Posts Tagged ‘ Nancy French ’

Mister Rogers Wouldn’t Approve of Obama’s Lena Dunham Ad (OPINION)

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Over the next few months, the editors of will report on hot-button election issues that American families face today, from healthcare to education. In the spirit of offering diverse perspectives on the election, we’ve chosen three moms from across the political spectrum to be guest bloggers on Parents News Now. Each one of them will offer a unique take on the topics that they–and you!–are most passionate about. (Read the entire blog series.)

By Nancy French

Call it the Mister Rogers Effect: Moms want their kids to grow up in a neighborhood where the adults are virtuous. Whether it’s the baker, the postman, the mayor, or even the President, we want our children to have role models who are kind, generous, truthful. The kind of people your children could safely emulate.

During the most recent debate, some of us sat down with our children to see President Barack Obama and his challenger Mitt Romney discuss foreign policy. They disagreed on many things, particularly on Romney’s auto bailout position. For a few uncomfortable minutes, one accused the other of lying, until Romney suggested people at home should simply look it up. They did. For the days following the debate, Romney’s 2008 editorial about how he’d handle the Detroit automakers was the most-read story on the NYT’s website. So, who was telling the truth? Romney was deemed more accurate, but his success in this particular exchange is hardly earth shattering. What is significant is that voters, rather Americans, are realizing the President is not who we hoped he was.

“Here’s what upset me last night, this playing fast and loose with facts,” David Letterman said on his show. “Now, I don’t care whether you’re Republican or Democrat, you want your president to be telling the truth… And so when we found out today or soon thereafter that, in fact, President Obama was not telling the truth about what was excerpted from that op-ed piece, I felt discouraged.”

“Discouraged” is a far cry from the sunny optimism that at one time characterized Americans. Even those who disagreed with the president’s politics were a little misty eyed at seeing the first black man to sit in the Oval Office. When my husband and I later adopted a toddler from Africa, part of me was delighted by the fact that she was immigrating to a country with an African-American leader. But since those moments of hope, something strange happened.  Obama—and consequently, our neighborhood—somehow managed to get smaller, more crass, more cynical.

The most recent example is when his campaign released an ad featuring hipster Lena Dunham comparing voting to Obama to surrendering one’s virginity:

“Your first time shouldn’t be with just anybody. You want to do it with a great guy… someone who really cares about and understands women…  It’s super uncool to be out and about and someone says ‘did you vote?’ and [you reply] ‘no, I didn’t feel—I wasn’t ready.’ ” The Weekly Standard wrote, “The President of the United States running a campaign ad implying that young women who don’t let themselves get pressured into sex are ‘super uncool’ is more than enough to make any normal person’s head explode.” Of course, Twitter did erupt. “Is it too much to ask that the President’s campaign ads be workplace safe?” someone tweeted. Parody ads popped up. But the damage was done. The President had released an ad mocking sexual purity, just to win votes among the college age demographic.

We wanted him to be great. To inspire. To soar. Instead he became smaller, almost bent on taking us down with him.

Recently, a friend’s first grader was assigned a biography of the president for Great Americans Day. “How bad would it be for me to ask my child to switch books?” the mom asked me. There was a time in the very recent past when I would’ve responded with a gentle reprimand. “Come on,” I would’ve said. “He’s our President, he’s a good man, he’s accomplished a great deal.”

Rather, that’s how I would’ve answered it. She happened to ask me six weeks after extremists murdered four American diplomats in Libya, and the President had still not told us what really happened. In the second debate, when Obama defended his lack of military response to the attack, his focus was all on semantics. He parsed his words, he covered his legacy. It was tragic and disappointing, because we wanted justice. We wanted to understand. We wanted honesty. We didn’t want a President to assign blame, before heading off to Las Vegas for a fundraiser.

In fact, it was Fred Rogers who said, “You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.”

