The Morning Jolt


Parenthood’s Public-Relations Problem


Making the click-through worthwhile: the public-relations problem of American parenthood; what you need to know about Hawaii congresswoman and Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard; and the, er, “mastermind” behind the attack on Jussie Smollett finally gets arrested.

Why Does Parenthood Have a Public-Relations Problem?

Upon seeing a Pew Research poll showing that lower-income teens are much less interested in having children someday, Bethany Mandel observes, “parenthood has a public relations problem.” Isn’t that the truth!

After the Elian Gonzalez controversy in 2000, I remember watching a PBS roundtable that featured author Richard Rodriguez. He pointed to a cartoon that depicted Gonzalez and offered what I thought was an observation for the ages:


A cartoonist in the morning paper, mediocre talent, who every time he had a chance to draw Elián would put him in sunglasses with his Nike shoes, you know the consumerist Nike child. And I think, if you were really to ask a lot of American parents, would this boy be better off in Havana or would he be better off in South Beach on roller-blades with sunglasses, a lot of Americans, in our middle-aged caution, would say we would not want Elián to grow up like our own children.

The question is . . . why? Why would so many Americans feel like a child is better off in an oppressive country with an atrocious human-rights record, no freedom of expression, restrictions on travel, arbitrary detentions, and state-sanctioned beatings of prisoners? What made Americans believe that life in their country in the year 2000 — the height of the dot-com boom! The peak of perceived peace and prosperity! — would be such a harmful and warping experience for children?

I recall Rodriguez arguing that the cartoon encapsulated how many American adults saw the country’s children at that time (now nearly two decades ago) — spoiled, materialistic, and shallow. He contrasted this with the portrait of American children in stories such as Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer: the boys were clever, full of energy, curious, prone to getting in trouble, but good at heart. Parents have always complained about children, and non-parents have always complained about other people’s children. How did the public perception change from some children being spoiled to “American children are spoiled”?

Why would Americans think so poorly of their own children — and by extension, themselves?

There is something nihilistic at work in our culture that amounts to us hating ourselves. (If you hate yourself, you do not want to perpetuate yourself through future generations.) There’s a weird fetish for the apocalypse at work in our culture. We see it in the declarations that climate change is not merely a generational problem but that we’re within the last decade to save the planet. If it’s not climate change, it’s nuclear war, or global-disease pandemics, or aliens, or giant meteorites, or some sort of technological collapse. We see it in the ubiquitous zombie movies and television shows, Mad Max and various knockoffs, The Terminator and Matrix series and various other fears that AI and machines will destroy us, the Fallout video games . . . we spend a lot of time imagining about what things will be like when most of us have been killed off. Even the newest Star Trek series abandoned the sunny optimism of the original William Shatner-Leonard Nimoy version: “Discovery takes place in a time before the Enterprise, before Kirk, Spock and Scotty. Prejudice is rife, war is prevalent, and while the show subsides on the hope of a better tomorrow, it is clear that Discovery’s world is a far cry from the one we’ve seen elsewhere.” Fans and creators argue whether the original series’ depiction of a hyper-competent, unified, happy humanity would feel relevant to today’s audiences.

(You notice the one kind of apocalypse movie or television show we never see? An American government that reaches the point where it cannot borrow further and cannot simultaneously finance existing entitlement programs, the defense budget, and other government programs.)

In 2009, comedian Denis Leary wrote a typically acerbic humor book entitled, Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid. By 2017, he wrote a follow up that more or less reversed himself: Why We Don’t Suck: And How All of Us Need to Stop Being Such Partisan Little B****s. I’ve wondered if Leary feared that sarcastic, cynical comedy was feeding into a dark and depressed worldview among the public.

I may be as guilty of this as anyone. I mock my local public-school system for closing at the first sign of a dropping dew point, but this doesn’t mean I think that the local kids are whiners and wimps. I joked that helping coach youth soccer was a delight because I could legally yell at children that weren’t my own, but the eight-year-olds were a joy who actually gradually learned to stop clumping around the ball. I joke that my kids are driving me crazy, but they’re not actually driving me crazy.

