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The number of US soldiers currently deployed in Iraq is roughly equal to double the attendance at Barack Obama's rally in Portland, OR on May 20, 2008.

I've heard other parents say that talking to their kids about procreation is the hardest conversation they have. That conversation was a breeze. Tonight, I had the most serious conversation I've yet had with my 7 year old son.

More serious than the conversation about why his dad and I divorced (mostly because that happened when he was 4). More serious than the conversation about not talking to strangers (mostly because that happened when he was 3). More serious than the conversation about how important it is to tell the truth so that people are inclined to believe you rather than doubt you.

He asked me why George Bush was president, and he is too smart to take "because more people voted for him," for an answer. His immediate follow-up question was, "Why did so many people vote for him when he's such a bad president?"

My son was less than a year old on September 11, 2001.

I will never in my life forget his father waking me with the words, "A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center." We didn't know yet what had happened; it was a tragedy of epic proportions, but not yet one with a motive.

I recently took a trip down memory lane -- not something that I do willingly, because I am not much given to dwelling on the past except as a way to guide myself through the present and toward the future -- by going to and reading some of the archives from that day, and the days following.

Then I went back and read the headlines from late October and early November of 2004.

So when my son asked me, "Why did so many people vote for him when he's such a bad president?" that question, and its answer, were fresh in my mind.

When people are afraid, they fear change

I began by describing to him, for the first time, what happened on September 11, 2001. He stared at me while I described airplanes full of fuel flying straight into the World Trade Center. He didn't really have a sense of what nearly 3,000 dead meant, so we started looking around on google images for crowds of that size. He went completely silent when we found a good representative photograph.

I explained that a group of people -- not representatives of a country, but representatives of an ideology -- attacked the United States by crashing the planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I told him about how we didn't know why it had happened at first, and about how President George W. Bush had made swift decisions regarding how he intended to deal with the threat. I explained that what George W. Bush did wasn't exactly related to what had happened, but people saw him taking action and they were united, because they were afraid, and they wanted to hit back. I described how Saddam Hussein was an easy target, because he had risen to power again after being rebuked in Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm.

After taking this all in, my son asked me why al Qaeda had not simply gone straight to the source and attacked George W. Bush. And so I had to explain to him the concept of terrorism: the idea that if you make millions of people afraid for their own lives, you have more power than if you simply take the life of one person, no matter how important he may be.

And I took the narrative up through 2004, when George W. Bush ran against John Kerry, and I told my son about how just before the elections the terror "threat level" was increased, making people afraid again, and they were afraid of change and many of them voted out of fear to keep the president who had gone swiftly after an enemy than for the person who had wanted to change the way we ran our own country. I explained also that people had been trying to paint John Kerry as less of an heroic soldier than he had been, and how that made people doubt Kerry's ability to manage the military, in spite of all of Bush's failings as Commander in Chief. We talked about what the saying "the devil you know" means.

Re-establishing old friendships

The discussion dovetailed; I explained that John McCain wanted to do many of the things George Bush had been doing, not just in terms of the economy (which my son understands more than any 7 year old should), but in terms of the war in Iraq.

I explained that in addition to all of the reasons that matter to my son (not having to take standardized tests twice a year and spend the rest of the year preparing for them, knowing that he would be able to go to college, being guaranteed the right to go see a doctor if he got sick no matter whether I kept my job and my health insurance or not), I was working so hard for Barack Obama and taking him along with me when I volunteered because we really needed to change the country's direction.

He asked me, "If Barack Obama is president, will al Qaeda not hate the United States anymore?"

And oh, here's the sticking point. We really know the answer to that question, don't we? If we're honest about extremist ideology, the answer is "no."

But right now, we are a nation divided from our allies over weighty issues. We, through the leadership of George W. Bush, continue our efforts in a war on "terrorism" which generates only ill will, we ignore those who should be our allies in Latin America in a policy that allows anti-American sentiment and leaders to gain greater credibility, and we ignore the plight of our own citizens on our own soil. We are, thanks to the leadership of George W. Bush, a terrible example. Worse, we are a terrible friend.

