Be Our President, Not Our Parent

Almost twenty years ago, ponytailed Denton Walthall stood in the first ever town hall-style presidential debate and asked a question that shall forever live in infamy:

The focus of my work as a domestic mediator is meeting the needs of the children that I work with [...] And I ask the three of you, how can we, as symbolically the children of the future president, expect the two of you, the three of you to meet our needs [...] Could we cross our hearts; it sounds silly here, but could we make a commitment? You know, we're not under oath at this point, but could you make a commitment to the citizens of the United States to meet our needs, and we have many, and not yours.

Governor Bill Clinton was delighted with the question.  Ross Perot was...well, Ross Perot.  But President George H.W. Bush appeared bewildered.  Meet needs?  Children of the president?

When Bush 41 was barely out of childhood himself, he enlisted as a Navy aviator and was shot down over the Pacific Ocean in World War II.  During his one term as president, America won the Cold War, kicked Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, and navigated the savings and loan crisis.  The thought of treating Americans as children must have sounded like psychobabble gibberish to Ronald Reagan's vice president.

Bill Clinton, however, won the election and took on the role of Presidential Parent with gusto.  Unfortunately, Mr. Walthall's opinion aside, Americans in 1993 weren't quite ready to reenter childhood.  When Mrs. Clinton attempted to impose nationalized health care, the crown jewel of daddy government, the electorate reacted by giving Republicans control of both Houses of Congress for the first time in forty years.

Losing the Congress may have stymied Bill Clinton's legislative agenda, but it did wonders for his relationship with the American "children."  With Newt Gingrich and the Republicans taking on the tough jobs of balancing the budget and welfare reform, President Clinton was free to be the indulgent, fun parent.  This happens in many families.  One parent has a jolly time playing and laughing with the kids after supper while the other parent sounds like a killjoy, insisting that the school assignments get done and the teeth get brushed.

In 2000, George W. Bush, unlike his father, embraced the role of Presidential Parent.  Instead of the "Party On!" parenting style of Bill Clinton, Bush 43 offered Compassionate Conservatism, a sort of melding of Let's Go Get Ice Cream and Wash behind Your Ears.  America got a tangled mess of No Child Left Behind and Medicare prescription drug coverage, among other big-government interventions.  All these initiatives had two things in common: they were horribly expensive, and they continued to treat Americans as children.

In 2008, the voting children of America elected Barack Obama, and immediately the Presidential Parent and his wife seized the opportunity.  With figurative finger-wagging, Americans have been lectured about what we eat, how much we exercise, how fat our kids are, how warm we keep our houses, what cars we drive, and what kind of energy we use.  In one health care town hall, our Presidential Parent actually admonished a woman on the wisdom of allowing her elderly mother to have a pacemaker inserted. 

How our Presidential Parent loves to scold us!  His rhetoric has become so ridiculous that two weeks ago he arrogantly told Congress, a co-equal branch of government, to finish their homework and eat their peas.

Yes, President Obama succeeds in using all the modern parenting jargon.  But when it comes to being a successful president, he fails miserably.  Let me count the ways:

A successful parent doesn't poll the kids.  Every time I hear a reporter start a question with "but the American people want...," I could scream.  Successful parents and presidents sometimes have to make important decisions that the kids might not be thrilled about.  I actually knew a family that did not relocate for a much better opportunity because the kids didn't want to move away from their friends.  When you choose to become a parent or a president, your job is to sometimes make unpopular choices.  Quit taking surveys and make a decision.

A successful parent is honest with the family.  A good parent doesn't hesitate to let the kids know that the family simply can't afford a new car or a Hawaiian vacation, in spite of all the whining that may ensue.  A failed parent (or president) doesn't want the kids to be mad at him, so he borrows the money.  In a family, this borrowing can lead to bankruptcy.  In a nation, it eventually leads to financial catastrophe.

It takes great strength of character to ignore whining from your kids or your political base.  As a parent, I can tell you it's very tempting to give in, just to make the whining stop.  That's precisely why kids and voters whine.  Right now Speaker Boehner is being bombarded by whining from the president, the Democrats, and the media.  If he gives in, the whining will stop, at least temporarily.  But America will be teetering ever closer to the edge of the fiscal cliff.  And the president, the Democrats, and the media will have learned only one thing: whining works.

A successful parent does not play one kid against the other.  The children of good parents know they are loved, unconditionally and equally.  A failed parent says, "Why can't you be more like your sister?" and "Your brother never disappoints me like you do."  A failed president doesn't consider all Americans equal.  Instead he talks about fat-cat bankers, rails against greedy Wall Street hedge fund managers, and refers to Republicans as enemies.

Successful parents raise their kids to become independent adults.  It's a bit of a paradox, but good parents realize they've succeeded when their children no longer need them.  Failed presidents, however, mark success by how many more Americans have become dependent upon government.  A perfect illustration is hearing the president brag about the provision in ObamaCare mandating that insurance companies keep adult children on their parents' policies until they're 26 years old.

This is what we've come to, twenty years after Denton Walthall's question.  The country of rugged individualists who defeated the Soviet Union and became the world's lone superpower is ecstatic over the opportunity to remain children on parents' health insurance until age 26.

But I see a spark of hope for America -- a new declaration of independence.  It's called the Tea Party.  In 2009, millions of conservatives awakened.  In 2010, they seemed to rise up with one voice and shout, We are not your children!  Hopefully, in 2012, the era of Presidential Parenting will be over.

Carol Peracchio is a registered nurse.

