brucekluger.com

    USA Today, May 23, 2012

    What about the 'war on kids'?
    Much has been made of GOP assaults on terror and on women, but children
    are also targets of subtle and troubling attacks.

    By Bruce Kluger


    As in most presidential election years, noisy battles
    have been raging as the nation’s political armies
    gear up for what promises to be an even noisier
    fall. This means we’ll continue to hear the familiar
    clatter about the many “wars” America is currently
    engaged in—from “the war on terror” to “the war on
    Wall Street” to the new and nasty “war on women.”

    Even President Obama acknowledged this
    quadrennial tradition in his shtick at last month’s
    White House Correspondents’ Dinner, taking a light-
    hearted swipe at that most dependable of political
    wars, the “war on Christmas.” And he got his
    yuletide laugh—in April, no less.

    What’s not so funny to me, however, is a real and credible war that’s been brewing
    just below the radar this election season, and it is as subtle as it is dangerous: the
    war on children.

    Ever since becoming a father 17 years ago, I have felt increased parental
    responsibility with each election, knowing that the older I get, the more my vote
    weighs upon my kids’ future rather than on my own. And though Mitt Romney is now
    the last man standing in the GOP sweepstakes, the cumulatively strident voices that
    have risen throughout the primaries have set my protective dad-meter on red alert.

    Granted, Republican voices have been dominating the news cycle, but that typically
    occurs when one party aligns to unseat an incumbent president. What’s unusual
    this year, though, is the apparent hostility—and apathy—the GOP seems to be
    harboring for children.

    Take education. Ordinarily, that’s a no-brainer for a presidential candidate. Sure,
    there are credible hairs to split on the issuefrom school vouchers to standardized
    testingbut in the constellation of campaign confrontations, it’s an easy win.

    Which makes it all the more unsettling to watch Mitt Romney adopt the GOP’s slash-
    and-burn strategies for solving our nation’s education woes. He has vowed to
    consolidate the Education Department (or, at least, make it “a heck of a lot
    smaller”); and he has backed Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal, which would
    reportedly eliminate 200,000 children from Head Start, reduce services for 10% of
    disadvantaged middle school kids, and cut Pell grants by more than $1,000 per
    college student. As for older kids saddled with education costs, Romney is all
    business: “Borrow money if you have to from your parents,” he said. Clearly the
    man hasn’t seen the average American’s checkbook balance.

    Then there’s “Obamacare,” which has inspired unified condemnation among the
    president’s Republican adversaries. Fair enough—it’s a complicated plan and
    plenty can go wrong. Yet has any Republican—including the presumptive
    presidential nominee—acknowledged just how many kids will be left abandoned on
    the health care battlefield should the law be struck down?

    Under the president’s historic health care reform law, up to 17 million children will
    no longer be denied care for a pre-existing condition; 28 million children will not be
    subject to lifetime caps on their coverage; and 2.5 million kids may remain on their
    parents’ health insurance until age 26.

    Yet all of this is now under fire by Republicans as they seek to evict Obama from
    the White House. That seems like a lot of kids’ lives to put in jeopardy, just for the
    sake of a single election issue.

    But most dangerous to children—and far more insidious, I think—is the re-
    emergence of social and religious conservatism this year, particularly the ceaseless
    targeting of the gay community as a source of our nation’s ills. Grown-ups can fight
    this kind of discrimination in court, whether they’re taking on gay marriage laws or
    employee benefits to same-sex couples. But children—especially gay adolescents
    struggling with their emerging sexual identity—are falling victim to this holier-than-
    thou moralizing.

    According to a study published in Pediatrics, gay and bisexual teens are 20% more
    likely to attempt suicide in politically conservative areas than in “supportive”
    environments. These numbers tragically bear out: In February, Rolling Stone
    reported on a rash of teen suicides—nine in two years, four of them gay-related—in
    the Minnesota school district represented by former presidential candidate Michele
    Bachmann, who continues her virulent crusade against the “homosexual agenda” in
    public schools.

    Then, just last month, a 17-year-old gay student named Jack Denton Reese—a
    Mormon from Mountain Green, Utah, deep inside Romney country—took his own
    life after being relentlessly bullied at school.

    Americans are generally unfamiliar with Mormonism, and one would have hoped
    that Romney, a lifelong adherent to that faith—and someone who had cruelly
    bullied a gay classmate himself in high school—would have commented on the
    tragedy, assuring us that religious fundamentalism played no role in the child’s
    death. Or that bullying was deplorable. Or something. But no such luck; just silence.

    Four years ago, candidate Obama coolly brushed off the eruptions and assaults of
    the campaign by referring to the presidential election as a “silly season.” At the
    time, I found that to be the perfect definition. But this year is different. Once you
    endanger our children’s well-being, it’s no longer silly. It’s unacceptable.