Finally we were in territory that I could explain using analogies. If you're getting picked on at school, I asked my son, what helps more -- sticking with your friends, or lashing out at everybody? He's learned this lesson himself, so he finished my thought regarding how important good friends are when some people try to give you a hard time. And having gone through a phase of lashing out at everybody, he also understood without prompting that in order to keep a circle of protection against bullies, you have to be a good friend to the people who will protect you.

"So," he said, chewing on a fingernail and watching the cat watch the squirrels outside, "If Barack Obama is president, he'll be a better friend and so his friends will stick up for him against al Qaeda?"

That's the hope, isn't it?

Fighting the right battles

Still, he wasn't satisfied with how the Iraq war played into the Bush re-election situation. He wanted to know why we had soldiers fighting there. We talked about how Bush thought that Saddam Hussein had weapons that could kill thousands more people, and so he went into Iraq believing he could head off another such attack, but al Qaeda had moved into Iraq from Afghanistan (where we also had soldiers, along with a multinational coalition). That was when he asked me how many soldiers were in Iraq, and we mashed together the crowd shot from Portland for perspective. We were in that crowd. He fell silent.

"Twice as many people as were at the park?" he finally asked, in a small voice.

My son has second cousins who are permanently disabled after serving in Iraq. He has a great-uncle who served three tours in Vietnam and is still in close contact with active servicemembers who serve in Afghanistan. He's heard the family talk before about the difference between what's reported on the news and what's really going on, and about how much harder it is for soldiers in Afghanistan. But the pieces finally fell together for him, from the stuff he'd heard me talk about while canvassing and volunteering, from the news broadcasts, from the bits of stump speeches he's watched with me. "We're not fighting with the right people at all, are we?" he mused.

It all seemed so simple to me

I wrote this diary in part because I wanted to go back through the process of explaining this year's election and the last two elections to someone my son's age. It seemed really simple to me: what choice was the right one, why hope is a more important motivator than fear, how critical it is that we not repeat or compound our mistakes in foreign policy and diplomacy. I'm no expert, but still I'm the antithesis of a low-information voter.

And yet these are the conversations we're going to be having between now and November. Not conversations amongst ourselves about who's a more worthy standard-bearer for our party. It goes back to what Fineman said on his book tour last month: we have to re-argue the first principles that make us who we are. We have to make people understand, even if it takes language simple enough for a child, what motivates their decisions when they vote. That's something that a Democratic candidate can set the stage for in a stump speech or a debate or an interview on television, but the real work is left to us in our family rooms and barbershops and coffehouses and at the water cooler.

It's worse to be misled than to be wrong

Many of us, myself included, live in a kind of progressive-politics bubble where we can convey a great deal of nuance and information through a few well-chosen references. That doesn't work outside the bubble.

We can't speak in code. We can't just say "Swift Boat" and expect everyone we meet to understand what it means. We can't rely solely on a coalition of new voters to deliver the electoral votes in November. And we can't simply tell people it'll be better if they vote Democrat and that's the end of their obligation, because we here in the bubble know it takes more than filling out the ballot.

I've had the wrong approach for too long. Here in the bubble, I'm haughty when anyone suggests they'll vote for McCain. I can spit out a litany of code words designed to make any true progressive twitch: Roe v. Wade, equal pay, G.I. Bill, Mission Accomplished, Sunni or Shiite?, the real leader of Iran, trollop, waterboarding. But even moderate-information voters won't get all of those references, and moreover, they aren't immediately inclined to recoil at all of them.