Moms know this: a complex world requires nuanced responses to terrible events, but we want our leaders to be honest, courageous, and responsible. We are raising children to become adults, to build families, to create businesses, to serve this country in uniform. Sadly, none of us really live in Mister Rogers’ neighborhood, with its astroturf lawns and closets full of perfectly pressed sweaters. Life is complicated and dangerous and sometimes scary. We want leaders who rise above it and illustrate how to navigate the complexities of this world with as much virtue and grace as possible.

The problem with this campaign season is not that moms are realizing Obama is not the President we wanted him to be. Much more tragically, he’s not the man we wanted him to be.

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Moms Know Romney is Right: It’s Time for Big Bird to Fly By Himself (OPINION)

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Over the next few months, the editors of will report on hot-button election issues that American families face today, from healthcare to education. In the spirit of offering diverse perspectives on the election, we’ve chosen three moms from across the political spectrum to be guest bloggers on Parents News Now. Each one of them will offer a unique take on the topics that they–and you!–are most passionate about. (Read the entire blog series.)

By Nancy French

In the first debate between Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, the GOP nominee ruffled some feathers by saying that he’d cut the budget by eliminating non-essential costs, like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  Because the debate moderator, Jim Lehrer, is employed by PBS, Romney added:

“I’m sorry Jim. I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things,” he said. “I like PBS, I like Big Bird, I actually like you too.”

I’m sure moms everywhere have seen the clip a dozen times.  As soon as Romney said those words, the social media universe exploded. Immediately, a fake Twitter account for Big Bird was set up.  The first tweet was, “WTF, Mitt Romney?” and another was, “Yo Mitt Romney, Sesame Street is brought to you today by the letters F & U!”  Celebrities also chimed in. In one of the 17,000 tweets per minute, Whoopi Goldberg lamented that Romney wanted to “kill Big Bird.”  Calls were made for a “Million Muppet March” on Washington.  A photoshopped picture of a forlorn Big Bird sitting on the Sesame stoop holding a “Will Work for Food” sign flew into inboxes across America. The next day, the President, still reeling from the previous night’s debate debacle, made fun of Romney for “getting tough on Big Bird.”  Even PBS sent out their own press release, which read, “Elimination of funding would have virtually no impact on the nation’s debt. Yet the loss to the American public would be devastating.”

More than anyone else, moms have affection in our heart for lovable Elmo, the mysterious Snuffleupagus, and even the garbage-dwelling Oscar the Grouch.  But would a change in funding be “devastating?”  PBS’s self-importance is a little much for Americans who are struggling to pay the bills and find work.

So why does the government subsidize this show anyway?

The Public Broadcasting Act was passed in 1967 to address the paucity of quality children’s programming.  Now, however, moms know television is brimming with vibrant, entertaining, and educational offerings.  Is Gordon more educational, for example, than Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer?  Does Maria provide more diversity than the Disney Channel’s Doc McStuffins? Are the Sesame Street writers more clever than the ones who create the hilarious Phineas and Ferb?  Children’s television has come a long way since everyone had platform shoes, bell bottoms, and pet rocks. Sesame Street is no longer the only game in town, so is it really so vital to the republic?  If so, couldn’t this important cultural institution thrive by itself?  Michelle Malkin addressed this issue in National Review:

According to the 990 tax form all nonprofits are required to file, Sesame Workshop president and CEO Gary Knell received $956,513 — nearly a million dollars — in compensation in 2008. And, from 2003 to 2006, Sesame Street made more than $211 million from toy and consumer product sales.”

Moms might not know these specific figures, nor do we precisely know how many Sesame Street books, stuffed animals, and lunchboxes we have in our homes at this moment.  But we do know this show created the “Tickle Me Elmo” mall riots and that the show can survive without us reaching into our own pockets.  (After the debate, the new unfortunate name for the formerly in-demand doll is “Subsidize Me Elmo.”)

Even the President realizes that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is bloated beyond reason.  His Bowles-Simpson deficit-reduction commission said “the current CPB funding level is the highest it has ever been.”  Malkin writes, “Doing away with the appropriation would save nearly $500 million in 2015 alone. Over ten years, those savings would total $5 billion (or roughly ten Solyndras). In these tough times, that’s more than chump change and child’s play.”

