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Opening Arguments

The kids are all right

President Obama says he got a little help from his family as he "evolved" on the question of gay marriage:

You know, Malia and Sasha, they have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we’re talking about their friends and their parents and Malia and Sasha, it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them and, frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.”

Swift reaction from the right:


. . . it’s a heroic act if the President made a massive change in a policy position that could affect the entire nation after consulting with his teenage daughters?

While it’s great to listen to your kids’ ideas, there’s also a time when dads simply need to be dads.  In this case, it would’ve been helpful for him to explain to Malia and Sasha that while her friends parents are no doubt lovely people, that’s not a reason to change thousands of years of thinking about marriage.  Or that – as great as her friends may be – we know that in general kids do better growing up in a mother/father home.  Ideally, fathers help shape their kids’ worldview.

In this situation, it was the other way around.

I think that misses the point a little bit. The president wasn't saying he took advice from his kids, merely that paying attention to their attitudes helped inform his thinking. And we could have an interesting disucssion on the dangers of elevating the importance of youthful opinion -- how many parents let themselves be bullied by their kids when they come hope armed with all sorts of propaganda about recyling or healthful eating? One reason the world is so screwed up right now is that adults who should have known better took the opinions of my generation far too seriously when we were just young hippie minds full of mush and didn't know what the hell we were talking about.

But there's a point not to be overlooked here: The younger generation is far more latitudinarian than the rest of us about a whole range of issues. Things we argue hotly -- like gay marriage -- just don't mean anything to them. What's not obvious, though (at least to me), is whether that attitude will stay with this as adults. Or will they get more rigid in their thinking as they get older, the way previous generations have?

Dunno. Early in my newspaper career, about once a month some bigwig would get in a panic because that darn younger generation just wasn't reading newspapers. Then he would calm down when it was pointed out to him that young people had never read newspapers. But as they got older, got married and engaged with civic institutions, they suddenly discovered newspaers, just as their parents before had.

But that is not true today. Young people don't read the newspaper, and they aren't adopting the habit as they get older, either. Young people have almost always been more open-minded than their parents. Maybe this time, it's a permanent change, a generational shift, maybe not.


Sat, 05/12/2012 - 12:28am

I think it might be reasonable to see a slight shift to the right on economic and law-and-order issues with increasing age, but I find it difficult to imagine anyone becoming more of a bigot with greater maturity. I think politicians riding the anti-gay horse are doomed by demographics; more so with each passing year. The gay-bashers are getting too old (or too dead) to vote; open-minded kids are reaching voting age every day. We will look back on this era with the same sort of embarrassment our parents generation felt toward Jim Crow laws.