We can't approach this election from the point of view that people who voted for Bush were wrong. That's a guaranteed way to get them to stop listening. But we can approach it from the point of view that people who voted for Bush were misled. I truly believe we all were -- even my military family agree that the military and the American public were misled in the rationale for the war in Iraq, and that we continue to be misled on a daily basis about what happens in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If I can convince my seven year old that Bush is a bad president, but the people who elected him aren't bad people, maybe I can convince a few of those voters, too.

Originally posted to Saska on Sun May 25, 2008 at 07:30 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The good news (28+ / 0-)

    is that the kiddo can pretty much make his own canvassing pitch now.

    You're in debt and completely fooled that you can look in the mirror and objectively rank your wounds --DCFC

    by Saska on Sun May 25, 2008 at 07:32:54 PM PDT

    •  I live in PDX (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and was also at the rally, with my neighbors and their 6 yr old and 9 yr old kids.  They get it when someone bothers to explain it to them!  They really do!  Good on you for sitting down and taking the time-- Hope I run into you at the next big rally!


    •  Tipped and recced (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      This is a lovely, eloquent, and wonderful post.  Kudos to you for treating this conversation with your son with such intelligence and respect.

      Makes me a little sad, thinking back to my own childhood, and my questions about politics and religion being answered with blunt "Because God says . . ." ultra-conservative absolutisms and no real context.

      Maybe not such a bad thing in retrospect; I was still pretty young when I got fed up with those answers and made up my mind to keep asking the questions until I got satisfactory answers.  ;)  Still, it makes me smile to see parents handle those questions like you did.

  •  this needs to be rec'd up (6+ / 0-)

    I just emailed it around so hopefully it will be. My take on his post 9/11 popularity? It's a very comforting thought to believe that the President is strong and able to defend you. Denial is very, VERY powerful in helping people make themselves believe that thought.

    But now? Well, it's been a while. They aren't falling for it in the same way. There were a lot of dirty tricks that went into 2004. But there are also a lot of "conservatives without conscience" to use John Dean's term for it. George Lakoff would say they follow the Strict Father frame and that's how they see the country and the world. I think both are useful to read and learn from.

  •  Great Diary (3+ / 0-)

    For the longest time I had as my notation under my name a comment referring to Bush and his henchmen and the Hague.

    Mislead for sure...and let us never forget PNAC.

    Think Tank. "A place where people are paid to think by the makers of tanks" Naomi Klein.

    by ohcanada on Sun May 25, 2008 at 07:39:41 PM PDT

  •  Well done (4+ / 0-)

    It's amazing how the simplest things are the hardest to explain, but the complicated "grown-up stuff" is really very simple.

    Your son has a good mommy.

    "Fascism should rather be called corporatism, as it is the merging of government and corporate power." --Benito Mussolini

    by revelwoodie on Sun May 25, 2008 at 07:41:26 PM PDT

  •  Because monsters are REAL!!!...; ) (5+ / 0-)

    Dudehisattva... <div style="color: #0000a0;">"Generosity, Ethics, Patience, Effort, Concentration, and Wisdom"&l

    by Dood Abides on Sun May 25, 2008 at 07:42:01 PM PDT

  •  i remember my mom explaining Viet Nam to me (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OrangeClouds115, noddem, Saska, Amber6541

    when I was seven.

    in 1964.

    she told me a lot of other stuff too, and one thing that really stands out in my memory is when she said: Republicans try to keep people from voting because when lots of people vote the Democrats always win because there are a lot more Democrats in this country than Republicans.

    In 1964 we had such huge Congressional margins that was easy to believe, and we thought it would always be that way...

    what an exciting time to be talking politics with children!  seven is the threshold of the age of reason--when he is just about ready to start to contemplate big questions of right and wrong and understand complex situations that have no easy answers.

    Politics is like driving. To go backward, put it in R. To go forward, put it in D.
    Give to Populista's Obamathon 2.0!

    by TrueBlueMajority on Sun May 25, 2008 at 07:44:12 PM PDT

    •  funny how you always remember the simple (7+ / 0-)

      explanations your parents give you as a kid. My attitudes on censorship come largely from a local debate about having Playboy in the public libraries when I was a little kid. I was SHOCKED my mom was against taking Playboy out of the library. I asked why and she said: Well, I like to read Bon Appetit. If they can take away Playboy, what stops them from taking away Bon Appetit? Good point, Mom.

