"Mom, I have a question," my daughter says as she buckles her seat belt for the short ride to school. Usually when there's an introduction to the question, it's long and complicated. This one is short and complicated.
"What's the difference between Republicans and Democrats?"
Do I answer with a history lesson or a quick overview of the whole "red state, blue state" thing? I haven't had enough coffee for either reply, and besides, this is a topic my husband loves to address.
"Let's discuss that at dinner," I say, dodging the question.
I have spent the better part of a month driving my children about town while answering questions such as this about our political process. My children's curiosity is inspired by yard signs, billboards and radio ads, the combination of which have transformed my van into a mobile civics class.
Most of the time, I can come up with clear and concise explanations.
"What does gubernatorial mean?" (About the governor).
"Why are the voices on radio ads usually women?" (Because women listen to the radio and the candidates want women to vote for them).
"Why does that candidate have pink yard signs?" (Some questions have no good answer.)
"Why can't kids vote?" (Because you have too many questions.)
Believe it or not, at least one child-welfare expert believes children's suffrage would be a good way to promote the well-being of our youngest citizens. This expert is a college professor, so of course his notion has something to do with the fair "distribution of resources."
The idea that children could participate meaningfully in the political process suggests that all it takes to be a voter is a simplistic sense of self-interest. I would like to think it requires more than that, but sadly, the professor may have a point. Hmmm.
If children were permitted to vote, it seems only fair they also should be allowed to run for office. After all, it wouldn't be a truly representative form of government if children couldn't cast their ballots for those whose interests and opinions about the role of government reflect their own.
If this were possible, I can easily see Amy, my 9-year-old, running for Congress. Her platform? Nutrition, freedom and personal responsibility.
Children should have Oreo cookies for breakfast – and not sneak them, but really be allowed to eat them in the family room in front of the TV. After they eat the cream filling out of the inside, children should be free to put the remaining unwanted cookies under the sofa cushion. When the cookies are discovered, children should not have to accept personal responsibility for the mess.
Children should go to school only on the days when they want to go. If they're too tired when the alarm clock goes off at 7 in the morning, they should be free to just skip school or go later when it's almost time for recess.
Children should not be required to do a lot of boring chores such as making the bed, loading or unloading the dishwasher or bringing baskets of dirty clothes to the laundry room. Someone else should take personal responsibility for those jobs, especially if heavy lifting is involved.
I think Amy would run a polished campaign. She would articulate her opinions on the issues, and like all modern-day politicians, if she were tripped up by a tough question she would stay "on message."
(Example: "Amy, isn't it lazy and irresponsible to make someone else carry your dirty clothes to the laundry room?" Amy: "If parents loved their children, they would buy them new clothes, such as the really cute leggings worn by Disney's 'Cheetah Girls.' ")
All kidding aside, anyone who suggests that children should participate in our political process has never witnessed a student council election.
More important, he never has stayed up until after 10 on a school night helping to make posters for the important job of student body secretary.
Nor has he listened over and over to a campaign speech that highlights the candidate's organizational skills, typing speed and creative use of highlighter pens, only to scoop up that well-qualified candidate after school and hear about how the entire slate of popular girls won all the offices – even though they didn't bother to make posters.
Maybe I'm a voting snob, but some people don't have what it takes to make well-reasoned choices. We call these people "children."
Of course, even if they can't actually vote, my children love coming along with me to the polls. This is a great way to show them what it means to exercise my civic duty of participation. It also eliminates the prospect of "hanging chads" because the younger ones always want a turn to punch the stylus through the ballot card.
Tagging along with mom or dad is a learning opportunity. In contrast, investing children with a right to vote strikes me as the kind of preposterous suggestion you make when you elevate children to a place of unwarranted social status. Children's suffrage would be yet another outrageous result of a child-centric culture.
We adults ought to vote, and when we do, we ought to make choices that reflect our ideas about what's best for our communities, our country and our world. I just can't imagine the Founding Fathers envisioned us voting for whatever we think would most benefit our own children.
Then again, even if that was my goal, I'd be foiled because last time I checked there was no Proposal O (r-e-o) on the ballot.