My son is a Republican My 5-year-old son Elijah has proclaimed to me, my very Democratic husband and anybody else who will listen that he is a Republican. It started innocently enough. During breaks between PBS shows like Arthur — a fourth-grader who’s also an aardvark — and George Shrinks — a kid who’s the size of a thumbnail and flies around in a very small version of the Jetsons’ space car — Elijah first set eyes on Laura Bush as she touted the benefits of reading. “Who is that?” he asked. “The first lady,” I answered. “The president’s wife.”
I decided to take this and other opportunities to introduce him to the fact that there’s a governmental structure outside his own home. On other channels he’d see snippets of the news and I’d say, “That’s George Bush, our president.” He’d watch PBS. Laura’s pretty smile would shine, and he’d yell, “Mom, the president’s wife is on TV again.”
Innocent enough, right?
That’s what I thought — until the conversation in the car. National Public Radio playing in the background, it went like this.
Elijah: “What are they saying about George Bush?”
Me: “There’s an election coming up. Every four years Americans have the chance to elect a new president.”
Elijah: “A new president?”
I explain that John Kerry is running against Bush. I tell him that two major parties, Republicans and Democrats, usually vie for this position.
Elijah: “I’m voting for George Bush.”
Me: “You can’t vote. You have to be 18.”
He then asks me if I’m voting. After I answer affirmatively he says, “When you vote, will you please vote for George Bush for me?”
Me: “I’m a Democrat.”
A loud groan comes from the backseat followed by sobs and crying. “Well, I think George Bush is doing a fine job. I want to vote for him, and I’m a Republican.” Scream. Sob. Cry. “I want to vote. I want to vote.”
How could this be, I think as I repress my own screams, sobs and cries. “Well, your grandpa is a Republican. He’ll vote for him for you.”
His tears dry. Mine begin.
Elijah has always been precocious. He scored 141 when he was 4 on the verbal section of an IQ test. Perhaps his political short sightedness shouldn’t be such a big deal to me. He’s an adorable child anyway, and I’m used to being the odd woman out in my family. On my dad’s side, a clan of 40 or more, my sister and I are probably the only Democrats.
But this is my progeny. He’s supposed to root for the underdog, care about women’s rights and just be liberal. I want him to believe the government will help its citizens as much as possible. Then there’s the selfish reason. I’d kind of like him to identify with me. Instead of having political debates at the dinner table, it’d be so much more cozy to all agree and talk about how pathetically obtuse the other side is.
And even if I can come to accept my fate — that my child is of the other persuasion — my husband may not. He comes from a long line of Democrats. He grew up in the Washington, D.C., area. He’s very politically astute and has covered politics as a reporter for a living. He even has a certificate from former Indiana Democratic Speaker of the House John Gregg who, upon Elijah’s birth, proclaimed him an honorary Democrat. To my husband’s dismay, this has made no difference to his oldest son.
Elijah: “I think George Bush is a fine president.”
My husband: “He led our country to war under false pretenses.”
Elijah: “What are you? A bad guy? Do you like Saddam Hussein?”
My husband: “Well, no. That’s not the point.”
Elijah: “Can we please stop talking about this? I think I’m going to cry.”
Where’s the political harmony I’m seeking? I called Bill Blomquist, a former political science professor of mine at IUPUI, to find out if it could be restored. He said, among other things, that we have a good chance of changing Elijah’s mind. Usually the biggest predictor of party affiliation is your parents’ affiliation. Seeing Laura Bush on television often, being aware the current president is a Republican and having a Republican grandfather are all reasons he’s probably identifying with that party right now. “If he still holds these views at 15, offer him up to political scientists for testing,” he advised.
Meanwhile, I must deal with ridicule from friends and family. Both Democrats and Republicans alike are enjoying the fact that my kid is marching to the beat of a Republican drummer. He’s getting phone calls like this one from my aunt. “Don’t worry, Elijah. I’ll vote for George Bush for you.” And I’m getting these condolence calls from friends. “Is your son still a Republican? Did you let him watch too many episodes of Family Ties? I’m sorry. I really am,” one sympathetic soul snickered. The other week, a new babysitter watched Elijah and our toddler. When we picked up the kids, the first thing out of the sitter’s mouth was this: “Avary is so sweet,” she said about the youngest. “And Elijah says he’s a Republican.”
My husband and I sighed. “Yes, we know.”