How do today's politics affect our children?
Thousands lined the streets, many crying unabashedly as the solemn procession marched up Park Avenue. Confetti papered the air and mingled with tears. I was hoisted up on my father’s shoulder and took in the powerful emotions of the day. Those are the memories that remain of that long ago time.
This emotional gathering was honoring President Franklin D. Roosevelt, just 63 years old when he died April 15, 1945. The historical relevance of this event was well beyond my 3-year-old sensibilities, yet the deep mourning and the sounds of wailing that penetrated the air were not. Early impressions, such as mine of the Roosevelt commemorative these many decades later, are lasting.
By the time I entered school, the end of war euphoria had been replaced by threat of Communism and Cold War suspicion. As a student, I was made to practice hiding under a desk in case of a nuclear attack. The Xenophobia of this period created an atmosphere where conformity and fear of the Russian menace reigned; unseen enemies loomed larger than life.
Vice President-elect Richard M. Nixon’s “Checkers speech” given Sept. 23, 1952 remains a brilliant example of the era and the first time television broadcast a mea culpa of an official. This speech triumphal for Nixon established him as innocent every man, whose struggles mirrored theirs and whose life vicious unseen enemies, many from the media, relentlessly picked upon. Sound familiar?
What has changed over the decades since Nixon’s confessional is the wide-ranging power of media to disperse information? During the endless political campaigns of the present, essence is relegated to insult, and information told in sound bites and campaign slogans; the mundane has become sensationalized.
What impact will the viciousness and cruel barbs that now so commonly resonate throughout our culture have on the young? They are growing up at a time when respectful attitudes towards differences are non-existent where relying on vitriol and innuendo is a diversion.
Making informed decisions necessitates working one’s way through all claims and counter claims. What impressions are today’s politics leaving on our children? How can we help children have a better impression in a world where powerbrokers and consultants create brands by mudslinging without giving full focus on issues?
The political is never far from the personal. Two issues that shape my decisions are the need for strict gun control laws and the rights of animals. The still lax gun laws in this country have resulted in thousands of innocent deaths and random acts of violence. Think of Virginia Tech and Columbine and how easy it was for the unstable individuals to purchase guns over the Internet.
My own life portfolio makes the issue of gun control and not aggrandizing acts with guns even more personal. As a teenager, a jealous boyfriend murdered an acquaintance; she was just 18 years old. Years later, as the head of a therapeutic preschool at a highly regarded hospital in New York, one student was living in foster care as both parents were incarcerated. During play therapy sessions, she constantly enacted seeing her mother shoot and kill her infant sister. This 4-year-old child spent her short lifetime being abused by this same parent who suffered the same from the father of her children.
Another young student witnessed her father killing her mother, and, again, a gun had fallen into the wrong hands. Still later, I worked with a group of high-risk teenagers, one of whom was making considerable progress towards a GED. She did not show up for school for several days, and I became concerned. A colleague brought in the local paper, and there was my student on the front page. She had been sitting in a park with her boyfriend when a stranger came out of the darkness and shot them both. She survived, but having been shot in the neck, now faced months of rehabilitation.
In 1952, the same year as Richard Nixon’s “Checkers” speech, the late Cleveland Amory founded the Friends of Animals. This organization is widely respected and has contributed to this nation’s understanding of animal rights. This past Sept. 8, the Friends of Animals Web site reproduced an article originally written for Salon.com about the Alaskan policy of gunning down wolves from planes. The article describes the rationale for this policy was that wolves were better at killing elks and moose than humans, and to make room for hunters, the wolves should be killed.
Sport was made of shooting wolves from helicopters. These random acts of violence against the wolf recently were extended by putting a bounty on wolves killed, the killings to be proven by returning from the hunt with their severed mitts or paws.
With the vicious back in forth we the public have been subjected to in recent political campaigns, perhaps the only way to make our own informed decision is by self-examination and sifting the truth from the scam. What appears appealing on the surface may be far less so.
The questions that need to be asked are important and go far beyond lipstick, eyeglasses, and workout times.
My ruminations for this month’s column began with my childhood memories of attending a Franklin D. Roosevelt memorial parade. The significance of that historic moment is that may have been one of the last gatherings when lasting impressions were made on one’s own and not the result of propaganda written by highly paid consultants and filtered through the media.