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Why Progressives Can Make My Head Explode

more from Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Sunday, December, 9th, 2012, 12:32 pm

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I sometimes think America is caught between two diametrically opposed forces that are working toward a common goal: the regulation of our lives.

On the one hand, we have laws that prohibit us from eating, say, a Happy Meal. Or demanding that instead of a cookie, the Happy Meal contain fresh fruit.

On the other, we have laws that prohibit our children from eating foods that are actually healthy for them, school lunches being a case in point, particularly those schools that offer “fast food”.

Okay, these examples are a simplification; but they make my point: Progressivism aims for regulation of our lives. Conservatism also aims for regulation of our lives.

Liberalism is about liberty. Conservatism and progressivism less so, because while conservatism demands we stay the same, progressivism demands we change.

We find our free will legislated. Who needs God when you have government?

No, I’m not making the conservatives’ argument for them. I’m far from anti-government. Government plays a very important role on a number of levels. Government regulations protect us, or should. Often, the problem is lack, not excess, of regulation.

But excess can be a problem, like when regulation of low-flow toilets meant sewers backed up because there wasn’t enough water to force sewage down the lines. Let’s face it: any regulation needs to be thought out. San Francisco may have saved water, but they created a stink, and not just because they had to spend $14 million on bleach.

The difference between progressivism and conservatism lies in what they want regulated. Conservatives want to regulate our sex lives and our morality. They want government in our bedrooms. Progressives want to regulate what we can eat and wear.

A conservative will say, you can’t buy contraceptives. A progressive might say, you can’t buy a Happy Meal. A conservative might say you’re not allowed to watch that; a progressive might say you’re not allowed to declaw your cat or circumcise your child.

They’re bad for you, they both say in chorus. They’re cruel.

Personally, I would like to reserve to myself choices about what I want to buy, what I want to eat, what I want to wear, whether or not I want to use contraceptives. Family planning choices should be up to the individual, not the government, not a church, not a minister, not a busy-body down the street. The same goes for what meals I chose to eat.

I was reading an article on AlterNet about toys that would drive a progressive crazy. The list drove me crazy, but for different reasons. Top of the list was the seemingly innocuous McDonald’s “McJob” Play Set. Lauren Kelly writes:

What better way for a small child to escape into an innocent fantasy land than to…pretend to be a cashier at McDonald’s?

Indeed, for just $24.99 a child near to your heart can become the owner of a Just Like Home McDonald’s Cash Register 10 Piece Playset, which comes complete with a cash register with built-in credit card machine, a drive-through headset, fake money and food, and more.

My first thought was, why isn’t Monopoly on this list? It teaches children to make like Donald Trump and the other plutocrats who are trying so hard to destroy our democracy. Isn’t that at least as offensive as the pay scale of McDonald’s employees?

But Kelly asserts:

This toy isn’t offensive because children should be taught to “aim higher.” On the contrary, it’s offensive because low-wage McJobs, like ringing up customers at McDonald’s, are becoming some of the few options available for American workers. As the recent fast food workers’ strike reminded us, these jobs are terrible for workers. Writing at the Atlantic last week, Sarah Jaffe noted that fast food workers across the nation are being paid less than what they need to live on while the corporations they work for reap big profits. And it’s not just kids who are doing the burger-flipping; plenty of older Americans have become trapped in these low-wage jobs too, with historically few opportunities for organizing. At the same time, “The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that seven out of 10 growth occupations over the next decade will be low-wage fields.”

What exactly is so cute about a toy that represents worker oppression? (Not to mention it beats kids over the head with corporate branding?)

C’mon man! This sort of progressive rhetoric just makes me want to bang my head on a table. It’s a toy! I want to scream. And do progressives seriously think this toy will lure unsuspecting children into these low-wage jobs? One day my son wants to be an astronaut, another a WWE wrestler, another a paleontologist, and yet another a soldier. Sometimes he wants to write, sometimes he wants to write movies.

What makes it worse from my perspective is that my little boy used to play with this play set (or an earlier iteration) at a hospital clinic while receiving infusions for his Gaucher Disease.  Oh my gods, the difference toys like this made in a life that was nothing but uncertainty.

Here he was, a three-year-old little boy, frightened not only by a strange environment and strange people, but by a needle that was going to pierce his chest for several hours while live-giving enzymes were pushed into his body. The chance to sit and play and think of anything but the IV pole and the tube in his chest, meant the world to him – and to me.

Keeping his mind off his fears was no easy task. Neither he nor his parents were worried about McDonald’s corporate policies or pay scales or working conditions, and least of all, corporate branding. We were worried about our frightened, sick little boy. Where the toys come from, or what they might mean on some other level.

Yes, McDonald’s workers pay is sub-par. So is the pay every employee in the foodservice and retail industries. So why are we picking on McDonald’s anyway as if their policies are anything out of the norm? My first job out of high school was at McDonald’s. I worked in retail management for years and in foodservice management. The pay sucks. The working conditions often suck. Mid-level management, also hugely underpaid, often sucks.

So what do we do? Condemn, possibly ban, every toy that has a cash register and toy credit card, or toy food? Because really, that is what we would have to do if we follow Kelly’s argument to its logical conclusion. McDonald’s is only the easiest (because they are so high profile), but far from the only, legitimate target. Condemn any toy that puts children in the retail or foodservice industries.

And that’s just plain silly. I’m perfectly capable of informing my children that working at McD’s is not a great career choice. I can do that. I don’t need a progressive activist to make that decision for my child.

I agree that things like the easy-bake oven are marketed to girls rather than to boys and that this is silly. Boys like to bake and cook too. We as parents experienced this bias not only from toy makers but from the people who buy toys, being harangued by a disbelieving middle aged male for buying our son a toy kitchen. He could not accept that we would buy such a thing for our little boy.

Listening to him, I was not blaming the toymaker. I was blaming the man’s parents for bringing him up like they did. But then, they were brought up that way by their parents.

Let’s look at societal attitudes rather than pretending all the blame attaches to the toymakers. These things sell as they do because of attitudes in our society that are widespread – our own attitudes. The attitudes of our friends, parents, siblings.

Lauren Kelly attacks the 7-11 Slurpee Maker, saying, “Like the McDonald’s cash register toy, the 7-11 Slurpee Maker lets kids pretend they’re low-wage workers. Fun fun fun!”

But the child isn’t worried about wages. They want to have fun. Making slurpees is fun. The child is not pretending to be a low-wage worker. The gods save me from parents who would throw that in their child’s face.

She is right that BPA has no place in our children’s toys. She is right that sexual stereotypes are unhealthy. But the toymakers aren’t creating the stereotypes but feeing existing stereotypes, stereotypes handed down from fathers and mothers to sons and daughters from generation to generation, stereotypes supported by conservative ideology, by churches, and even by social workers and therapists. These attitudes are widespread and pervasive.

Bottom line is, I don’t want my personal life regulated. I don’t want my choices dictated for me. If I want to have an unhealthy hamburger once in a while, I reserve the right to do so. I have largely eliminated table salt and salty snacks from my life because of my heart condition. I have likewise limited my caffeine intake. I will make healthy choices for me, but these are choices for me to make, not the government, whether progressive or conservative.

So progressives, leave my meat and my leather alone. Conservatives, leave my TV shows and my movies alone. It’s my right to pursue my happiness, not yours to tell me what that happiness is.

Why Progressives Can Make My Head Explode was written by Hrafnkell Haraldsson for PoliticusUSA.
© PoliticusUSA, Sun, Dec 9th, 2012 — All Rights Reserved