I’m seeing them again this election season. Little headlines in parenting magazines, mentions in the preschool newsletter, even casual comments in the e-mails of friends who have small kids. “Vote for your children,” they say, or “Vote for kids!” or “Cast your ballot for the future generation.” I know they mean well. All they want is for this country to be a good place for our youngsters, clean environment and quality schools or whatever. But they have no idea what a dangerous game they’re playing.
Two years ago I was like these people. My son Pete was 4 years old and my daughter Lucy had just turned 2. I wanted them to have every opportunity in life and I thought it not just important but crucial for me to campaign on their behalf. “I’m voting for my kids,” I’d say to anyone who would listen. “I’m casting my vote with Pete and Lucy in mind.” How could I have expected what happened?
As all voters know, a lot of people heard me back then and overwhelmingly agreed with my sentiment. Lucy won an unexpected majority of votes, all write-in, and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Four-year-old Pete, meanwhile, was declared the surprise winner of the vacant Senate seat at 9:15 that night, an hour after passing out during yet another viewing of his well-worn Dora the Explorer videocassette. Without ever knowing that they had run, and without even knowing what the institution was, my kids were members of Congress.
Breakfast the next morning was awkward as we tried to convince the kids to eat their scrambled eggs and fruit even while they fielded questions from the crew of reporters that had waited in our carport all night (no, we told the news crews, we won’t wake up the newly elected). Within days, my wife and I had quit our jobs and were toting the two sleepiest and crankiest new policy-makers in Washington around D.C. trying to find a decent apartment within stroller range of their offices. While we waded through resumés and were beset by lobbyists, trying to assemble not one but two congressional staffs, my wife would often repeat my words back to me in a harsh and mocking tone: “Vote for the kids,” she’d say, shrilly; “I’m voting for my kids!” Her acrimony was deserved.
I must admit that even knowing them as I did, I held out hope that the kids would accomplish something. Sure, I had seen stubborn refusals to take baths, violent reactions to an improperly cut sandwich, and hysterical fits based on the necessity of leaving a given playground. None of those bode well for a career in public service, I knew that, but maybe the kids’ innocence and lack of guile would actually be a plus since they were beholden to no one and incapable of animosity. Did they quarrel? Sure, but it never turned into lingering grudges. Plus, I suspected they were both geniuses, although that’s just a dad thing.
Of course, the disastrous consequences of Lucy’s first term and the first two years of Pete’s are matters of public and congressional record and have been well chronicled, scathingly so, in our local papers. Pete’s legislative failures include the ill-advised “I want to be a stegosaurus” bill, the doomed “How about a purple floating house that eats space?” legislation, and the notorious “Everyone should have 14 dogs” plan that, despite getting some support from a few niche industries, was roundly and justly ridiculed long before it reached the floor. His tenure almost ended abruptly when a new dump truck presented by a crafty NRA lobbyist very nearly resulted in the most dramatic rollback of gun-control laws this country has ever seen. Pete got off with a public rebuke and a long “time out” for that one, although what was left of his political credibility was destroyed. Not that the senator cared.
Lucy’s performance, if this is even possible, was worse. While other members of the House were positioning themselves on committees and trying to serve their constituencies, 2-year-old Representative Lucy mostly stayed in her office, repeatedly putting the yarn-haired doll to “bed” while demanding that her staff read her Barney Goes to the Pet Shop. Again. Votes during session were even more embarrassing, as Lucy pretty much mimicked the vote of whoever was sitting next to her. Over time, House members looking to score one extra crucial vote would try to sit next to Lucy, partially to gain her vote and also, I suspect, because they kind of liked having her cuddle up in their lap. While Lucy amassed an increasingly opulent dollhouse empire thanks to moneyed political action committees, companies packed up and moved out of her district, incurring not the slightest objection from Washington. Needless to say, neither Lucy nor her brother Pete did a thing to help the cause of children in general, aside from the fleet of ponies that were unexpectedly appointed to Pete’s old daycare.
So now it’s two years later. Maybe Pete will be ready for re-election when he’s 10 years old and his term expires, although I’m certain he’ll do nothing in the next four years to deserve anyone’s votes, especially now that he’s discovered the Power Rangers. But I do know I’ll be voting for almost anyone before I vote for Lucy. Not only is she the most incompetent representative our district has ever had, but teacher Deana says she looks tired and unfocused in preschool. As Election Day looms, voters are again being told to “vote for our kids.” I say, fine. Go ahead, vote for your kids. Just please don’t vote for mine.