Hillary and the Politics of Children

Hillary Clinton chose to kick off her presidential campaign by invoking images of — what else? — children. Her healthcare policy would target "millions of children whose families today cannot afford care." Not the families of the children. Hillary prefers to work directly with the children themselves rather than their parents.

"We are talking about health care for children in need, which is about as safe an issue as there is," said Ken Sherrill, a political science professor at Hunter College.

Safe for a candidate perhaps, but safe for the children and our nation it is not. In casting her questionable health care ideas as a measure “for the children,” Hillary is returning us to the darkest days of her husband’s administration, when a broad range of intrusive government measures were cynically couched as concern for children.

This is more than just another politician kissing babies. It represents one of the most destructive (and successful) strategies of the feminist Left in recent years: the exploitation of children as political weapons.

Hillary is not alone. "Democrats across the board are putting children at the center of their imagery and message," according to the Washington Post. "Earlier this month, Rep. Nancy Pelosi made a vivid impression by assuming the House speakership surrounded by a squadron of young grandchildren. Sen. Barbara Boxer recently questioned whether Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, not having family of her own, could understand the stakes in Iraq." And, of course, a Democratic California assemblywoman wants to criminalize spanking.

The trend may be traced to Hillary’s mentor, Marian Wright Edelman, who admitted she founded the Children’s Defense Fund in the early 1970s upon realizing that the country was weary of the broader New Left agenda: “I got the idea that children might be a very effective way to broaden the base for change.” Edelman’s achievement was “to put children squarely in the front of almost every domestic policy debate,” according to the late Barbara Olson. In her book on the former First Lady, Olson writes, “For Hillary, children are the levers by which one forces social change.”

Largely through Hillary, this motif dominated Bill Clinton’s presidency. “Children,” wrote liberal columnist Richard Cohen, “have been an obsession for this administration.” His point is borne out by the words of its officials. “Government has got to ensure that parents are old enough, wise enough, and able to care for their children,” Attorney General Janet Reno insisted. Then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala was especially zealous for government child-rearing, envisioning a future kindergartener who “will play gender-neutral games in government day care and think of herself as part of the world, not just her town or the United States.”

One does not have to be a Clinton-basher to see this eerily close to Aldous Huxley’s prophecy of a totalitarian dystopia. Praising Hillary’s book, "It Takes a Village," for its message that "each of us — society as a whole — bears responsibility for all children, even other people’s children," professors Stewart Friedman and Jeffrey Greenhaus insist that we "must be prepared to make the most of the brave new world lying in the future."

"Success in the brave new world." they add, "requires skills found more among women than men."

This is far from harmless, either for public policy or for children themselves. Political scientist Jean Bethke Elshtain writes that “The replacements for parents and families would not be a happy, consensual world of children coequal with adults but one in which children became clients of institutionally powerful social bureaucrats and engineers of all sorts for whom they would serve as so much grist for the mill of extra-familial schemes and ambitions.”

This is precisely what is suggested in Hillary’s aphorism: “There is no such thing as other people’s children.” Hillary rejects the notion that “families are private, nonpolitical units whose interests subsume those of children” and believes instead in “the status of children as political beings.”

Feminist-influenced legal practitioners now openly advocate that traditional parental authority be replaced by bureaucrats: “For those who would like to have the State use its power and resources to improve the lives of children, parental rights constitute the greatest legal obstacle to government intervention to protect children from harmful parenting practices and to state efforts to assume greater authority over the care and education of children.”

These words are published in the California Law Review, a mainstream journal that asks “why parents should have any child-rearing rights at all.”

“Parental child-rearing rights are illegitimate,” declared attorney James Dwyer. “No one should possess a right to control the life of another person no matter what reasons, religious or otherwise, he might have for wanting to do so.”

A popular joke holds that within the family mom makes the minor decisions, such as how to raise the children, while dad concerns himself with important questions, like how to achieve world peace. This joke is now grimly writ large in public policy. Conservatives who allow their attention to be monopolized by foreign policy and government finance and leave family policy to liberals from the “Mommy Party” will discover only once it is too late the power of “the hand that rocks the cradle.”