    •  It's a War but Not a War? (0+ / 0-)

      I remember my brother trying to explain that one to me at 5 he was 8. I just couldn't understand how policing action was any different than war when the bodies piled up the same. Iraq was never declared either. Somebody needs to tell the dead that they are not war dead????????????????????Did you write to congress members demanding an end to the war today? I find it helpful to tie the war debt to the devaluing of the dollar to the increase in inflation to the collapse of our economy when giving our stupid leaders a clue.

  •  i was just a little older than your son (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OrangeClouds115, foolknot

    when the whole Monica Lewinsky thing came out.  My parents had a hard time explaining that to me...

  •  Because bad people break laws (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Man Called Gloom

    he STOLE the Presidency - twice

    by keeping some people from ever voting

    by not counting the votes cast by other people

    by deliberately altering the results of voting in some places

    I once would not have believed all of this to be so but too much has come to light over the past 7 years NOT to think this.

  •  Because Adults are stupid (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Excellent diary

    Free the Pokemon!

    by Krush on Sun May 25, 2008 at 07:55:32 PM PDT

  •  Becuase sometimes cheaters prosper (0+ / 0-)

    We must be vigilant to stop Republicans from lying and cheating this year. Cheaters prosper if we let them.

    "It's the planet, stupid."

    by FishOutofWater on Sun May 25, 2008 at 07:57:09 PM PDT

  •  Because he Cheated.... WOW.. Look at RECOUNT!!! (0+ / 0-)
  •  Speaking of "terror alerts".... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Saska, foolknot

    when was the last time these were mentioned anywhere??? What an absolute crock. Oh oh...I just might have pushed us into orange!!

  •  The connections of 9/11 (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I try myself to move on, but the events of that awful day continue to echo throughout my life, and your diary has connected me to you, in a very real and personal way.

    I write this reply after watching the HBO movie "Recount" with my wife and 15 year old son.  What might have happened if Vice-President Gore had been President, instead of the malignancy that has grown in the White House these past 8 years?

    My son was almost nine that day - I was on my commuter bus to NYC, on the way to my job on the 103rd floor of Two World Trade Center (now known as the South Tower).  The bus turned around with a strange announcement from the driver - "New York City is closed - I have no further information on this - we are returning to the Delaware Water Gap bus terminal."   I turned on a portable radio I had and heard reports of planes crashing into the World Trade Center.  Passengers on the bus started to lean in to hear the radio, which kept fading out as we drove west back to Pennsylvania.

    I remember hurrying to his school to pick him up - knowing that they had TV's in the classrooms, and worrying that he would hear about the World Trade Center.  I asked the vice-principal to have the teachers turn off the TV's until children were picked up .  He agreed. I made a film about that day.

    "Things Changed Forever"

    As I watched the HBO show tonight, I let fly more than a few words normally bleeped when shielded by a seven second delay.  My son said, "why are you still angry?"

    I said this was righteous anger, and I would put it to good use.  It'll keep me fired up and ready to go, because the crap that happened that year will not happen again.

    Not this time!

    In Hope and in Peace,

    Jim Lyons
    Camp Obama - Chicago "Sweet 16" class - August 2007

    "Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair." - George Washington

    by PoconoPCDoctor on Sun May 25, 2008 at 08:31:14 PM PDT

    •  Thanks for that. I hadn't seen it. (0+ / 0-)

      Yours is a connection to the event that is especially harrowing. We are fortunate that you are with us and still fighting the right battles.

