Friday, July 25, 2008

Mom on the Spot: Seattle Girls' School

About a week ago, a teacher emailed me from an independent inner-city girls' school in Seattle (across the bridge from my home). She was teaching a summer enrichment program about the election and was looking for a representative to come and answer questions about John McCain and his platform. Good girl that I am, I first referred her to the official campaign folks. But since the local campaign is setting up their offices this week and literally without contact info, the odds they could send someone to talk to a room full of non-voters is pretty slim. And as she put it, "most of these girls hear a lot about Obama and may not know much about McCain." (Very diplomatic!) So I volunteered and had the privilege of talking to them today.

The small group asked excellent questions about McCain, his background, his platform, his differences from President Bush and from Obama. The girls, of different ages and backgrounds, had mostly described themselves as "pro-Obama" but had the chance to look at actual policies and statements from both candidates. (If only adults would take that opportunity we'd have much better people working for us in Washington!)

They asked about McCain's personal life and "what kind of father he was" and seemed genuinely surprised to hear the true story of Cindy McCain arriving home from a humanitarian trip to Asia with two babies, one of whom, Bridget, was adopted by the McCains and the other of whom was adopted by McCain family friends.

They asked about immigration policy and noted that there "wasn't as much difference between McCain's policy and Obama's." This was a good opportunity to talk about bipartisanship, the idea of a "path to citizenship" and the need for both strength and compassion from our leaders. And to discuss how the Republican party, just like the Democrats, have a spectrum of views on this and other issues.

They asked about how McCain would be different from Bush (in a more respectful way than any news outlet has!). We discussed bipartisanship, experience and background (i.e. McCain's extensive military experience and training led him to support different Iraq strategies than the Bush administration over the last few years). We discussed how rare it was that McCain had successfully passed legislation on key issues by working across the aisle with Democratic Senators.

They asked about my opinion of the YouTube ads on media bias and gas prices. They asked some good followup questions about whether candidates are allowed to make "false claims" which led into a discussion of free speech and how trustworthy the media is in general. I talked about the distinction in my mind between "negative ads" attacking character and background (which McCain has come out against, repeatedly) and pointing out factual differences between the candidates (i.e. observing what is actually being said by the media and the opponent). We discussed the importance of 'accountability' - that they have to be savvy enough to know that the media isn't always telling them the whole story, and that candidates should be responsible for the choices and policies they've supported. I mentioned OntheIssues and other online resources so they can learn how their representatives or candidates voted.

They asked about McCain's gun policies and we talked about my ex-sister-in-law's taxidermist father, whose animal-head-filled house might be creepy, but is his livelihood and isn't harmful to other people. I shared my personal opinion that I'd never want a gun in my home or in my possession, but that I saw this as an issue of freedom AND responsibility. That honoring our constitution often meant respecting the rights of people we disagree with or allowing things we don't like, because 300 million people rarely agree on anything.

They asked about the two-party system and what party George washington belonged to. I mentioned that I was familiar with 'Federalism' but couldn't tell them everything about it offhand. I did some research when I came home and discovered that the two-party system in America dates back to 1794, when Hamilton's "Federalists" and Thomas Jefferson's "Democratic-Republicans" stood for 'larger' versus 'smaller' government, respectively.

They actually did stump me with a question about education policy and schools "competing for teachers." I hadn't really heard or read much about this (education is mostly under states' purview), but did talk a little about decision-making and top-down versus bottom-up philosophies for managing and regulating schools. I alos mentioned that I had read Obama comments against school choice, which as a Mom and a teacher's daughter, is an important issue for me. This is one I have to learn more about as my kids enter school next year. This might be a good area for McCain to expand discussion during debates - Moms and families need to know what role, if any, a McCain government would have in ensuring good education for our kids.

As I left, I thanked them for having me and asked them to tell their friends they met a Real Live Republican who didn't even have horns! I even flattened my hair to prove it.

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