Friday, April 12, 2013

Melissa Harris-Perry: Kids Belong To Communities

If you ever watch MSNBC you may have noticed a series of LEAN FORWARD commercials featuring their on air opinion talent earnestly giving bromides about how we're all in this together and we need to work collectively for the common good. Usually these things are calculated to be just this side of irritating to more moderate or conservative viewers as the unsaid implication in the spots is often that conservatives are doing every thing wrong. In some respects the commercials are examples of liberals being sore winners. A recent spot featured Professor Melissa Harris-Perry. The terminology and phrases she used sent conservatives as well as a few libertarians over the deep end in rage. 

Of course I doubt this was by accident. On some other boards I frequent occasionally extremely conservative or extremely liberal people will post stories or make comments that are designed to do nothing other than get a rise out of the other side. Flame wars can easily get started that way. I won't claim I've never done that in my life (ha-ha) but it is a pretty cheap way of getting responses and in my opinion usually not as good or mature as actually creating and sharing a deeper analysis. The person who instigates this often pretends innocence and claims to be above the obviously irrational, emotional and gratuitously nasty responses the other side is showing. Sure I poked the caged tiger in the eye with a stick but that's no reason for it to get upset...

When I read the phrases the good professor used I have to believe that she or the commercial creator had to be trolling somewhat. It was reminiscent of the old Looney Tunes cartoons when Foghorn Leghorn would stroll over to the sleeping dog and kick it in the behind. Foghorn would then wait just outside the limit the chained dog could reach. When the dog choked on its collar, sputtering in rage, Foghorn would say "Aw shaddup!!" and hit the dog againWhat could the Professor have said to make some people start barking and shaking their jowls in rage? Well let's see.


She starts out and ends with the usual progressive idea that we don't spend enough on public education and need to spend more, or as she would put it invest more. Conservatives generally disagree of course. There are good arguments on both sides here and there's room for legitimate debate. I would tend toward Professor Harris-Perry's side on this but I can see the other side. So if she had just stated that of course conservatives would have disagreed as they usually do. But what turned the intensity of disagreement up was her statement that "..We have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or that kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities."

Game recognizes game. This sent conservative trolls like Beck, Palin and Limbaugh into fits of fury. It also set off alarm bells of warning in more libertarian circles. Do you see why? 

It is a deliberate oversimplification for brevity but conservatives (with some hypocritical exceptions) broadly speaking generally want the federal and to the lesser extent the state governments to have less power regarding the individual and the family. Liberals tend to feel exactly the opposite way, feeling that the federal government ought to have more authority. Some look suspiciously at the family, often seeing it as a breeding ground for patriarchal and generally wrong-headed ideas.
So when you say that we need to get rid of the idea that kids belong to their parents or families, you probably shouldn't be surprised that that hits a nerve with conservatives and they respond. Of course in the strictest sense kids don't belong to anyone. Adults are stewards of the next generation, not owners. But that's just semantics.

Parents, not society, have the primary responsibility for children. Parents, not society, get to make virtually all of the critical decisions for children. If someone doesn't like the way someone else is raising their children, that's tough. It's the parent's job to make sure that their child has enough to eat, attends a good school, learns how to resolve conflicts, stays in good health, figures out the birds and the bees, and any number of other things. I do believe that society, or rather government has a role to play in ensuring there's a baseline to help parents do all those things but in my view that's where everyone else's role ceases.  And it must stop there. Why? Because to start with, we live in an increasingly diverse society and everyone has different ideas about how to raise children. The only way we can live together is for people to mind their own business and absent abuse let parents raise their kids as they see fit. There was another video of MSNBC personality Krystal Ball talking to her five year old daughter about gay marriage and coaching her to support it. Some conservative members of society were outraged and considered this abusive. Would Professor Harris-Perry think that since kids belong to entire communities the community would have a right to step in and teach the daughter differently? I doubt it. If you don't like how someone is raising his/her kids, either have some of your own and raise them differently or go sit down and be quiet. Those are really your only two choices unless you happen to be the child's other parent.

Secondly although it's somewhat harsh to say it, parents care more about their children than society does.That's their direct biological investment in the next generation. That's why parents have such an incentive to make sure their child does well. Law doesn't mess with that relationship lightly. Professor Harris-Perry had a follow up to her ad in which she argued that she was just deliberately misunderstood by right-wing cretins. Well maybe. But I doubt that anyone with the command of the language that the professor possesses didn't realize that confidently stating "we have to break through the private idea that kids belong to their parents" would invite attacks. And what she says in her post is different from the ad.

The elephant in the room around all of this is the fact that recently for the first time in American history there were more minority births than white ones. This raises legitimate questions and fears across the political spectrum about what will be the policy outcome of this change. Seniors or people without children already may have issues with taxes to support families. Will a more diverse workforce wish to fund retirement and medical coverage for a very white older generation? Will that white older generation feel it necessary to pay higher taxes to support schools full of children who do not look like their grandchildren? Time will tell. I think this is what the professor was really referencing.


Do you agree with Professor Harris-Perry's ad?

Was she trolling?

Is this much ado about nothing?

Do you think kids belong to the community or to their parents?

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