Almost twenty years ago, ponytailed Denton Walthall stood in the first ever town hall-style presidential debate and asked a question that shall forever live in infamy:

The focus of my work as a domestic mediator is meeting the needs of the children that I work with [...] And I ask the three of you, how can we, as symbolically the children of the future president, expect the two of you, the three of you to meet our needs [...] Could we cross our hearts; it sounds silly here, but could we make a commitment? You know, we're not under oath at this point, but could you make a commitment to the citizens of the United States to meet our needs, and we have many, and not yours.

Governor Bill Clinton was delighted with the question.  Ross Perot was...well, Ross Perot.  But President George H.W. Bush appeared bewildered.  Meet needs?  Children of the president?

When Bush 41 was barely out of childhood himself, he enlisted as a Navy aviator and was shot down over the Pacific Ocean in World War II.  During his one term as president, America won the Cold War, kicked Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, and navigated the savings and loan crisis.  The thought of treating Americans as children must have sounded like psychobabble gibberish to Ronald Reagan's vice president.

Bill Clinton, however, won the election and took on the role of Presidential Parent with gusto.  Unfortunately, Mr. Walthall's opinion aside, Americans in 1993 weren't quite ready to reenter childhood.  When Mrs. Clinton attempted to impose nationalized health care, the crown jewel of daddy government, the electorate reacted by giving Republicans control of both Houses of Congress for the first time in forty years.

Losing the Congress may have stymied Bill Clinton's legislative agenda, but it did wonders for his relationship with the American "children."  With Newt Gingrich and the Republicans taking on the tough jobs of balancing the budget and welfare reform, President Clinton was free to be the indulgent, fun parent.  This happens in many families.  One parent has a jolly time playing and laughing with the kids after supper while the other parent sounds like a killjoy, insisting that the school assignments get done and the teeth get brushed.

In 2000, George W. Bush, unlike his father, embraced the role of Presidential Parent.  Instead of the "Party On!" parenting style of Bill Clinton, Bush 43 offered Compassionate Conservatism, a sort of melding of Let's Go Get Ice Cream and Wash behind Your Ears.  America got a tangled mess of No Child Left Behind and Medicare prescription drug coverage, among other big-government interventions.  All these initiatives had two things in common: they were horribly expensive, and they continued to treat Americans as children.

In 2008, the voting children of America elected Barack Obama, and immediately the Presidential Parent and his wife seized the opportunity.  With figurative finger-wagging, Americans have been lectured about what we eat, how much we exercise, how fat our kids are, how warm we keep our houses, what cars we drive, and what kind of energy we use.  In one health care town hall, our Presidential Parent actually admonished a woman on the wisdom of allowing her elderly mother to have a pacemaker inserted. 

How our Presidential Parent loves to scold us!  His rhetoric has become so ridiculous that two weeks ago he arrogantly told Congress, a co-equal branch of government, to finish their homework and eat their peas.

Yes, President Obama succeeds in using all the modern parenting jargon.  But when it comes to being a successful president, he fails miserably.  Let me count the ways:

A successful parent doesn't poll the kids.  Every time I hear a reporter start a question with "but the American people want...," I could scream.  Successful parents and presidents sometimes have to make important decisions that the kids might not be thrilled about.  I actually knew a family that did not relocate for a much better opportunity because the kids didn't want to move away from their friends.  When you choose to become a parent or a president, your job is to sometimes make unpopular choices.  Quit taking surveys and make a decision.

A successful parent is honest with the family.  A good parent doesn't hesitate to let the kids know that the family simply can't afford a new car or a Hawaiian vacation, in spite of all the whining that may ensue.  A failed parent (or president) doesn't want the kids to be mad at him, so he borrows the money.  In a family, this borrowing can lead to bankruptcy.  In a nation, it eventually leads to financial catastrophe.

It takes great strength of character to ignore whining from your kids or your political base.  As a parent, I can tell you it's very tempting to give in, just to make the whining stop.  That's precisely why kids and voters whine.  Right now Speaker Boehner is being bombarded by whining from the president, the Democrats, and the media.  If he gives in, the whining will stop, at least temporarily.  But America will be teetering ever closer to the edge of the fiscal cliff.  And the president, the Democrats, and the media will have learned only one thing: whining works.

A successful parent does not play one kid against the other.  The children of good parents know they are loved, unconditionally and equally.  A failed parent says, "Why can't you be more like your sister?" and "Your brother never disappoints me like you do."  A failed president doesn't consider all Americans equal.  Instead he talks about fat-cat bankers, rails against greedy Wall Street hedge fund managers, and refers to Republicans as enemies.

Successful parents raise their kids to become independent adults.  It's a bit of a paradox, but good parents realize they've succeeded when their children no longer need them.  Failed presidents, however, mark success by how many more Americans have become dependent upon government.  A perfect illustration is hearing the president brag about the provision in ObamaCare mandating that insurance companies keep adult children on their parents' policies until they're 26 years old.

This is what we've come to, twenty years after Denton Walthall's question.  The country of rugged individualists who defeated the Soviet Union and became the world's lone superpower is ecstatic over the opportunity to remain children on parents' health insurance until age 26.

But I see a spark of hope for America -- a new declaration of independence.  It's called the Tea Party.  In 2009, millions of conservatives awakened.  In 2010, they seemed to rise up with one voice and shout, We are not your children!  Hopefully, in 2012, the era of Presidential Parenting will be over.

Carol Peracchio is a registered nurse.

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