Pint-sized politics

Oct 28, 1998 at 12:00 am

If there's one thing we care about in our house, it's voting. We make it a family affair whenever possible. I always carry the kids with me to the polls. My husband (who was born shaking hands and working rooms) never misses an opportunity to include the kids in Democratic Party politics. And "America Rock" ranks right up there with Michael Jackson and Elvis in the kids' CD collection.

Our kids have become the "Where's Waldo" duo of American politics. We have pictures of our son -- then just a year old -- going with us to vote for Jesse Jackson in 1988. Jay and Rae have been photographed next to Hillary Clinton. There's a picture of them, chubby little bookends on each side of a chubbier Ted Kennedy. There's even a picture of them sitting in the triplets' rocking chairs on the porch of the governor's mansion on Mackinac Island. Michelle Engler is there, giving them her genuine, endearing, gap-toothed smile.

At 11, Jay now knows more presidential trivia than Alex Trebek. "Mom, did you know that George Washington never lived in the White House?" "Did you know that Zachary Taylor died after eating a bowl of cherries?"

So I listened with interest when Jay and Rae started talking politics at the breakfast table this morning.

"I voted in school yesterday," declared Rae, a third-grader.

"Who'd you vote for?" asked her big brother, slurping Apple-Cinnamon Cheerios.

"John Engler," said Rae, proudly.

John Engler? Oh, God, I moaned, grabbing the counter so I wouldn't faint. How many times had I taught them to refer to the governor as The Evil John Engler? How many times after giving money to people on the streets had I told them that our governor hates the poor, that because of his policies the mentally ill have nowhere to get help? How many times had I told them to wash their hands after playing with frogs (if they can find any after Engler finishes wrecking the environment) or shaking the governor's hand?

"Rae?" I called peakedly, trying to maintain my composure.

"Yes, mom?"

"Why did you vote for John Engler?"

"Because," she said, looking at me with her amazing doe eyes. "He's making sure all the children can read."

Reading is a good thing, Rae has now discovered. She's in the middle of Misty of Chincoteague. Rae reads at breakfast. She reads at dinner. She reads in the closet when she's mad at everyone.

"I like him because he cares about children."

"But, Rae, you know how evil he is. What about the poor? What about the hungry? What about the mentally ill?" I ask, browbeating my child with Democratic values.

Then, Jay came to her rescue.

"Well, mom, who are you going to vote for?" he asked, trying to deflect my growing agitation.

Who am I going to vote for? The Hateful Hindenburg or Ego's 'R' Us? My mouth fluttered open, then closed, then open again. My hands were on my hips in indignation, but my heart was awash in indecision.

"I, I uh, don't know," I mumbled meekly, then added with complete conviction, "Not John Engler."

"What?" raged my son, now completely successful in turning the tables on his sister's tormentor. "You're going to vote for Geoffrey Fieger?"

I was ambushed. How was I going to get out of this one?

"Maybe," I said. "What's so bad about that?"

"Mom," he replied condescendingly, "Fieger said bad things about Jesus. You can't vote for someone like that."

When, I ask you, did the religious right infiltrate my household and make my children conservatives? I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Jay insists that I take a West African thumb piano and play it over his head at night so the spirits will give him good dreams. He is enraptured with one of the most amazing Muslims to ever grace this continent, Muhammad Ali. He has studied Transcendental Meditation in school for two years. Hardly a prime candidate for a soldier in the army of the Christian far right.

Still, the children stared me down, passionate in their love for reading and Jesus. They had watched too many political ads and their decision was final.

If they could, they would be doing what the rest of the state will be doing on Nov. 3 -- voting for John Engler.

There was nothing I could do about it. I searched for common ground. I thought about calling Clinton to ask if there was room at the Middle East peace talks in Maryland for a family torn by partisan politics. And then a thought occurred to me.

"Well, then who are you backing for Attorney General?" I asked. They looked at each other.

"What's attorney general?" asked Jay, his sister standing close.

"The state's top lawyer."

"Is that the office that Jennifer Granholm is running for?" he asked, suddenly remembering that the mother of their favorite playmates was running for office.

I nodded. They thought a minute. They held a political caucus.

"We're voting for Jennifer," they announced.

"Why?" I asked, having learned nothing from our previous conversation.

"We heard her speak at the convention," said Jay. "When Fieger spoke, he had to beg everyone to vote for him. When Jennifer spoke, she didn't have to ask. Everyone just wanted to."

Well, there's hope for the future of our state after all.