In her first appearance as a presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton spoke at a community center while holding the hand of small child. Nancy Pelosi has said that when she took the Speaker's gavel, she took it "from the hands of the special interests and (put it) into the hands of America's children." Sen. Barbara Boxer recently belittled Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice because Rice doesn't have children and therefore cannot appreciate the full impact of war the way Boxer can.
Of course, there's no draft, and Boxer doesn't have any kids in uniform, nor would they be eligible for a draft if there was one.
But all of that misses the message: Democrats love The Children.
Well, I don't.
In truth, I do love kids. But it's the "the" in The Children that's the problem. It transforms children into a principle for which any violation of limited government is justified.
Marion Wright Edelman, Hillary Clinton's old friend and colleague at the Children's Defense Fund, comes as close as any to being the architect or, more apt, the mother of this idea.
The CDF was launched in the early 1970s largely to push for more generous social welfare programs. But Edelman realized that welfare could be a hard sell. "When you talked about poor people or black people, you faced a shrinking audience," she said. "I got the idea that children might be a very effective way to broaden the base for change." The idea was as simple as it was brilliant: By making The Children the beneficiaries of welfare rather than the adults, the left could portray any attempt to curb the welfare state as "anti-child."
Ever since, liberals have argued that disagreements over policy are motivated by cartoonish animus toward kids. For example, when Bill Clinton finally signed Republican-backed welfare reform, the CDF called it an act of "national child abandonment," while Ted Kennedy denounced it as "legislative child abuse."
Such acrimony over welfare reform hardly translated into the Clinton administration abandoning its "do it for the children" approach to politics. Former Attorney General Janet Reno America's chief law enforcement officer always cast herself as the protector of children. "I would like to use the law of this land to do everything I possibly can," she declared when nominated, "to give to each of them the opportunity to grow to be strong, healthy and self-sufficient citizens of this country." If only al-Qaida had been targeting day-care centers, she might have paid more attention.
Hillary Clinton's entire approach to public policy, from her earliest days as a "children's rights advocate," has been grounded in the idea that political differences need to be put aside for the sake of The Children. In 1996 she proclaimed, "As adults we have to start thinking and believing that there isn't really any such thing as someone else's child. ... For that reason, we cannot permit discussions of children and families to be subverted by political or ideological debate."
But here's the thing: There really is such a thing as somebody else's child. I don't want to live in a country where there's no such thing as somebody else's child, because that means there's no such thing as my child. And the fact is, my child is mine and nobody else's (save, of course, for her mother). Almost as important, I don't want to live in a country where I am a "subversive" simply by offering political or ideological debate against this vision.
Of course, Clinton wasn't being entirely literal. But this approach is still pernicious. Like Edelman, Clinton seeks to silence disagreement by casting dissenters as "anti-child." And if you've read "It Takes a Village," you know that she thinks "children's issues" pretty much covers everything. Indeed, she thinks all children, rich and poor alike, are facing a "crisis" demanding government intervention from the day kids are born.
This sort of thing has real-world consequences. For example, Hillary Clinton's pet project in 1993, before she tackled health-care reform, was to "rationalize" child immunization by having the government "manage" the vaccination industry. The program was a disaster, chasing industry from research and development in children's vaccines. Perhaps if Clinton didn't see her critics as ogres, or if her critics weren't afraid of seeming like ogres, mistakes might have been avoided.
One of the tragic consequences of Bill Clinton's success in the 1990s is that Republicans decided to mimic it. This is where "compassionate conservatism" and the No Child Left Behind Act come from. (The NCLB phrase is a CDF slogan.)
Children are hugely important. But they shouldn't be a Trojan horse for policies you can't sell fair and square. If saying so makes me anti-child, so be it.