them down each with pencil and paper. Topping the list was "stop abortions." Fair enough. Protecting innocent life is a legitimate function of government. One suggested that the new President "put up a church [i.e. chapel] in the White House." Why not? Wise is the President whose God is the Lord. Also, the suggestion that he throw a party for his wife and children on the first day was a nice thought.
Many of the suggestions, however, pertained to the President making the world nice, easy, and comfortable. "Make my little brother not as grumpy." "Set up a place for homeless people." "Make things easy when you order stuff." (We recently had trouble with an online purchase.) "Help private schools." "Lower food prices." "Make toys $5." (Those last two gave opportunity for a primer in basic economics.)
It was a foolish question to ask little children. They don't understand the purpose of government, the limits to government and why it is limited, and the structure of our particular system of government. At the age of nine, they give almost no attention to government, and the thoughts they have are received from parents and teachers. Once these thoughts take form in their little minds, they're not much different from thoughts of ancient history and imaginary worlds. Children at that age answer the same way they would if you asked them, "If a genie offered you three wishes, what would you want him to do," except their wishes are more public spirited because you're talking about the President. They know that he is in charge of the government, and that the government has power to tell people what to do. They imagine that the President can clap his hands and have whatever he wants.
In other words, the way they think of the government is not much different from the way too many voting Americans think of it. In the next four to eight years, it will only get worse. Let the national conversation begin.
I posed the same question to my six year old boy this morning. He came up with three things to say:
1. I would say, "How do you do?"
2. Be a good man.
3. Tell the people smart things from the laws.
Atta boy! Not bad for six years old.
Postscript: In my original post on this subject, I thought that "Mireya," the name of the little girl who authored the list that I cite, was a novel and troublesome spelling of Maria. In fact, it is a legitimate Spanish name, a variant of Miranda. (Yes, I distinguish legitimate from illegitimate names. Yesterday, a customer service rep gave her name as J'... a letter and an apostrophe. But that's another post.)