04/14/2011 09:04 am ET | Updated Jun 14, 2011

My Parents' Mixed Marriage

Not many people know this, but I am the product of a mixed marriage. I was blissfully unaware of it growing up, which I think speaks well of my Mom and Dad, who apparently wanted to protect their six children from the raw emotion and even hatred that was out there then -- but seems to me to be out of control today.

My parents met when he was in his mid 20s and already out in the world, and she was barely out of her teens. Her parents were strongly opposed to any sort of relationship and did their best to nip it in the bud. They took her away to Europe for the summer, hoping that the spark would die. It didn't work. Pop met the boat when they returned to New York. Her parents reluctantly accepted what they could not change, and Mom and Pop were married in late 1938 and remained happily married for 63 years.

Is that sort of mixed marriage even possible today? I seriously doubt it. After all, Pop was a Connecticut Yankee and a hardcore Republican, while Mom was a classic liberal Democrat from New Jersey (she was an early supporter of Jesse Jackson in the New Hampshire primary). She ran for office in our hometown several times, winning handily each time and proudly fighting for a Democratic agenda to preserve green space, limit McMansions and otherwise "interfere" in individual's rights to do whatever they wanted to. She did all this in the solidly Republican town of Darien, Connecticut.

My parents respectfully disagreed, but they also discussed and debated issues between themselves and with us -- everything from Vietnam to gay rights, and lots of issues in between. Their views weren't set in stone, even though their leanings were clear.

A couple of key words in there: "respectfully", "discussed" and "debated". And things did not fall apart; the center held, contradicting Yeats' grim vision.

So what on earth has happened to Republicans and Democrats? The latter seem to me to cave in at every twist and turn, particularly on the issues I care about most. Democrats should be fighting (speeches don't count as "fighting") for increases in spending on early childhood programs and Pell grants; they should be fighting to eliminate the Bush tax cuts for the rich; and they should be challenging tax loopholes that allow GE and others to actually make money on their tax returns. What do Democrats believe in these days, besides avoiding conflict and trying to make each defeat look like a victory?

In the wonderful movie Win Win, an inept high school wrestler spends an entire match trying to avoid being pinned. He's OK with losing a decision (3 points) but not giving up the 5 points for a pin.

Or an older reference, from the Eagles' song, "After the Thrill is Gone:"

Same dances in the same old shoes
You get too careful with the steps you choose
You don't care about winning but you don't want to lose
After the thrill is gone.

Both describe today's Democrats, from where I sit.

Republicans strike me, for the most part, as hysterical panderers to a narrow harshly partisan agenda that is often contradictory. Many seem to be living in a "thought-free zone" when it comes to children's issues. They can't be bothered by evidence (about the value of early education, for example) because that sort of stuff conflicts with their ideologies.

How do they contradict themselves? They are against taxes and for smaller government, even though their hero, Ronald Reagan, raised taxes and grew government wildly. They are against government interference, even though George W. Bush took over public education.

Here's a specific example of their mindlessness that's not in the headlines: Language. Many Republican politicians defend English, even to the point of pushing a Constitutional amendment to make it our national language. Guys, it already is! Many immigrants get what you apparently don't -- that English is our lingua franca, and they are busy learning it.

(So, by the way, are the Chinese, the Norwegians, the Germans, the French, the Koreans, and every other country that wants to eat us for lunch.)

Republicans are supposed to be the defenders of the free enterprise system of capitalism, but when they fly the "English only" flag they are subverting our system. Speak English, and you can go anywhere in the world and buy to your heart's content. But if you want to sell, you have to master other languages.

So if Republican politicians honestly wanted to strengthen America, they would be urging dual language public schools. They would be making it possible for our children to emerge from school speaking at least two languages fluently.

Instead, they want to stamp out Spanish.

If Democratic politicians wanted to strengthen America, they would be on the offensive, taking charge of the debate about our future. It's all well and good to talk about teachers as "Nation Builders," as President Obama has been doing lately, but it's empty rhetoric without a serious national conversation about the sort of nation we want our army of 3.2 million public school teachers to build.

That means answering three "yes or no" questions.
Do we want our children to be resilient, empathetic, honest and self-confident?

Do we want them to value collaboration and diversity?

Do we want teachers who ask of each child "How are you intelligent?" instead of "How intelligent are you?"

If the Democrats weren't spending all their energy on disguising their multiple surrenders, we would be answering those questions. Soon a blueprint for public education would emerge, and thoughtful citizens (probably people who have rejected both parties) would have something to organize around.

However, "A plague on both their houses" is not a policy option or a healthy choice, and this rant is not a solution.

Ideas, anyone?