Special Report

Public Policy: For the Children

They care about them so much -- until they don't.

By 10.3.13

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Although this article is not only about Syria, I will begin with Syria.

In his address to the Nation on Tuesday, September 10, concerning the August 21 chemical attack in Syria, President Obama singled out for special concern the hundreds of children who were killed, and invited his listeners to view the images. A few days later, on September 13, the Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott published an examination of this aspect of the President’s address in light of public opinion polls opposed to U.S. military action in Syria in a piece he entitled, “Why Syria’s Images of Sufferings Haven’t Moved Us.” Among other things, he wrote, “Images of children suffering form the ultimate emotional argument, compelling us to move from sentiment to action, from the particular to the universal, from passivity to engagement.” Undoubtedly, this is so. There are numerous examples, and not just examples from war zones. Recall the 18-month-old child who fell to the bottom of a 22-foot deep well: Jessica McClure in 1986, the subject of the 1989 TV movie, Everybody’s Baby.

In his address, the President belittled the prospects that a U.S. military attack would result in any extended air campaign or further intervention, or any retaliation by the Assad regime against the United States or Israel that the United States or Israel couldn’t handle. What he did not mention, and could not speculate on, was the degree of expected or unexpected “collateral damage.” We can assume there would be deaths of unarmed people, including children. Some of the children killed would be located near the targets. But there might well be more. It would be easy to envision that a regime that used chemical weapons would put children near targets to serve as human shields. Or use photos of dead children and allege that they were near the targets when killed or that they were killed when American weapons failed to hit their intended targets. What price, in the form of the blood of Syrian children, was President Obama willing to pay in order to deter the Syrian regime from engaging in, or to degrade the ability of the Syrian regime to engage in, chemical attacks that killed -- Syrian children?

In addition to appealing to our emotions by describing child victims, some politicians rely on the children themselves who, apparently, we expect to speak in the innocence and unbridled truth of children, unpolluted by adult motives. Thus, on September 3, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was speaking to the press about the prospects of an American attack on Syria and she quoted her five-year old grandson. Pelosi’s quotation of her grandson reminds us of incumbent President Carter’s quotation in a 1980 presidential debate, “I think, to close out this discussion, it would be better to put into perspective what we're talking about. I had a discussion with my daughter, Amy [who had just turned 13], the other day, before I came here [to this debate venue with Gov. Ronald Reagan], to ask her what the most important issue was. She said she thought nuclear weaponry -- and the control of nuclear arms…”

I am reminded of two political campaign ads by Democrats in national presidential elections. In 1964, the LBJ campaign ran “The Daisy” ad showing a child picking daisies amidst a nuclear bomb blast. Twenty years later, in 1984, Walter Mondale showed nuclear ballistic missile blasts with children while the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song “Teacher Your Children” was played.

Let’s look at some more public policy issues in which children or their views have been brought to bear:

Gun Control: On December 14, 2012, 20 children and six adult staff were killed in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut. The ensuing campaign for new federal gun controls not only consistently referred to the deceased children, but on January 16, 2013, the White House released letters from children in favor of new gun controls.

Immigration: On June 15, 2012, the President announced a program to defer the deportation of individuals who had been brought illegally into this country when they were children, nicknamed by politicians and the media as “Dreamers.” The deferment would be for two years and renewable. His program was for individuals who came at age 15 or younger and were now as old as 30. A boy brought to this country at age 15, and is now 30, would have made a conscious decision to remain in this country illegally for 12 years after reaching age 18. Moreover, since this program was not the product of ordinary legislation or rulemaking, we have no formal governmental explanation to support the cut-off of age 16 (as opposed to 18) and age 30 (as opposed to, what, 40?).

Same-Sex Marriage: Beginning in the 1990s, some states changed their laws to allow adoption of children by same-sex couples. It was argued that adoption by same-sex couples was better for children than living in foster care (and same-sex couples wanted to prove that they could be adequate parents). The fact that a number of such children existed by 2013 was used in the June 26, 2013, U.S. Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor, to declare a part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. Justice Kennedy wrote:

[DOMA] humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives…

* * *

DOMA also brings financial harm to children of same-­sex couples. It raises the cost of health care for families by taxing health benefits provided by employers to their workers’ same-sex spouses…And it denies or reduces benefits allowed to families upon the loss of a spouse and parent, benefits that are an integral part of family security...

* * *

DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others…

Even if, for argument’s sake, there is no harm to children raised by active homosexual individuals, what of the harm to children being raised by heterosexual men and women by their government forcing them and their parents to accept active homosexuality as normal, as by having their parents compelled to provide wedding services to same-sex couples, compelled to salute and obey actively homosexual officers, compelled to provide employment benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees?

Obamacare: Let me just mention one aspect of this law. This aspect concerns individuals who are adult sons and daughters. The individuals are no longer children although the law and the proponents of the law consistently refer to “children.” Obamacare requires insurers to allow men and women who have health insurance policies (from their employers or individual plans) that provide coverage for dependents to add their adult sons and daughters under the age of 26 even if they are not dependents. The law extends to adult sons and daughters who are married (and therefore emancipated, that is, no longer dependents, under other law). And it extends to adult sons and daughters who are working and who are offered coverage from their own employers. The “child” need not be a dependent in the way it is defined, for example, in tax regulations. One health insurer, United Healthcare, states:

A group health plan or insurer may base eligibility for dependent child coverage only in terms of the relationship between a child and participant, and may not deny or restrict coverage based on factors such as financial dependency, residency, student status, employment or marital status. The health reform regulations do not provide a definition of "child" for these purposes.

