Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Art of Being Political

All parents want what’s best for their kids. It turns out, according to this story in the Washington Post, that “what’s best” may be dependant on what party you belong to. Republicans want their kids to grow up to be captains of industry or corporate drones, while Democrats all want their kids to be poets and playwrights.

Forget tax cuts, the abortion issue and whether they wear the American flag as a lapel pin. We have, it appears, a new way of distinguishing Republicans from Democrats, at least in the federal city.

It emerged last week, without fanfare, at an annual gathering of young Republicans, from Tim Goeglein, White House deputy director of public liaison.


Goeglein recalled a dinner party that he and his wife recently attended in Northwest. Out of the six couples around the table, Goeglein and his wife were the only Republicans.

As is inevitably the case, he said, the conversation soon turned to the couples’ children — most 5 or 6 years old — and aspirations for their future occupations. One parent said editor; another, publisher; a third wanted the child to go into education.

“I was intrigued by the question, and the answers of every one of our Democratic friends,” Goeglein said. Not one parent, he said, gave an answer that would be more typical of Republicans. “Our party, in the way it is constituted, we think of medicine, we think of law, we think of business. We don’t think, gee, I hope my son grows up to be a great playwright or painter or poet,” he explained.

Whether a future government employee, a bureaucrat, would win the approval of a GOP parent, he did not say.


Author Mark Helprin, who considers himself a conservative, agrees. “Of course, you would have to be insane to hope your child grows up to be a playwright or poet. Given the odds, you would have to be quite cavalier about your children’s future.”

He recalled that at one point, a million people reported to the IRS that they were writers. Helprin believes only 50 to 100 people at a time can be successful in that occupation.


Robert Lynch, president and chief executive of Americans for the Arts, also was not convinced by Goeglein. “I would say that it makes a great dinner anecdote, but I don’t think it’s true.” He pointed out that congressional Republicans sided in favor of the National Endowment for the Arts when the Reagan administration was threatening to close it down.

But for Helprin, the divide remains. “The arts community is generally dominated by liberals because if you are concerned mainly with painting or sculpture, you don’t have time to study how the world works. And if you have no understanding of economics, strategy, history and politics, then naturally you would be a liberal.”

Speaking only for myself, I know that my parents were only concerned that I grow up and do whatever it was that made me happy and fulfilled. Choosing a career in theatre education and following my passion for writing was my choice, not theirs, and they have stood behind me through every step and stumble.

I knew a number of kids growing up who were forced to follow in their father’s footsteps; to go along with the family business or do whatever it took to follow the straight and narrow path their parents laid out for them. A lot of them were have told me that their biggest regret was not getting the chance to follow their own dreams and paths. And quite a few of them are miserable.

The biggest difference is that liberals do not measure success by comparing bank accounts. We measure it by making a contribution to the world in whatever way we can by whatever method we can. If that’s through medicine, education, or even business acumen, so be it.

As for Mr. Halperin, I think Jacques Brel, the late Flemish poet and songwriter said it best: “If people like them had their way, they would paint the world the color of goose shit.”