Nanny State and Mother Love

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The parade of televised U.S. presidential debates is ridiculously long, especially so early in the process – before even the first primaries. With so many candidates on one stage, style inevitably trumps substance. But I watch a lot of these things – as a kind of civic penance, for not making complete textual analyses of every Cato and Brookings Institute policy paper as I should. I’m sure you’re the same.

Anyway, as I was slogging through the Nov. 15 Democratic candidates’ debate from Las Vegas, something different occurred. One segment involved supposedly undecided voters asking the candidates questions directly. (This was the integration of a favorite post-debate TV ritual: sticking a microphone in front of ordinary people and asking their impressions.) Cynical political professionals call the segments “peasants under glass” – they also sometimes feed the peasants scripted questions. At least three of the supposedly undecided voters were women in late middle age who were concerned about their adult or near-adult male children. One babushka wanted a promise that none of the candidates would ever draft her precious boy into the military and send him into harm’s way. Another was angry that her son was poor and wanted to know what the candidates would do about it.

One such woman would have been unremarkable; but several suggested design. Either CNN or the Democratic Party was making a point to showcase aging soccer moms expressing mother love.

That wasn’t the final effect. Instead, it sounded like the women were overprotective and their grown-up sons were – as a result? – morons.

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