In hyper-partisan Washington, playgrounds become battlegrounds

Petula Dvorak
Columnist October 18, 2012

This election cycle makes me feel like I’m back in Los Angeles, 1991, trying to keep my head down as I try to avoid the war between the Crips and the Bloods.

The Republicans and Democrats act no better than those gangbangers. They have their own colors, their own codes. They carve out their territories — the blue states and red states — and protect them with ferocity.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

They deploy surrogates, trash talk, cheer on the other side’s defeats, destroy peers who don’t fly the right colors, flaunt humongous wads of cash, roll around behind tinted windows and treat our lives, our health, our liberty, our happiness like points to be won or lost in one big game.

Who didn’t get uncomfortable watching the two men who want to lead our country for the next four years getting all up in each other’s faces at this week’s debate?

Tybalt, I mean Tagg Romney, confessed that he wanted to go up and take a swing at the president.

Even our playgrounds have become battlegrounds. And that’s especially true in hyper-partisan Washington, where the occupant of the White House is a hotly debated topic during snack times and recess.

Get this tidbit that recently went home with parents at a local Friends school that shall remain nameless:

“A gentle reminder: As a Quaker school and as an inclusive community, I am reaching out to you, the adults, to talk to your child about respecting others’ views and seeing the Light in each classmate and colleague despite differences of opinion. We in Lower School have found our students at times judging one another harshly for each other’s political views or party preferences.

“This is relevant, of course, in relation to many issues in school life, not just the election. Our children do mimic our adult behavior, and this is an excellent opportunity for each of us to express our views in a manner that is not insulting or demeaning of others.”

Or you could just label it: “Stop Teasing the Republicans!”

My 5-year-old is all in pieces because some of his playground friends like Mitt Romney and others like President Obama. He is torn.

“I just don’t know who to vote for,” he said.

Until this fall, the only thing that group ever talked about picking was their noses.

What’s up with this?

His assignment Wednesday was to interview me and my husband about the election.

“Who do you feel should be our next President?” and “Why do you think they will be a better President?” were the suggested questions he brought home in his alligator backpack.

The kindergartners — who are also studying earthworms — will keep learning about the voting process these next two weeks, ending with a mock election Nov. 5.

“Please be assured that I am not trying to interfere with any family decisions about the candidates for the Presidency during our discussions,” the teacher wrote to us parents.

Whew. I was beginning to wonder whether this exercise could turn us into a swing state.

Then again, a 5-year-old’s vote carries as much weight as a 50-year-old’s in the District.

I found myself secretly longing for the dreaded S-E-X talk while trying to explain non-military discretionary spending and tax cuts for upper-income American households. As my kindergartner struggled to digest these key issues, my 8-year-old wheeled by on his scooter.

“Romney is going to kill Big Bird,” he declared. Whoosh.

The kindergartner’s eyes grew wide, and another vote was decided based on a sound bite, my careful explanation of free market systems be damned.

Then again, given that Big Bird and Binders Full of Women seem to be what the presidential debates have boiled down to, it does seem that a playground mind-set will decide 2012.

Maybe in more conventional cities across America, kids tease each other for their weight or the kind of car their parents drive or the clothes they wear.

In Wonkland? It’s all about party affiliation.

Of course, kids learn from their parents or other adults around them. And how are they supposed to act when the examples before them are so abhorrent?

These are the people who then turn around and give earnest speeches about playground bullying?

Gimme a break.

How about we flip the script? And instead of kids staging mock debates and pretend elections, we simply ask our nation’s politicians to observe the rules of Mrs. Paul’s Kindergarten Classroom in Harrisonburg, Va:

We raise our hands to speak.

We work quietly at our seats.

We use voices soft and sweet.

We keep our places tidy and neat.

We are helpful, friendly and fair.

We take turns and willingly share.

If our political Crips and Bloods in Congress followed those rules, we’d be off the fiscal cliff in a heartbeat. And maybe future presidential debates wouldn’t sound like two boys arguing over their Legos.

To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.

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