By Amy Julia Becker
My day as a mom doesn't involve much thought about our government. I think about packing lunches for school, wiping counters, getting our kids dressed in clothes that are somewhat appropriate for the weather outside. I think about how many minutes of television William (age 4) has already watched today. I think about whether I'm being consistent in my discipline and expectations for Marilee (20 months), our third child, who is rather inclined to get away with, well, everything. I think about how Penny (age 6 ½), who has Down syndrome, is doing in school--will she control her hands, will she eat her carrot sticks at lunch, will she make friends? I think about the dozens of emails in my inbox, our cat with hyperthyroidism, the rusty spot on the door of the minivan that really needs attention.
I don't think much about tax policy, job creation, teachers unions, national defense, or public health. And I suspect that neither Romney nor Obama spends much time thinking about chores and report cards and rusty minivans. I certainly hope they don't.
Although I don't spend my days thinking about the government, I do have concerns about how the outcome of our next election will affect my family. At a luncheon hosted by CNN and Parents last June, I was part of a group of moms that discussed various election issues. It was clear that many of us care about having a president who can fix the educational system, address environmental hazards, and implement economic policies that enable job creation. Similarly, in a survey conducted by the Center for the Next Generation and Parents, "74 percent of parents say the government is not doing enough for children." The authors of the report detailing the same survey called upon Obama and Romney to address the "concerns of parents" in tomorrow's debate about domestic policy.
Neither Romney nor Obama has made educational reform or other issues related to kids the center of their campaigns. Both have instead made the economy the focal point of this election. They have different proposals for addressing economic woes--Romney follows his party line in calling for keeping both taxes and government spending low, although he is vague about the specifics of how to do so. Obama promotes the agenda of the past four years--raising taxes on the top income brackets and continuing to spend as an act of financial stimulus while "trimming fat" from the national budget. And although parents might complain that neither politician has focused enough on issues related to children, economic issues are what matter most to parents right now.
The recent survey showed that "91 percent of parents believe that the lack of jobs that pay enough to support a family is a serious problem facing America's children," and, in a departure from historical norms, "When asked to choose between an extra $10,000 per year or an extra hour every day of quality time with their children, two-thirds choose the money." In other words, the biggest concern parents face is the economy, exactly the topic both candidates highlight every day on the campaign trail.
When it comes to our presidential candidates, the problem doesn't lie with an unwillingness to address the concerns of parents and children. The problem lies with an unwillingness, on the part of the candidates and the American public, to address the real problems within our national budget. As Michael Grunwald recently wrote in a cover article for TIME ("One Nation on Welfare"), "The 2012 election is shaping up as a debate over Big Government, but it is only loosely tethered to the reality of Big Government. The vast majority of federal spending goes to defense, health care, and Social Security plus interest payments on the debt we've run up paying for defense, health care, and Social Security. Nondefense discretionary spending--Washingtonese for "everything else," from the FBI to the TSA to the center for grape genetics--amounts to only 12 percent of the budget."
The candidates don't need to be talking first and foremost about education reform or child welfare. They don't need to be thinking about the things parents are thinking about on a day to day basis. But in order to address the needs of the nation, which very much includes the needs of parents and of the next generation, the candidates need to do more than pontificate about reducing the deficit and providing sound economic policy.
They need instead to articulate reductions in defense spending and policy changes to our longstanding and beneficial entitlement programs--Medicare and Social Security. The boldness to ensure security and health for the next generation of children rests upon conversations that have very little immediate connection to my car that needs to go to the shop or Penny's behavioral chart at school or another box of macaroni and cheese. I'll be tuning in on Wednesday night to see if either Obama or Romney has any concrete solutions to the economic problems that concern us all.