The reaction to this California proposal is breaking along predictable lines -- liberals supportive, conservatives generally scornful:
A Democratic assemblywoman from Mountain View says she will submit a bill next week — once it is officially drafted — proposing that California become the first state in the nation to make spanking of children 3 years old and under a misdemeanor. Penalties could include child-rearing classes for offenders to one year in jail.
Just the mention of the bill has become a minor statewide perturbation, sparking denouncements from many Republican lawmakers (the State Senate minority leader, Dick Ackerman, declared, “I'm trying to pick a word other than crazy, let me see, not well thought out.”), heated debates among parents (“A bill should be passed to allow other parents to smack the parents of undisciplined children,” wrote one Internet poster) and some self-reflection on behalf of the governor, whose proclivity for calling others girly men has been replaced of late with dialoguing about his feelings.
I don't know, though. We just had a highly publicized child-abuse case in Fort Wayne that sparked a lot of outrage, including, if I may use the term, in the conservative-leaning blogosphere. So I presume we're not against "government interference" in family life. There is no excuse for child abuse, and government has a role in stopping it. Doesn't that make this a difference in degree, rather than in kind? If the legislator sought to outlaw all corporal punishment, that would be one thing. But this is about spanking those 3 or younger. Where does this fit along the spectrum from making a child sit in the corner to beating him with a coat hanger in evoking our distaste for an activist government?
On the other hand, how do you get the attention of a 2-year-old, assuming you can't watch him 24 hours a day and want to persuade him not to stick his hands in a fan or on a hot burner or someplace else that might harm him? You can't reason with him. I ask in total ignorance as a non-parent who has never had to deal with such things.
Look at the photo of the legislator in question, by the way. My first impression is that she would never have to spank a child. Just looking at her would make most 3-year-olds, not to mention many adults, run screaming in terror.
I remember getting spanked a few times in my childhood. My parents didn't make a habit of it, but they didn't forswear the practice, either. When I did get spanked, I knew I had really, really, really screwed up, and it made me examine my actions. I guess I believe mostly something I read once about parental discipline of children: It doesn't matter so much how you do it or how often. What matters is how consistent it is. The last thing you want to do is raise a child who believes that the rules don't make sense, so it doesn't matter what he does.