      You're in debt and completely fooled that you can look in the mirror and objectively rank your wounds --DCFC

      by Saska on Sun May 25, 2008 at 08:43:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  One thing about explaining things (3+ / 0-)

    to children, is you take them at their word. Its not a stupid question, they really want to know the answer. Sometimes it is hard to do this with adults. Its hard not to think "that's a stupid question" or wonder at the motive for starting a discussion. We might get further, with the low information voters especially, if we could take a question or comment for what it is, and answer in a simple direct way. Thanks for the diary.

    •  You put that well. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Night Train

      Maybe I'm speaking in code when I say that it's worse to be misled than to be wrong. After all, what it comes down to is that we have to show people how they were wronged through misdirection in order to get them to consider that the other side might be offering more truth.

      There will always be those who fall through the cracks, distrust everyone equally, and stick with the devil they know, though.

      You're in debt and completely fooled that you can look in the mirror and objectively rank your wounds --DCFC

      by Saska on Sun May 25, 2008 at 08:46:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Exactly. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Even with someone who expresses something racist or sexist, we may get further assuming they are repeating something they heard, and are actually a better person than their comment would lead you to believe. Obama does this. When speaking about McCain Obama said "he has lost his bearings". This implies he is a better person than his positions whould lead you to believe. I say the whole country has lost it's bearings.
        I have argued in several threads that we can't afford to write off the voters of appalachia for this same reason.
        Oh, I was in that crowd of 75000 also. What a day.

  •  It's a good sign that questions like these (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    are being asked by our young.

    •  I confess (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      greycat, Night Train, foolknot

      that the fact that our TV is on for only an hour a day, and that to watch Keith Olbermann, might have something to do with him wondering about it.

      Even better, today he asked me, "So, is George Bush still the president?" And looked totally annoyed when I said yes.

      You're in debt and completely fooled that you can look in the mirror and objectively rank your wounds --DCFC

      by Saska on Sun May 25, 2008 at 08:48:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Sadly we are a TV family... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        But mostly, to his credit, my son uses the DVR to record KO, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, etc.

        Otherwise, he plays WoW (World of Warcraft), goes skating with his friends, or rowboats on the lake near our house.  

        He's good kid and is also finally admitting that the Beatles wrote "some good songs."  Coming from a big AC/DC fan, this is a big step forward.

        Great diary - I rec'd it and hope you get rec'd to the FP.

        "Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair." - George Washington

        by PoconoPCDoctor on Sun May 25, 2008 at 08:56:14 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  My 6 yr old (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        asked the same thing. She knows we just voted and she knows Obama won in Oregon, so why is George Bush still president? It is a little hard to explain such a long and convoluted process.

        •  My little man (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          greycat, foolknot

          has been in this with me since February when we caucused in Washington (4 hours, and I didn't even stay for the whole thing, just until we'd elected delegates from our precinct).

          He knows we're in it until November. He says that I'd better get President Obama for my birthday or else he knows I'm just going to be a grump all month.

          You're in debt and completely fooled that you can look in the mirror and objectively rank your wounds --DCFC

          by Saska on Sun May 25, 2008 at 09:24:32 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Yes, yes, yes (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    greycat, Saska

    Many of us, myself included, live in a kind of progressive-politics bubble where we can convey a great deal of nuance and information through a few well-chosen references. That doesn't work outside the bubble.

    We can't speak in code. We can't just say "Swift Boat" and expect everyone we meet to understand what it means.

    This is so true. And even I, a moderate-information voter (the more I learn, the stupider I feel) often feel exhausted by the tendency of some posters at this site to communicate in code, jargon, and lazy abbreviations.

    It's my longstanding DKos pet peeve.

    I have a friend who's just now getting interested in this stuff. He likes Obama, but needs to become more informed on the issues. He asked me to recommend some websites, and I sent him a short list that included DKos.

    Later I asked his thoughts. He said: "Well, I like the Guardian, and The Nation, and also Democracy Now. But that Daily Kos site just gave me a headache. I couldn't make sense out of it."

