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While I was watching the debate last night, my stepdaughter and her friend came into the room. They were instantly thrilled that “a girl” was on stage and began cheering for her to win. I told them there was another girl in the other party, so it could end up as girl versus girl. Then I had to explain this debate was just among one party, and the other party would have their debates (like the playoffs). Then the winner from each party would debate, and at the end we’d pick a president (like the Superbowl).
Then they wanted to understand the difference between the two parties.
This question has come up before. This time I was prepared. I’m married to a public school teacher who has some conservative leanings but is a pretty solid Democrat. Her kids naturally tend to want to be Democrats as well and give me a hard time for being a Republican. I think it’s best to present both sides in as positive a light as possible; that is, to follow Milton Friedman’s approach of always assuming people of opposing ideologies have the most virtuous intentions.
My first answer was in jest: Republicans are for ice cream and Democrats are for broccoli. They knew I was kidding and asked me to be serious. So I said Republicans care more about liberty and Democrats care more about justice. I thought of this answer when my stepson was sliding down a hill in the winter and screamed, “With liberty and justice for all!” That reminded me school kids today are still familiar with those terms from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
My stepdaughter and her friend asked me to explain a little more. I said Democrats tried to make everything fair, while Republicans preferred to let people sort things out on their own. As expected, both girls immediately said “Yes, I want to make everything fair, too! I’m a Democrat!” Within a few seconds they started to realize (without me saying anything) that everything can’t be “fair.” (I think at this point they understand “fair” as “equal”). They even came up with their own examples, such as, “All the jobs can’t be fair, someone gets to have the nice jobs but someone has to do the grubby jobs.”
I think this resonates with our kids because while they’re young, they’re constantly worried about “fairness.” (“If my brother gets a cookie, then I should get one too, right?”) But as they get older, they learn that “everything being equal” doesn’t work. Our son plays football and is playing on every down, while some kids play a lot less. Our daughter gets to be a leader on her dance team because she’s talented and can remember the steps. I think they’re both starting to see that when they work hard at something and succeed more than their peers as a result, it’s obviously not “equal,” but they probably wouldn’t call it unfair.
My hope is that as they grow more interested in politics, they’ll start to differentiate between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome. I hope I’ve planted a seed towards that understanding.Published in