Given the breadth of the term “children,” what basis was there for Congress to have passed the law so as to cut off the eligibility at age 26?

Now, let’s turn to some public policies in which the effect on children is ignored:

Abortion: We didn’t hear the President declare that Karnamaya Mongar, the young mother who died in Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s Philadelphia abortion clinic, “could have been my daughter” or that the children whom the doctor killed after they had been born alive “could have been my grandchildren.” Of course, President Obama never discusses abortion in the context of the lives and health of conceived children, but he will talk about his daughters, as in his 2008 comment:

I’ve got two daughters, 9 years old and 6 years old. I am going to teach them first of all about values and morals. But if they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby…

Proponents of abortion consistently object to the use of graphic photos of dismembered victims of abortion. This President is not about to invite a TV audience to view the 1984 film narrated by the late Dr. Bernard Nathanson (1926-2011), a former abortionist, called “The Silent Scream.” Since there is no space between this President and pro-abortion groups, this President will not object to enlarging the attack on unborn children by compelling taxpayers to pay for abortions.

School Choice: The President’s daughters attend a private school in the District of Columbia. It’s okay with him that children whose parents cannot afford private education are punished by the American states for living in a community with bad schools. Recall Kelley Williams-Bolar who was convicted of fraud for enrolling her child in her father’s school district, not her own. One commentator called her the “Rosa Parks of Education.” It’s okay to enter this country illegally and obtain free public education at the elementary and high school levels and, increasingly, obtain in-state tuition rates at public colleges, but woe to a good parent if he or she illegally crosses school district lines for an education. (I write “an education” rather than “a good education” because we shouldn’t assume that some schools provide education worthy of the word.)

In addition, the President dropped funding for D.C. Opportunity Scholarships and Attorney General Holder has sued the State of Louisiana to eradicate vouchers in that state. See Governor Jindal’s op-ed piece in the September 4, 2013, Washington Post and his September 18 speech.

No-Fault Divorce: When we debate the merits of no-fault divorce, do we honestly evaluate the impact of these laws on children? See Janice Shaw Crowse’s recent column on these pages. (Justice Scalia cited the following in United States v. Windsor: J. Wallerstein, J. Lewis, & S. Blakeslee, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: The 25 Year Landmark Study (2000).)

Stop and Frisk: In the controversy over the law enforcement policy in New York City known as “stop and frisk,” there is fairly frequent mention of the steep decline in violent crime as being an effect of the policy. Mayor Bloomberg has argued that, over 11 years, this program resulted in saving the lives of 7,300, and the confiscation of 8,000 guns and 80,000 other weapons. Often ignored is the fact that much violent street crime is black-on-black crime. Half of all homicide victims in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010 were black. So, roughly half of all lives saved by the stop-and-frisk policy were African-American. Many of these were children since homicide is among the top three causes of death for children ages 10 to 19. New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy is an example of a policy where the benefits are not particularized, that is, no one can identify the individuals, including African-American children, whose lives have been saved, while the burdens are particularized since each person stopped and frisked has been inconvenienced.

Since the date a federal judge ordered this program stopped in August, shootings are up and the rate of gun confiscation of guns is down. And children are dying:

16-month-old Antiq Hennis, who was slain in his stroller as his parents pushed him across a Brownsville, Brooklyn, street, and Tharell Edward, 3, who was struck and wounded by a bullet in the head as he slept in his crib in the same borough.

Jobs and the Economy: There are so very many ways in which a growing economy helps children and, conversely, a slow-growing or recessionary economy, hurts them. How many times have we heard of children (actually adult sons and daughters) who have graduated from college and who are unemployed and living at home a year, and two years, after graduation? Similarly, but less often stated, there are the number of new high school graduates who do not enroll in college and who have no job prospects. 1.5 million teens, ages 16-19, are neither going to school nor working.

Working parents, who can provide food, clothing, education, shelter and healthcare to their children, are the best infrastructure (literally, “underlying framework”) for this country. Yet, a whopping 24 million children have no regular, full-time employed parent, an increase of 20% over 2008.

Unbridled Government Spending: Compounding a slow economy is unbridled government spending. It put Detroit into bankruptcy. It threatens to bankrupt Illinois. It threatens to bankrupt the United States government. (See Tracy Mehan’s recent piece on this webpage.) When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker enacted reforms, under the loud protests of so many, he saved Wisconsin, including Wisconsin’s children. In recent years, some Republicans have described unbridled government spending as “generational theft,” the government taking money from future taxpayers (the children of today) to pay for services rendered to current residents.

Let’s take a brief look at one part of government spending: education -- at state and local levels. State and local government employees account for 57% of all state and local government employees. By contrast, police and correctional personnel are 9%, hospitals 5.5%, and every other category is under 3%. At the elementary and high school level, one-third of all school employees are noninstructional. At the college level, the number of noninstructional employees doubles: two-thirds are noninstructional. These statistics are instructive, aren’t they? Is this amount of taxpayer monies used for noninstructional personnel good for our children?

Gambling: Discussing education is a good segue to gambling. So many of the states claim that the revenue their governments receive from gambling will be earmarked for education. Ah, so gambling is good for our children. Tell that to the children of gambling addicts. See the long June 1, 2013, article on this subject in the Washington Post following Marylanders’ approval of a vast increase in gambling in that state in the November 2012 elections.

This review of public policy issues suggests that, on issues that matter to conservatives and Republicans, they are less likely to invoke children than liberals and Democrats invoke children on issues that matter to them.

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About the Author
James M. Thunder is a Washington, D.C. attorney.