"I don’t like Obama because he beat Hillary Clinton," my daughter said.
She’s precocious, but not astoundingly so. This is a girl who’d rather watch Dora the Explorer than Olbermann, rather listen to Music Together than Air America. "So I’m voting for McCain." Four years old, already a PUMA.
Up to this point, I’d been of the opinion that the PUMA phenomenon -- the acronym stands for "Party Unity My Ass" and refers to former Hillary supporters who turn to McCain out of anger at Obama’s clinch of the Democratic nomination -- didn’t exist. It was a myth made up by the talk-radio right, much like liberals who want to cancel Christmas or Democrats who hate the troops. But here, suddenly, was living proof that PUMAs are real. On a smaller scale, granted, but real. In my kitchen. Wearing cowgirl jammies.
My first reaction was to point out to her that she’s only four, and four-year olds don’t vote. But down that road lies trouble: Here be dragons of the your-vote-doesn't-count species, which, while technically accurate at this point in her life, is not a lesson I want her to learn at any point in her life. So as parents do, I found myself trying to build a kid-friendly argument on an already compromised foundation.
"That’s not a reason not to vote for someone," I pointed out. "The way the system works here in America, candidates from the same party always run against each other before they finally run against another party. It doesn’t make sense to refuse to support someone you actually agree with on most things because they’ve defeated someone you might agree with on slightly more things." I’m getting too deeply into this for her, I know, but I can’t seem to stop myself.
"But Obama’s not a girl," she reasoned, and this is neither a point I could debate nor one I thought that Senator Obama would wish me to counter. I waited for more, but there was no more. This was the entirety of her point.
I asked her if this is the most important thing in the election, and she thought for a moment, or made that face she makes when she knows she’s supposed to be thinking. (This is the same face adults tend to use, but we pull it off better.) Either way, she came up with a response. "It’s very important to other girls," she finally said. "And Obama’s a boy. So I’m voting for John McCain."
Her saying this again suddenly made it more real to me somehow, and it filled me with a kind of dread a father normally reserves for teenage boyfriends with animal nicknames who drive muscle cars with too-large backseats. But in a very karmic sense, this dread wasn't unwarranted for me. After all, one of the ways I rebelled in high school against my liberal peacenik parents was to become a sort of Alex P. Keaton. Or to play at it, at least. To espouse some beliefs I didn’t really have, to make claim to policy decisions I didn’t comprehend, to pay $20 to go with a group of friends to see Rush Limbaugh during his 1988 "Rush to Excellence" tour. I’m not proud of this. All I’m saying is that my daughter’s party line-crossing wasn't completely unprecedented. But it still caught me completely off-guard.
Manipulation is front and center on the utility belt of all parents. Good parents use it only when necessary, and great parents use it with such prestidigitation that it’s like three-card monte; you know the switch is being made, but you can’t see it to call foul. But this was not a great parent moment for me. I know I had no follow-up. My four-year old had effectively argued me into a corner. I couldn't dissuade her without confusing her. I couldn't point out the flaw in her logic without risking her early voter disenfranchisement. I was stuck. So I decided to go negative. "You know, John McCain yelled at your Nana," I said.
This is absolutely true: My mother was involved in many political action groups over the years, and living in the Phoenix area, she had the opportunity to meet with John McCain several times. The last time she met with him, things didn’t go so well.
It was the early '90s, and my mother was in Washington D.C. with a contingent of social workers; she met with McCain to talk about his work on refugee and resettlement issues. He had obviously taken this meeting because he anticipated it as something of a love-fest -- a reasonable expectation, given his positive record on those specific issues. But McCain made the mistake of asking the group if there was anything else they wanted to talk about that day. My mother said yes, there was, and began to ask about the Nevada Test Site (then a hot-button issue) and to challenge McCain’s recent votes on nuclear testing and the transport of spent rods. McCain told my mother not to worry about that sort of thing; that she should leave matters like that to him and his judgment. This did not sit well with my mother. She considers herself well-informed on the issues she’s interested in (and she usually is). The discussion went downhill quickly and ended with McCain blowing his top, pounding on his desk, voice raised, face red. His aides rushed in, took McCain aside, and ushered my mother and her friends out of the office. My mother likes telling this story, by the way.
"John McCain yelled at Nana?" my daughter asked, concern writ large on her face. Score, I thought.
"Yes," I said. "And pounded his fist on his desk."
"Like he was throwing a fit?"
"You could say that."
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I watched as she processes this. She’s been told that throwing a fit is completely inappropriate, of course. This sort of rule is very close to a four-year-old’s world view. It’s one of the main rules, really: Keep that out of your mouth, three squares of toilet paper is plenty, you can’t dance in the living room if you’re not wearing underwear, and don’t throw a fit.
I watch her walk over to her Mom. She’s done with me, apparently. And she announces to my wife with wounded, wide-eyed gravity: "I’m voting for Obama because John McCain yelled at my Nana."
Sometimes, you have to fight four year old logic with four-year-old logic. -- Teague Bohlen