The two presidential candidates mentioned children 30 times in their acceptance speeches. For the most part, it was simple hopeful rhetoric. Both candidates told us they want to do something for our children's future! Good enough. But the only specific policies mentioned were 1) Obama: recruit 100,000 new math and science teachers, cut the growth of college tuition in half, and don't kick kids out of Head Start, and 2) Romney: parents should have a choice about what school their children attend.
On the surface, the scorecard based on the text of their nomination acceptance speeches suggests some common concerns about children's issues by the two candidates. Both mentioned early childhood education once. Both mentioned poverty twice. Both mentioned parents or grandparents three times.
Yet children were not really that high on the policy lists. The president referred to children, kids or young people 12 times. Twelve words out of 4,343. Less than three-tenths of a percent. Mr. Romney outscored him with 26 out of his 4,112 words. Still only six-tenths of a percent. The president spoke more about young adults. Romney did not mention them specifically (I am not counting the times each man spoke of his own youth).
As far as other issues affecting our children, a lot of the attention in both speeches was about education, so we can give them a little extra credit for that. Education, from preschool through college, was mentioned 19 times by President Obama and 11 times by Romney. Only Romney mentioned graduation (twice). Neither had anything to say about scholarships, special education or physical education.
Next in the rhetorical running was family. Romney led the president here, at least nominally, by a score of nine to five. But really, they were about even. Three of Romney's references were to his own family.
Things get pretty sparse from here on out. President Obama mentioned disability once, but he wasn't talking specifically about children. Disability is a major issue affecting the educational progress of children, as well as their over-representation in foster care.
No one mentioned teenagers or adolescents, though some of the stories each man related covered that ground.
Each speech, of course, talked a lot about jobs and the economy. It is certainly true that improving the economy generally is good for our kids' future. But lots of issues were ignored despite the fact that they have enormous negative impacts on children's lives right now. Although juvenile arrest rates have declined since 1996, there were still 5,804 juveniles arrested for every 100,000 young people ages 10 to 17 in 2009. Yet we heard no soaring rhetoric about saving kids from a life of crime. Probably doesn't sell well.
We also heard nothing from the presidential candidates about another very serious children's issue. Every year, over 3 million children witness domestic violence in their homes. But the very damaging impact of children's exposure to violence went unmentioned by either presidential candidate (although let's give credit to Vice President Biden for his impassioned support for the Violence Against Women Act). And despite the fact that 646,000 children experienced foster care in 2011, neither candidate mentioned child welfare, child abuse, child protection, foster care or adoption. That's a shame. There is a clear government responsibility for those kids.
In this country, 7.9 million children have no health insurance. But you didn't hear this mentioned in either speech. Given all the hoopla over the Affordable Care Act, you'd think someone might have given some attention to this.
None of this is surprising. Children show up in presidential campaigns as photo-ops and rhetorical flourishes. But if you feel, as I do, that the kids deserve more, get in touch with the candidates and ask them to speak up for the kids. Tell them children aren't a partisan issue. Tell them an investment in kids is an investment in the future.
This post is based on the text of nomination acceptance speeches by President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, as provided by the campaigns.
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