To make matter worse, President Obama released an official campaign ad mocking Romney’s promise to eliminate funding to PBS.  He also sent out a campaign fundraiser telling voters that Romney “wanted to kill Big Bird.” 

But the public didn’t respond like he anticipated. On Twitter, people said they wished Obama was as serious about protecting our embassies as he is about protecting Big Bird.  Then, Romney said, “You have to scratch your head when the President spends the last week talking about saving Big Bird,” he said. ”I actually think we need to have a President who talks about saving the American people and saving good jobs.”  Worst of all, Sesame Street asked the President to take down his ad.  This prompted a Drudge headline with a photo of Big Bird saying, “Leave Me Alone, Obama!” and a NY Post cover of Big Bird in the Oval Office over the headline “Cheep Shot!” To top it all off, the Washington Post said his fundraising letter was incredibly misleading by writing, “How did ‘I love Big Bird’ turn into ‘kill Big Bird’? Only through a spin machine going on hyper drive.”

Recently my four-year-old asked me if we could get her face painted with silver glittery paint at a high school football game. 

“I don’t have a dollar,” I said, realizing I’d spent all I had at the concession stand.  She looked at me with huge tears in her eyes, unable to understand why she couldn’t have her face painted like her friends.

It’s a hard lesson. But since Sesame Street prides itself to teaching lessons to children,  PBS and the President should use this momentous occasion in history — when America has a national debt of over $16 trillion — to teach children a lesson about money.  When it runs out, you stop spending. 

As much as we love you, Big Bird, it’s time to fly by yourself.

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I Won’t Back Down from Civil Rights… or from Teachers’ Unions

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Over the next few months, the editors of will report on hot-button election issues that American families face today, from healthcare to education. In the spirit of offering diverse perspectives on the election, we’ve chosen three moms from across the political spectrum to be guest bloggers on Parents News Now. Each one of them will offer a unique take on the topics that they–and you!–are most passionate about. (Read the entire blog series.)

By Nancy French

When I dropped my daughter off at an inner city Philadelphia School for kindergarten, I tried to keep my emotions in check. It was the first time in five years I’d been separated from my daughter, but I didn’t want to cry in front of the other latte-sipping parents. After all, the school looked welcoming enough, and the teachers were kind. But I really got a lump in my throat when they divided up the kids by class, and I counted the little heads in my daughter’s first kindergarten class.


There’s nothing quite like the feeling of helplessness a mom feels when sending a child into a less than ideal situation. But mothers all across the nation feel that trepidation every single day, because American public schools are failing in almost every measurable way. This was dramatically demonstrated when Chicago teachers — who make on average $74,839 per year — demanded more pay, refused to lengthen their already short school day, and didn’t want evaluations tied to performance.  And this when 80 percent of Chicago eighth graders don’t meet reading or math grade level requirement and 40 percent drop out before graduating.

Some parents have given up on public school for the greener (and more expensive) grass of private schools. Others have opted for homeschooling. But a new movie called “Won’t Back Down,” explores what parents and teachers at public schools can do to help change the public schools from within.  The film, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, definitely makes moviegoers feel –- in the gut –- what we know in our heads: far too many schools aren’t teaching subjects, delivering reasonable results, or prioritizing students.

The movie was screened for audiences at the Republican and Democratic national conventions. In spite of its bi-partisan rollout, however, it’s already been called the most controversial movie of the year. In fact, the president of the American Federation of Teachers has condemned the movie as “divisive” and saying it “resorts to falsehoods and anti-union stereotypes,” protestors have picketed outside screening locations, and the President himself was warily warned of the screening at the DNC.

Why all the fuss?