Do some people — particularly young people, who have only experienced family life from one side — lose that distinction? Do “oh, my crazy family” jokes and stories and television shows and movies and books leave some people thinking that starting a family isn’t worth it?

The Tulsi Gabbard You Don’t Know

A few times during Obama’s second term, Greg Corombos and I would examine Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s recurring criticism of the Obama administration on the Three Martini Lunch podcast, and we would joke, “Wow, here’s our new favorite Democrat.”

But having finished the latest “Twenty Things” article, and reviewing about every major profile of Gabbard, coverage of her early in her career, tons of speeches, articles about her politically active parents, her family nonprofits, and more, a more complete picture starts to emerge: Gabbard makes a lot of surprising decisions, even if they seem to contradict earlier ones.

She’s considered the first Hindu elected to Congress but clarifies that she’s “more into spirituality than I am religious labels.” She was raised with close ties to a religious organization that some former members characterized as a cult, but Gabbard insists that she never saw anything like the abuses they described. She set up a nonprofit with her father as a teenager — there are some cute pictures of her dressed up as “WaterWoman” to teach kids about the environment — but very few 21-year-olds would leave community college to run for the state legislature, and no woman had ever been elected to a state legislator at a younger age.

Once elected and beginning what looked like a promising career in elected office, not many would sign up for the Army National Guard, and not many would volunteer for a deployment to Iraq. Plenty of people change their views on homosexuality, gay marriage, and abortion, but not many say military deployment spurred a 180 degree change in their viewpoint. Once people have made that change — and if they want a future in Democratic politics — they don’t often say that their “personal views haven’t changed” but that they don’t want to enforce their values on others.

You don’t see a lot of people who are warmly welcomed at American Enterprise Institute events who also regularly denounce “neocon warmongers.” You don’t often find someone on the board of the Sanders Institute and who also reportedly has a big fan in Steve Bannon. Almost no other Democratic officials were willing to meet with the president-elect at Trump Tower between the election and the inauguration, and yet clearly Gabbard is no fan of this president. Not even many other Democrats went as far as to call Trump “Saudi Arabia’s bitch,” as Gabbard did . . . and let’s face it, out of all the people in the world to throw stones at this administration’s policy towards Riyadh, the woman who went to Damascus, met with Bashar al-Assad, and declared herself “skeptical” that his regime used chemical weapons is probably living in a glass house.

Add it all up and you have a figure who is unique and probably appealing to many but whose overall worldview seems . . . weird. She’s the hawkish dove, perceived as not-so-liberal but who wants free public- and community-college education for everyone, hated by the Hillary Clinton camp for a perceived betrayal but not really having many potential supporters among the traditional Republicans or MAGA crowd. Surely all of this makes sense to her; we’ll see if it makes sense to the electorate. As John McCain learned, it’s very hard to rise to the top of your party and lead it as a maverick.

And my God, it seems every major publication has sent a correspondent and photographer to Hawaii to get pictures or video of her surfing. The New Yorker, Vogue, People, Yahoo Sports, Fox News Channel, Ozy, Alive, The Inertia . . . She’s one of the rare members of Congress that TMZ is interested in.

This morning, Chicago Police took actor Jussie Smollett into custody; he faces felony disorderly conduct charges for filing a false police report. He faces a potential sentence of one to three years in prison and substantial fines.

As Morning Jolt reader Ken observed, “The theory that a conspiracy devised hastily by amateurs can survive weeks of intensive law enforcement scrutiny is surprisingly persistent. By coincidence, it was 25 years ago this month that it received its clearest refutation, thanks to Tonya Harding.”

ADDENDUM: May your day be as free from difficulty, pain and hardship as that of Congressman Eric Swalwell, who endured a light snow to avoid going to a coffee shop in Trump Tower.

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