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The Unseemly Politics of Stealing Innocence

August 23, 2000|DENNIS PRAGER | Dennis Prager's national radio show is broadcast on KABC in Los Angeles. His most recent book is "Happiness Is a Serious Problem" (HarperCollins, 1998)

On the third day of the Democratic National Convention, five children who appeared to be between 5 and 11 took the stage. As this was not during prime media coverage time, only C-SPAN broadcast it, thus only the delegates present and C-SPAN viewers were aware of what happened.

Yet I believe that this children's presentation told more about the Democratic Party and contemporary liberalism than anything else said or done during the convention.

The children's topic was "When I Grow Up," and in it an essential aspect of the Democratic Party was defined. Here is what they said:

* The first child: "When I grow up, I wonder if people will be more afraid to cry than they are to die. Will I be able to see a rainbow in a smog-filled sky? Will there be any trees alive? If not, how will the plants survive? Will the Internet have a Web site at www.lifetime-air-supply.com?"

* The second child: "When I grow up, if I got bored and had nothing to do, and me and my son built a canoe, would water that used to be blue be so polluted it would give us the flu? Will $1,000 be enough for a shoe? Will I have to be like you, letting money make every decision for everything that I do?"

* The third child: "When I grow up, will the existence of dolphins and whales just be a story I tell, starting with 'Once upon a time,' ending with 'Where did we fail?' Will adults be the hammer and nail? Will schools be next door to jails? Will the truth be illegal to sell?"

* The fourth child: "When I grow up, will anyone be on the news for anything besides killing? Will those drug dealers still be standing in front of my building? Will they ever learn how to love or stay afraid of the feeling? Will TV and music videos still raise America's children?"

* The fifth child: "When I grow up, will innocent kids still be wrongfully touched? Will students go home from school in a bullet-proof bus? What if children don't have anyone to trust? That would hurt me so much. And I want to be happy when I grow up."

Using children to make political points is objectionable in itself. These children, especially the younger ones, should have been home playing with toys, with other children or with their parents, not spouting lines they could barely pronounce placed in their mouths by political activists. But by far the worst aspect of this exercise--and the one that is most revealing of the liberal Democratic mind-set--is its assault on children's innocence by instilling their own fears, cynicism and pessimism in them.

When I saw the film "Titanic," I was amazed to see that some parents had brought children to a film that not only featured a topless scene but also depicted in absolute realism the true story of a thousand people going to horrible deaths in the ocean depths. Even I, a middle-aged adult, didn't sleep well that night. I raised this issue on my radio show, and to my amazement, most callers disagreed with me and defended parents who took their children to see the film. Each one argued essentially the same thing: This is the way real life is, and it is our duty to prepare our children for real life.

This attitude pervades our culture. Scaring children and depriving them of their innocence has become a national project, led usually by those with what we identify as a liberal political and social outlook. Hence the innocence-depriving classes about sex and sexual harassment in increasingly early grades and the scaring of young children by drumming into their young minds threats to their well-being such as first-hand smoke, second-hand smoke, strangers, potential molesters, disappearing rain forests, global warming, guns, caffeine, drugs and alcohol.

Thus at last week's convention, a very receptive audience gave an enthusiastic ovation to what a generation ago both Democrats and Republicans would have regarded as virtual child abuse--making young children speak about grave threats to their futures. To see a child stand before thousands of adults and speak about the danger to her happiness posed by the possibility of being "wrongfully touched" is unconscionable.

In the film "Life Is Beautiful," a Jewish father played by Roberto Benigni devotes his life to protecting his young son's innocence in a Nazi concentration camp. This father's relentless struggle to keep his son optimistic in the midst of genocide is the whole power of the film. Yet we live in an unprecedentedly safe, healthy and free society, a society in which every one of those five children can expect to live 90-plus years, and still many Americans feel it necessary to frighten children, render them pessimistic and deprive them of their God-given innocence.

And those who think this way now have a party to represent them.

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