First of all the movie popularizes the relatively unknown “parent trigger laws.” Gyllenhaal portrays a struggling Pittsburgh mom Jamie Fitzpatrick whose dyslexic child receives no basic instruction at school. Together, she and Davis’s character, a veteran teacher, try to take over their failing public school by using a relatively unknown law, which allows parents and teachers of failing schools to change it.

Only four states have these laws — California, Mississippi, Texas, and Louisiana — and the details vary from state to state. However, they generally allow for the removal of ineffective teachers, ousting of a terrible principal, and even converting the school into a charter school. Though this has never successfully been done, undoubtedly this movie will cause many concerned parents to bring these initiatives to the attention of their state lawmakers. Originally proposed by a former Clinton White House strategist, these “parent triggers” are now about as popular with teachers’ unions as a head lice epidemic.

In fact, the second reason for the controversy is that the main antagonists are teachers’ unions, who repeatedly attack, block, and malign the efforts of hard working parents and teachers. (I experienced some cognitive dissonance while watching the movie. Have unions — who’ve given well over $35 million exclusively to Democratic candidates since 1989 — ever been negatively portrayed in major motion movies?)

Some liberals activists have said this movie is merely a piece of right wing propaganda, but not so fast. The movie’s director, Daniel Barnz, is a self-described “liberal Democrat” and told the Huffington Post, “I think that people are a bit tired of the finger-pointing and scapegoating within this world. I think they just want to see a way in which our schools can improve. That’s the spirit of the film.” He also told the L.A. Times, “I think of this movie as a David and Goliath story and for me, it’s a multifaceted Goliath made up of many things that are represented in the film: parental apathy, an incompetent principal, a dispassionate teacher. Part of it is the teachers union.”

In other words, sometimes well-meaning, Democratic-voting teachers’ unions actually enable and protect the failing schools. Barnz says he supports — yet is also critical of — the unions.  And he isn’t alone. Former teacher and current Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — who’s the head of the Democratic National Convention — favors holding teachers accountable, having more school choice, and was part of a panel which discussed the movie at the DNC.

The support from both sides of the aisle shows this movie isn’t about politics — or it shouldn’t be no matter how much the unions complain.  Rather, it’s about basic human rights and decency. Mitt Romney claimed this as “the civil rights issue of our time,” no doubt because of the inordinate number of African American children affected by urban schools’ failure rates.

Of course, not all urban public schools fail. McCall Elementary in Center City Philadelphia, where my daughter was squeezed into a kindergarten class of 40, actually listened to the parents’ pleas. Within one month, they’d added another class and it turned out to be one of my daughter’s best school years. It just took a little parental involvement, a school which held itself accountable to certain standards, and the willingness to honestly address problems. In other words, my daughter was fortunate enough to attend a school built around educating children, not protecting even the worst teachers’ jobs and benefits.

There’s a poignant scene in “Won’t Back Down” when Gyllenhaal’s character asks an uncaring principal, “Have you heard about those mothers who lift one-ton trucks off their babies? They’re nothing compared to me.”

It’s time for the mothers of America to get angry about the state of public schools, because the lifetime weight of a bad education can feel a lot heavier than one ton.

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How Mitt and Ann Romney Helped Me Get Through My Husband’s Deployment (OPINION)

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Over the next few months, the editors of will report on hot-button election issues that American families face today, from healthcare to education. In the spirit of offering diverse perspectives on the election, we’ve chosen three moms from across the political spectrum to be guest bloggers on Parents News Now. Each one of them will offer a unique take on the topics that they–and you!–are most passionate about. (Read the entire blog series.)

By Nancy French

In 2007, I was in Boston playing a very small part in trying to help Mitt win the GOP primary.  My husband, a constitutional attorney and captain in the U.S. Army Reserves, and I had started Evangelicals for Mitt the year before and — through a series of coincidences and opportunities — I ended up helping Ann Romney on a writing project.

