Episode 19: party lines
We've just been through a tight presidential election here in the US, and my son Nicholas is something of a political junkie. Or what passes for a political junkie when you are seven years old. He recently went on a tour of the White House as part of a family trip to Washington, DC. He dressed up as Uncle Sam for Halloween, and during one of our recent Saturday night family dinners, he informed me, "My friend Freddie's dad is tired of Barack Obama stealing all his money. He's voting for Mitt Romney."
This is the price you pay for providing your children with a forum for developing their table talk.
"I think your friend Freddie's dad is a Republican," was my response.
"How do you know?"
"Barack Obama is not breaking into Freddie's house at night and stealing money out of his dad's wallet."
"Are you sure?"
"Trust me. What Freddie's dad is talking about are taxes. He probably thinks he pays too much tax, and so the way he describes that feeling to Freddie is by saying that the president is taking his hard-earned money away from him."
What ensued was a conversation during which I tried to explain that taxes are not just some pirate booty that the president demands. Taxes pay for police, firemen, bridges and highways. "But the highways around here are pretty junkie," Nicholas said, in between bites of one of his new signature side dishes - a baguette with melted mozzarella. "I think I'm going to vote for Mitt Romney, too."
After Nicholas announced he was voting for Romney, his sister announced, 'I am voting for John Paul', the blond-haired three-year-old in her nursery class
Perhaps some background about our approach to parties - both political and dinner - is in order.
Since my wife, Honor, and I have jobs that often preclude us from getting home to eat with our kids during the week, we like to give our sit-downs a sense of occasion. On Saturday mornings, we'll draw up a menu that will ever so slightly push Nicholas and his three-year-old sister, Alexandra, out of their culinary comfort zones (think sautéed chicken breasts with mushrooms and sherry rather than chicken fingers). We'll shop at our local erotically upscale grocery store. Maybe even source the meat from a standalone butcher. We'll also purchase a bottle for Mummy and Daddy from a town in France you've heard of rather than the usual cirrhosis-inducing rotgut that adds just that extra bit of enthusiasm to my midweek readings of Curious George.
No, the Man in the Yellow Hat is not George's daddy. He's just the Man in the Yellow Hat. I don't think he's married. I don't know whether George uses the potty or just poops outside. Anyway, back to the story...
At our family dinner parties, while my children speed through their entrées as if they were little Eurostar trains and desert were the Gare du Nord, I do the same with the red wine and enjoy what comes out of their mouths. After Nicholas announced that he was voting for Romney, his sister got a little dreamy and then announced, "I am voting for John Paul."
Who is John Paul you might ask?
John Paul is the blond-haired three-year-old in her nursery class whom she stares at with a look that women of a certain age once reserved for Robert Redford.
In terms of politics, I'm thrilled that my son and my daughter have opinions, even if they are about as fact based and elegantly reasoned as the average TV pundit's, but it is also a slightly scary thing watching what could become a lifelong belief system in a nascent form. I don't expect Nicholas' politics to be the same as mine. In a way I'd be disappointed if they were. Mine were different from those of my parents. My mother was a registered Liberal, which in a two-party nation composed primarily of Democrats and Republicans, was a statement.
Like many a young man who read Ayn Rand before he lost his virginity, I was drawn in my youth to the Republicans. But neither party has ever been a perfect fit. Like most sane people, I'm a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. I'm for full-frontal capitalism between consenting adults and no government regulation in people's personal lives.
In terms of politics, I'm thrilled that my son and my daughter have opinions, even if they are about as fact based and elegantly reasoned as the average TV pundit's
In my thirties, I switched my party allegiance. I crossed the aisle the day that George W Bush, then a presidential candidate, chose Dick Cheney as his running mate. My wife, a lifelong Democrat, seemed pleased. Or as she put it, "As they get older, smart people become more liberal. Dumb people become more conservative."
When Nicholas dropped the bombshell that he was a Republican, we didn't judge him or try to dissuade him from his choice. The lad has his reasons. "Dad, two of the greatest presidents the country has ever had - Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt - were Republicans. Why wouldn't you want to be a Republican? Just think of all the money you'd save in taxes."
I tried to explain to him that today's Republican Party is not the party of Lincoln and Roosevelt, but when I started talking about how Republicans would like to deport his best friend's nanny (and my wife shot me a look), he was allowed to win the debate.
At this point all I care about is that he realises living in a democracy is a privilege and the price of admission is remaining well informed, and voting. A chance to dissuade our young Republican arrived in the mail a few days before the election. In anticipation of his trip to the White House earlier in autumn, Nicholas had written a letter to the president and stuffed it in his bag. In the note he had suggested that President Obama put a quick end to the war in Afghanistan "because war is bad for the economy".
When Nicholas failed to catch Michelle, Sasha, Malia and Barry Obama having their pancakes at the breakfast table during his tour, he asked the concierge at The Jefferson Hotel to mail his letter to the president for him. A few weeks later, as I walked in the door from work one night, Nicholas came running up to me with a letter he had received from the President. It was a form letter and began "Dear Student," but it was on official White House stationary and signed by Obama himself. In the letter he encouraged Nicholas that "through academic achievement and service, young people like you will accomplish great things as you lead America in the 21st century."
"Nicholas this is fantastic. You should keep this. Frame it. Someday when you're old, you'll like looking at this."
"Did you ever write the president when you were my age? Who was president then?"
"Oh, yeah, you probably wouldn't want that guy on your wall today."
To read Mr Brodie's previous columns, click here. Follow Mr Brodie on Twitter @jbrodieny