Conservatives have a knack for phrasing issues in a way that leaves the opposition appearing to hate families and children. Progressives must learn to defuse and reframe the issues in ways that expose the Republican agenda for what it is. What will become of the children if we fail?
Children, arguably the least powerful people among us, also have the most at stake when it comes to the messes we create for their future. They can’t vote. They have minimal economic leverage. Their best hope, perhaps, lies in trying to convince the grownups not to completely muck things up. Have you noticed, though, how easily people with regressive agendas turn children into political footballs? It’s practically a cliché. Anytime I see an overwrought opinion piece asking what will become of the children, I start looking for the social/fiscal conservative hook in the bait.
Take abortion, for example. When the social conservatives make another push for Kinder, Küche, Kirche culture, their go-to ammunition is always, “But what will become of the children?” Ignoring the need to heed both sides of the balance sheet, they respond to any objection to repealing Roe v Wade by drowning it in tears for all the dead babies. Never mind that banning safe, legal abortion will result in the proliferation of dangerous, possibly fatal procedures for women who feel they have no other choice. Overlook the downward trend of abortions due to the increased availability of effective contraception. Completely miss that forcing unwilling women to play “host” means they have fewer rights than a stiffening corpse. The sacred qualities of purity and innocence, missing from women since about the time they got the vote, are now invested in embryos and fetuses.
Let’s assume for a moment, then, that they really do worry about what will become of the children. Taking their concern seriously means treating children like treasures. One of the Right’s champions of the cause is Betsy DeVos. Recently confirmed as Secretary of Education, DeVos advocates for charter schools. One could make the case that DeVos’s job isn’t necessarily defending public schools, but insuring the best learning environment. Apologists for DeVos lose credibility when one considers the outcomes of her policies, though. Charter schools failed to live up to the hype, generally producing outcomes equal to public schools or somewhat worse.
What charters do well, however, includes siphoning public funds into private pockets. This money could otherwise be spent improving public schools for everyone, rather than a cherrypicked few. The profit motive also incentivizes cost-cutting in ways that can harm students’ long term health. Built on cheap land, near busy, polluting roads, charters and schools serving poor and minority populations pose an additional risk to childrens’ wellbeing. What will become of the children after years of inhaling soot and benzene?
School lunch: Is $1.50 a child enough? by CNNMoney
If it were all about the children, we’d also want to feed them properly. Despite Rush Limbaugh’s famous assertion that hungry kids should simply open that unwanted can of corn in the pantry or eat some of the Twinkies their parents surely keep stocked, many kids still rely on free breakfasts and lunches at school to get them through the day. One program enabling more children to eat, the Community Eligibility Provision, allows especially poor districts to freely feed all students. Eliminating extra paperwork helps put more money towards nutritious food and the labor needed to prepare it. You might think that conservatives would value shrinking bureaucracy while feeding precious children, but in reality, not so much. Republican lawmakers will likely weaken the Community Eligibility Provision (dubbed “welfare for middle-class kids”) under the Trump administration.
Whatever the battle of the moment, conservatives manage to frame it as something we must do for the children. Want to shame and punish women for the crime of sex? Cry about the babies and defund Planned Parenthood! Want to dismantle public schools, rolling back educational standards until we can teach kids Jesus rode a dinosaur? Preach school choice, vouchers, and charters as a way to save education! Want to cut taxes for the wealthy and privatize the commons so the “right” children are left behind? End the free meals that help the poorest children study and thrive by claiming it’s a moral hazard. Conservatives have a knack for phrasing issues in a way that leaves the opposition appearing to hate families and children. Progressives must learn to defuse and reframe the issues in ways that expose the Republican agenda for what it is. What will become of the children if we fail?