By my count, President Bush referred to "children" 15 times in his State of the Union address last week. Most references were in regards to Social Security. Many from across the political spectrum have denounced this plan as not economically sound. Yet Bush is more concerned with political victory than sound economic policy. But that shouldn't surprise any of us. Far more shocking was Bush's attempt to link a "great responsibility to our children and grandchildren to honor and to pass along the values that sustain a free society" with his support to write discrimination into the Constitution through the Federal Marriage Amendment.
As much as I would like to delude myself that Bush's support is simply a cheap political scare tactic dreamed up by Karl Rove, I know that such support brings far greater consequences. I initially hoped that his earlier hesitation to speak out on this issue was an indication that rhetoric about "values that sustain a free society" was more than poll-driven, focus group-approved lingo. But my hope was soon revealed to be naïveté. The GOP has decided that building flimsy political capital is far more important than looking beyond the campaign contributions of Focus on the Family and understanding the issues at stake.
The political spin on this issue currently revolves around "protection for families" and "moral responsibility." Those words may look and sound great to some when spewed by pundits like Jerry Falwell and Bill O'Reilly, but when current Secretary of Education Margaret Spelling denounces a PBS children's program for including the child of a lesbian couple in an episode, Rove and company need to start thinking a little less about the sound bite and a little more about what they are actually saying. I cannot conceive of any "moral responsibility" requiring one to threaten to punish anyone who depicts a family outside the "norm" of Mom, Dad, two kids, and a dog. I also do not understand how we are "protecting families" by sending the message to kids who do not live within this "norm" that there is something "wrong" or "bad" about their families. I do know, however, that we will never teach children about "values that sustain a free society" if we cannot begin to create a free society for all.
There is an inherent connection between the future generations, for whom Bush periodically voices insincere concern, and congressional legislation, with which Bush and Rove are actually concerned. While it most likely will never pass, any support for Federal Marriage Amendment sends the message that the protection of the Constitution is limited only to those who fulfill arbitrary qualifications determined by those in power. Such qualifications do not reflect values or morality; they are simply cultural stereotypes and societal barriers that we must work to overcome and to tear down. As demonstrated by many before us who sacrificed much to create a freer society, this work is an arduous task, requiring the dedication of many to ensure protection for all. We must not only teach the emerging generation tolerance and respect, but also that a free society is not a reality that is merely sustained, but a priceless goal for which we must strive.
These lessons must continue and intensify throughout the next four years, four years in which proposed legislation and political rhetoric will prove formidable to overcome. Bush has provided many obstacles for this "free society" which he constantly evokes, but he cannot limit our ability to combat empty words with real action. We do need to teach children how to realize this society, but we cannot look to this administration for the lessons.