Watching the Presidential Debate with my 12yo son

Mitt Romney and President Barak Obama at the Presidential DebateI’m not a rabid politico nor do I pay attention to every single act and regulation that goes before Congress or even attend political events or rallies. Frankly, I find most of the rhetoric on both sides to be more obfuscating, alarmist and half-baked than anything else. Still, I also am grateful to live in a country where we have such freedoms including the freedom to protest, complain and try to make things better without having to use force or hurt anyone. Pretty amazing if you’re familiar with the long march of human civilization.

Everyone in my family was born in England, so when we came to this country, there was a different sense of appreciation for the government and our political system. As a result, I don’t recall much encouragement on their part for my sister or I to get involved with American politics or even for us to discuss political candidates and key topics of the day.

I’m determined not to duplicate that because regardless of what political views my children grow up to have, I do believe passionately that the right to vote is really one of the core benefits of being an American and always find it rather depressing when I hear that we have less than 100% voter turnout. With mail-in ballots, there’s really no excuse, and I would support us having a law requiring all eligible voters cast a vote at each election, even if they decide not to vote for anyone or in favor of any bills, laws or taxes.

No surprise, then, that last night I asked my ex if I could have the two older kids stay with me so we could watch the first 2012 Presidential Debate between Mitt Romney and President Barak Obama. She doesn’t have a TV so I knew if they were with her — our usual Wednesday schedule — they’d miss it entirely. It worked out that only my son G-, 12, joined me, though ironically it was my teen A- who had joined me for the Republican Presidential Candidate Debates, where I was quite impressed by her insightful commentary and observations.

So we cooked up a pizza, served ourselves salad, and had a special treat: TV on a school night. We watched the entire debate and I was impressed that he was attentive to the screen just about throughout. Maybe his attention wandered a few times, but mine did too (darn you, Twitter!). Still, I commented on things that the candidates were doing like “see how Obama’s looking at the camera, but Romney looks away every time?” and “Looks like Lehrer is going to burst into tears, doesn’t it?”

He shared his comments too, including “Romney’s really rude to Lehrer, isn’t he?” and “Obama seems sleepy”. I didn’t expect great insight from a tween, but the chance to watch the candidates debate with my son, while talking about how the ability to vote on the candidate we think would be the best possible president of our nation is a really great right that we have, and that instead of letting adults tell him who is cool and who is scary (we live in Boulder, you can imagine who he hears the most negative rhetoric about) it’s always smarter to observe, research and draw your own conclusions.

He admitted that a girl he likes is a Romney supporter and that her parents are probably going to vote for him, but that “it’s okay anyway”. That too was a great thing to hear from him and it’s something that most adults seem to have completely forgotten: tolerance. I don’t expect to have my political views in alignment with my friends or family, and it’s the freedom to make up my own mind that I most cherish.

And last night I got a glimmer of my son starting to realize this freedom too.

While watching TV.

Is this a great country, or what?

3 comments on “Watching the Presidential Debate with my 12yo son

  1. This is awesome. I love that you made this a moment to spend with your kids and engage in something hopefully all of america did. I like your comment on tolerance most, and something that we can’t be reminded of enough; particularly in this next several weeks leading to the election!

  2. ” I always find it rather depressing when I hear that we have less than 100% voter turnout”

    The only countries that have (or profess to have) 100% voter turnout are de-facto dictatorships. (Guess what the voter split there is? Hint: there is no other candidate). Even democracies with mandatory voting (like Australia) have ~80% turnout. The right to choose is also the right to choose not to be engaged, for any reason.

    Sociologists like to use the following formula to determine whether someone will vote:
    PB+D > C where: P is the probability that an individual’s vote will affect the outcome of an election; B is the perceived benefit that would be received if that person’s favored political party or candidate were elected; D represents a (rather vague) social or personal gratification an individual gets from voting, and C is the time, effort, and financial cost involved in voting. Gerrymandering and the electoral college system may cause certain voters to have a very low value for P. A two party system with a poor choice of candidates perceived to be six of one, half a dozen of the other accounts for a low value for B and D. Also, C can be rather high if you cannot take time off from work to vote (other democracies mandate 1-2 days off on election day), or have a problem registering, Some state laws can make registration onerous to senior citizens, immigrants (legal) or minorities. So in some places, C is rather high.

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