    Why is he confused? It's because he doesn't know what MSM stands for, much less IOKIYAR. He doesn't know why "Swift Boat" is a bad thing because he doesn't know what it is. He didn't get the jokes about "wide stance" or "Mission Accomplished." He doesn't know who "McSame" is, or who "Tweety" is. He saw these terms thrown around on DKos, and had to work pretty hard to find any explanation for them.

    Sometimes people who live full-time inside the progressive-politics bubble seem to forget how mystifying their language can seem to an outsider. But the politics of this country is not supposed to be mystifying. It's everybody's business, not just the business of a certain group of people.

    I often wonder how much more powerful this site could be in influencing public opinion if it were just a little bit more public-friendly. That is, if people would write their diaries in a way that was intelligible not only to the DailyKos progressive in-crowd, but to the general American public as well. Just think, for example, if posters called Congress members by their full names on first reference (and maybe even gave title, state, and/or political party too, as a newspaper does) instead of just beginning a diary with a sentence like: "Waxman sounded pissed on C-Span today."

    "Lies return." - African proverb

    by Night Train on Sun May 25, 2008 at 09:06:08 PM PDT

  •  Excellent diary! n/t (0+ / 0-)

    -7.62, -7.28 "We told the truth. We obeyed the law. We kept the peace." - Walter Mondale

    by luckylizard on Sun May 25, 2008 at 10:23:23 PM PDT

  •  Well, then how do you answer this question ... (0+ / 0-)

    My 18 year old daughter asked me this.  You might expect it to be more pithy than that of a 7 year old but maybe not.  She, as do I, tends to ask things that maybe we take for granted and suddenly thinks ... hey, I don't really know the answer.  The question was ...

    Why are people even Republican?  Like why would anyone BE a Republican.

    If you have a really good answer besides they are selfish, let me know.

    Why do you necessarily have to be wrong just because a few million people think you are? ~ Frank Zappa

    by alliedoc on Mon May 26, 2008 at 06:14:23 PM PDT

    •  You know, this question does have an answer. (0+ / 0-)

      I confess it might be a bit outdated, because I'm really not so much up on the latest GOP fad positions, but in terms of the traditional definition of "Republican" government, a lot of people get there through two main tenets: first, that the government should not be in the business of providing for the well-being of every single individual (that responsibility falls to charitable organizations like churches), and second, that the role of the federal government in the US is to manage only those items strictly mandated by the constitution, leaving everything else to the states.

      I'm sort of a "purple voter" in the sense that I am more likely to vote for a more centrist or conservative individual in a local government position than a federal government position. I like fiscal conservatives on the school board, for example, and on the city council. The reason for this is that a hands-off approach to government works better in a self-contained geographical region where the decisions of legislators or officeholders have tangible consequences that affect them or their family or friends directly. That acts as a balance against wanton capitalism or too little investment in the local infrastructure.

      I don't know too many Republicans who think that homeless people should just rot in alleys, for example. But I know many Republicans who believe that churches and private charities ought to be responsible for those people's care and well-being, so that only the citizens who are interested in pitching in pay into the effort. (I know the argument against this, particularly in terms of elevating the health of society overall, but this is another case where on a local level, people are more inclined to participate in local charities, and so on.)

      There has been a bit of pollution between social conservatives, religious conservatives, and fiscal conservatives in the last two decades. What I think we're seeing this year is that the people who are socially liberal are also more likely to be fiscally conservative (paying as they go, only funding what income supports), which is one of the ways we find an inroad to convince some of those fence-sitters or Bush voters with buyer's remorse.

      A Republican does not by definition equal a religious-right type of person. But people who are religious-right types will vote for candidates who share their religious views much more often than socially liberal religious individuals.

      (That was a bit of a brain dump. I'm open to having holes poked in my theory.)

      You're in debt and completely fooled that you can look in the mirror and objectively rank your wounds --DCFC

      by Saska on Mon May 26, 2008 at 07:31:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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