Whether he's talking about the lasting effects of the economy or his achievements in school reform, Mitt Romney mentions children pretty often. He prides himself as being an education governor, emphasizing school choice and creating the Jon and Abigail Adams Scholarship for high-schoolers going to school. Take for example this quote, from his remarks on education titled, "A Chance for Every Child:"
In this country, we believe every child has something to contribute. No matter what circumstances they were born into, every child has a dream about where they can go or what they can become.
Romney says he wants a better future for his children and grandchildren, and for the children in the United States. He's concerned for their future and wants them to go far. But he has a lousy way of showing it.
I'm not sure if you've heard, but Mitt Romney wants to cut funding for Sesame Street. He likes Big Bird, but he feels that PBS is too much of a spending drain on the U.S. economy, and would rather focus this nation's funding on important things -- like more tax cuts and military spending. I'm not going to dwell on this, because everyone else has already (and they should).
I'm going to dwell on Nickelodeon.
Most people really only know Nickelodeon for SpongeBob. If you're a child of the '90s like me, you probably remember it for Doug, Clarissa Explains it All, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and those obnoxious cutaways with Stick Stickley reading viewer letters. Ah, memories.
Being the geek I was (am), I was nose-to-the-screen for the "Kids Pick" poll.
For the last six elections, starting with President Bush Sr. in 1988, Nickelodeon has run a kiddie political poll called "Kids Pick." The network lays out some of the more pressing presidential issues -- watered down to a child's level -- in a series of commercials (and now on the Nickelodeon website) for children to talk over with their parents. The kids get to send in viewer questions to the network, which they then get the presidential candidates to answer in pre-taped spots, and at the end of all of this, the children get to send in their votes.
Keeping with tradition, and keeping with his commitment to the country's children, President Obama agreed to attend the "Kids Pick" television special. Mitt Romney declined. The only other time a candidate has turned down appearing on this program was 2004, when both George W. Bush and John Kerry declined.
I think Linda Ellerbee, the producer of Nick News, had the best response:
By answering kids' questions directly, candidates show respect for kids. We are disappointed that Mitt Romney wouldn't take the time to answer the questions, but are thrilled that President Obama participated in the special.
President Obama is a pretty busy guy, what with running a country and all -- but he's taking time out of a busy schedule to participate. And while campaigning is clearly a long and arduous journey, why couldn't Governor Romney do the same?
Right now, in the home stretch of the presidential campaign, Romney is aggressively going after the undecided voters in the best way he knows how. He's playing up his business prowess and promise of heavy budget cuts to save our country from falling off a debt cliff (cuts alone won't do it, but this is his plan, not mine). He's touring the swing states. In Romney's view, the most important strategy right now is to convince undecided voters that he's more fit to lead the nation than President Obama.
He doesn't have time to appeal to children. They don't vote.
The mentality of the Romney campaign seems to be, "Why would Romney spend time talking to Sesame Street viewers when he can appeal to the adults looking for employment on Main Street?"
The reason Romney should consider it comes back to Ellerbee's point: respect.
President Obama is not going on this program because kids have deep and game-changing questions about foreign policy -- someone inevitably will ask what his favorite pizza topping is, and that's about as important as questions get for a lot of 8-year-old kids. He's going on the program to show future voters that he values their time and opinion.
These "voters" aren't old enough to get inside a voting booth and pull the lever (unless their parents let them push the buttons like mine did). But in a few years, they will be. This "Kids Pick" empowers children to take an interest in their country's future, and to do their research on where candidates stand on the issues. It opens a door for children to talk about politics with their parents.
On a small scale, it shows them that their vote matters, so that maybe by the time they outgrow the "Kids Pick" poll on Nickelodeon, they'll grow up engaged in the country enough to someday Rock the Vote.
The Big Bird Blunder is in a similar vein: Over 95 percent of Americans surveyed said they grew up watching Sesame Street. And study after study shows that children who watch score higher on test scores in English, math, and science, and these children read more for pleasure as they grow.
Both PBS's Sesame Street and Nickelodeon's "Kids Pick" share a core belief: Children should grow up curious and learning, and grow into educated adults that will give a damn about the country by the time they turn 18 and send in their voter registration. These children are molding themselves into an educated electorate that any candidate would kill to have supporting them.
Like Governor Romney said in his speech, both PBS and Nickelodeon believe that every child has something to contribute. It's just a shame that Governor Romney won't take the time to let them.