Wednesday, October 26, 2005


I had the following prim thoughts yesterday as more news about the Libby/Cheney/Rove/Miller debacle became available. And as I had the President speaking to some friendly interest group about the Iraq War, Islamist fundamentalism, and etc., on CNN in the background. While I was shopping for boots on the Web. I didn't buy any boots. Not yet. I'm going to give some of my old shoes to my cousin. Really.

Robert can't speak, so we constantly forget to explain things to him. But Edith can talk, and she frequently asks questions. Now, neither kid really enjoys watching the news, which is pretty typical kid behavior. Although I'm sure that somewhere in Bethesda there are four- and five-year-olds who sit quietly watching CNN absorbing all kinds of political detail and writing summary memos for their parents to read when they come home from work. These are not my children.

I did force them to watch the PBS NewsHour for quite some time, figuring that children's programming (that's what my kids call it) had to be officially over at some point in the evening. I like the news, and I like the NewsHour. It is the only truly intelligent news program on television. But we had to stop watching it because it comes on at the dinner hour and the just after dinner hour when the kids are running around (or, actually, it's just Edith running around, and she is often running around Robert who basically sits still). Because all those beheadings were going on. And it was really upsetting. And that on top of the constant bombings and dead soldiers. So the children's programming hour was extended. And now we are forced to catch up on the news by watching CNN's NewsNight, which is a little vapid. In the new, extended 2 hour version of NewsNight, they manage to cover even less news. In fact, content-wise, they cover about 20 minutes worth of what the NewsHour covers. In two hours.

But the children's programming hour was not extended before Edith asked me an important question. The New York Times art section was on the table, with a large picture of the newly restored David on the front. Edith looked at that and said, "Mommy, can I ask you a question? Is that a naked prisoner?" And I said, "No, Edith, that's the most important example of neoclassical sculpture in the world." And she said, "Oh. I thought it was a naked prisoner."

So you can see why we turned off the news. But I do keep wondering, primly, how it is that I am going to talk to my children, especially Edith, about not only morality, but good behavior, when the president of the United States refuses to admit that he has made any mistakes. When he prizes loyalty to his friends above the risks of associating with people who are behaving unethically. When he considers lies and slander an acceptable method of dissminating information. When he bad-mouths people who disagree with him, not really dissecting their arguments, but just bad-mouthing them. When he won't appear in front of or speak directly to people who disagree with him. When he thinks that insisting on his own way, even if he has to force other people against their will to go along is an acceptable way to behave.

Basically, the president of the United State behaves like a classic school-yard bully. And so do his minions. I would like to point to the president and tell my kids, that's the way you behave--you behave with honor, even when faced with difficult situations. You do your best. You do not resort to bullying or bad-mouthing. When you make a mistake, you own up to it. You take responsibility for your actions.

I feel uncomfortable having to use the president as an example of how I do not want Edith to behave. Or Robert. But that's where they are. As they grow and do start to absorb more of the things that go on in the world, as their classmates start to become aware of them and talk about them, I will have to use this Administration as an example of bad behavior that is not to be emulated.

We can all point to aspects of the Clinton Administration that should not be emulated, either, but at least Bill issued a public apology about Monica. And he talked to people he didn't agree with. And he issued a public face of respect for the majority of people he encountered in his public life. And so did George Herbert Walker Bush. And, frankly, so did Ronald Reagan. I am not a Reagan fan, but at least the man was collegial, respectful of his fellow Americans (mostly), and so on. Yes, there was Iran-Contra, and yes, playing by the rules is extremely important, but I'm talking more right now about personal behavior and personal carriage. I don't forgive Reagan for Iran-Contra, though.

What is wrong with George W. Bush? Why can't he behave like a grownup? And I don't think this observation of mine is necessarily simple-minded or naive.

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