In my normal life, I was a work-from-home mother of two, so life consisted of car lines, lunchboxes, and afternoon volleyball games.  But during the 2008 Presidential campaign, I spent time with Mitt and Ann, rode on their campaign bus, heard dozens of speeches, and saw the machinery of a modern Presidential campaign from the inside. Once, the dissonance between my normal life and my campaign existence was vividly illustrated when we were driving down the interstate in a bus, while CNN sped right beside us, a cameraman hanging out the window trying to get a shot of Ann as we drove about 70 mph.

That’s when I got a call from my husband, who had just opened a letter from the Army.  “You need to come home,” he said, with an edge in his voice.  He had just learned he was going to Iraq with the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment and would be stationed about ten miles from Iran.

Of course, everything changed.  Ann called me immediately after I got home to see how I was handling the news. When I was on the campaign trail with her, I’d been inspired by her as a mother –- she’d successfully raised five boys with a busy husband who’d traveled a great deal.  Though she would never compare her situation with a family going through a deployment, she did offer encouragement about how I could have a stable, peaceful family even in his absence.  I admired her strength and poise, and even began using her buttermilk pancake recipe with the family as we prepared for his departure.

One day, right before David left, we got a package from Boston with a beautiful brass compass inside.  On the back, a very touching message was engraved: “May your journeys always bring you back home.”  There was also a handwritten note from Gov. Romney:  “Thank you for your selfless service to our nation.  Your family represents what is good about America.  We are honored to call you friends. God be with you.”

The deployment didn’t make politics recede into the background of life… suddenly, it seemed so much more pertinent.  The very morning David left, he grabbed a pen and scribbled out a quick note to Gov. Romney.  “I hope when I return I won’t shake your hand as a friend but will rather salute you as my Commander-in-Chief.”

Of course, that didn’t happen.  When Gov. Romney dropped out of the race back in 2008 during a Washington, DC speech, I wasn’t there. I felt oddly bereft as I sat in front of the television trying to process the announcement.  “You see, kids,” I said, trying to put on a cheerful face, “we lost this one, but we’ll have another shot at it in 2012.”  I don’t think they quite grasped what I was going through.

But then, I got a call from the Romneys. As they were winding down from the fast tempo of the campaign season, they invited me to come to their home in Utah for some skiing.  Faster than I could say, “Mom and Dad, the kids are coming for a visit,” I headed out west, where I stayed with Mitt, Ann, Ann’s brother Rod, and his wife Cindy in the Romney’s home.  They even spent a day teaching this southerner how to ski at Deer Valley. I was terrible and uncoordinated, and  — in one inglorious moment –- even stopped myself from a bad fall by tackling Gov. Romney.  After seeing my incredible lack of talent, Ann stopped on the side of a steep slope and joked.  “It’s quite possible that you are in more physical danger right now than David,” she said.

Sometimes the media tries to portray the Romneys as uncaring, but nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, Ann talked about this unfair characterization in her recent speech at the Republican National Convention.  “Mitt does not like to talk about how he has helped others because he sees it as a privilege,” she said.  “Not a political talking point.  We are no different than the millions of Americans who quietly help their neighbors, their churches, and their communities.”

Though Gov. Romney doesn’t brag about the kindness he shows to others, the stories are leaking out.  For example, people are learning of this story of how Mitt helped organize co-workers at Bain Capital to find the teenage daughter of his friend Robert Gay. And they’re hearing, for the first time, the story of how Mitt developed a friendship with a 14 year old dying of Hodgkin’s disease, and even helped him write a will to make sure the right people received his prized possessions after he died.  And when Mitt sold their beautiful Utah home I visited to a couple from Florida, there’s even a story about how Mitt showed up to make sure the new owners knew how to use their appliances.

In other words, the kindness they showed me during my husband’s deployment isn’t unique or even nationally significant.  However, I happen to think a successful Presidency is about policies, yes, but it’s also about character.  That’s why it’s important that Mitt Romney’s incredible resume and economic skills are only matched by his willingness to serve others… even when it doesn’t benefit him, even when the cameras aren’t there to record it, and even when it means he’ll be tackled by an uncoordinated soldier’s wife on the side of the mountain.

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