Unsurprisingly, in the realm of politics and public policy folks often say one thing while meaning something entirely different. For example, when a public official decides to retire to "spend more time with the family," you can almost always assume it is because he or she has decided running again would lead to certain defeat and retirement is a preferable option. It's not that elected officials don't value their families, or cherish time spent with them; rather the citing of family obligations is more often an excuse rather than a reason.
The most often used catch phrase — usually uttered when all other arguments have failed — is that it is "for the children." By throwing in that line the user immediately places any opponent on the defensive. After all, who among us is against children? It is a rare unifying trait that people of all political persuasions, ideologies and backgrounds care for their children. Among the admirable attributes of our society is that we universally strive to protect and nurture the youngest among us. So, by claiming a policy objective is "for the children" the user cloaks any argument in difficult to assail body armor.
Just like a politician retiring to spend time with one's family is cover, so too are arguments claiming a policy's end goal is "for the children." If the policy being advanced benefits children it is typically a by-product of the proponent's real goal, and not the central objective. We are all, of course, pleased when children benefit, even tangentially, so this argument often achieves the desired goal of garnering support.
President Obama recently gave interviews to major television networks bolstering his request for congress to authorize him to take military action against Syria. You might think bombing a third world nation even further back into the Stone Age would be detrimental to children, but not so! During his interviews the president claimed he was acting to "protect" the children of Syria from chemical weapons. It is true children were victims of the Assad regime's chemical attack, and nobody doubts President Obama wants to prevent further deaths — children or adult. But the driving factors behind the proposed Syrian attack have more to do with the regional power struggle underway in the mid-east and the Obama Administration's credibility on the world stage. Preventing the deaths of more children is certainly a goal, but one stated much more often as the other arguments fail.
Here in Penn's Woods teachers in a number of school districts are attempting to nurture young minds by going on strike. Pennsylvania is a perennial national leader in teacher strikes. This year organized labor is working hard to defend that title by staging several walk outs. Of course young Johnny and Suzie cannot prosper academically if their teacher doesn't get regular pay hikes and continue to receive Cadillac health insurance benefits without contributing a co-pay. Never mind that many moms and dads in the private sector have seen wages stagnate and health care costs escalate, teacher compensation is "for the children" therefore taxpayers must fork over whatever is asked.
The sad fact is teacher union contracts have virtually nothing to do with "the children." Former Governor Tom Ridge said it best when he claimed the next teacher union to care about the kids will be the first. Teacher unions are especially well positioned to play the "it's for the children" card, but in reality their main objective is the preservation of union power and the special privileges, like using school districts as dues collection agencies, they now enjoy. Teachers don't go on strike for better books or technology for the kids; they go on strike to enhance themselves economically.
The political Left is far more adept at playing the "it's for the children" card than the Right. Part of the Leftwing narrative is that conservatives don't care for children. This despite the fact conservative policy proposals are aimed at empowering parents and strengthening families. Actually, the Left uses the "it's for the children" line more frequently because all other rational arguments fail. Global warming revealed as junk science? OK, let's argue we must preserve the plant for our children. Congress set to reject military strikes on Syria? We must do it to save the children. School district unable to meet contract demands? They must do it "for the children.
So the next time you hear someone argue that a policy or political position is "for the children," stop, look deeper, because typically it is about anything and everything — BUT the children.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is email@example.com.)
Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.