October 4, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
The duplicity of ‘parents’ rights’
The problem for Republicans is when democracy empowers kids.
I am a terrier by instinct. I won’t let go of a topic until I’ve chewed it enough. One such theme is the difficulty of seeing the truth even when, or especially when, it’s in plain sight.
I wrote recently about GOP candidates who will not commit to accepting the results of their respective elections. What most see is the former criminal president’s toxic influence. What we should see, however, are candidates who are admitting that they can’t be trusted.
On Monday, I wrote about Ginni Thomas, who has professed to “an iron-clad rule” preventing her Big Lie propaganda from influencing her husband, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. What most see is the possibility of a jurist being compromised. What we should see is a Big Lie propagandist who’s asking us to take her word for it.
Today, I’m going to talk about a major theme for the Republicans that’s emerged before the congressional elections, and how that theme, too, illustrates the difficulty of seeing the truth. The theme is “parents’ rights” – or the idea that moms and dads have a right to know what their kids are learning in school with respect to “wokism.”
What most of us see are demands by reasonable people centering on the reasonable goal of protecting children from potentially harmful political views. What we should see is that these demands do not center children. They center parents. If the demand were truly about children, the Republican theme would be called “children’s rights.”
That it’s called “parents’ rights” tells us everything we need to know.
Allow me to introduce Jessica Kordas. She’s the Republican candidate for the attorney general of Connecticut. During a recent interview with reporters in New Haven, Kordas leaned into “parents’ rights.”
“She spoke of how fighting back as a single mom (of an 8‑year-old son and 10-year-old daughter) against Norwalk schools’ pandemic mask mandate propelled her to political activism and now this first run for public office,” according to the New Haven Independent.
“She spoke of pushing the state education department as attorney general to give parents more of a voice in their children’s school curriculum on topics such as sex education in younger grades.”
So far, so familiar.
Kordas, a criminal defense attorney, is singing variations on a theme of “parents’ rights” that all GOP candidates are singing. (Unlike her comrades, though, she concedes that Joe Biden beat Donald Trump.)
But Kordas goes on to say something revealing – not about her so much as the duplicitous nature of the theme of “parents’ rights.”
According to the Independent, Kordas, when off camera, “told a more personal story — of how she came to become an attorney — that dovetailed with how she views the elected office she’s now seeking.”
That story is of a young woman “who escaped a household harmed by drug abuse.” When she was 16, Kordas left “her family home in Norwalk. She headed to a law library. She read up on her options. She found out how to pursue legal emancipation. And she won it.”
Why is this revealing? Two reasons. One is that she cites this painful personal history, in which state law centers children who find themselves enmeshed in potentially harmful situations, as one of her reasons for running to be Connecticut’s top law enforcement officer.
Two, as Connecticut’s top law enforcement officer, Kordas promises to use her influence to decenter children and recenter parents – by pushing the education department to give them more of a voice.
What would have happened if state law had not empowered children like Kid Kordas to liberate themselves from their parents’ dangerous lives? Would Grown Kordas approve or would she use her influence to push the state to empower parents with more of a voice in the welfare of children enmeshed in their parents’ dangerous lives?
My point here isn’t that a set of laws is the same as a set of policy preferences. As state AG, Kordas’ authority with respect to education policy would be limited, presuming she’d have any authority. Neither is my point to catch Kordas is a gotcha. I’m sure she doesn’t care.
My point is highlighting the duplicitous nature of “parents’ rights.” When the state empowered Kid Kordas, she approved. When the state empowers other children, she doesn’t. When democracy enfranchises kids, it’s time for the resurgence of “parents’ rights.”
By now, what’s happening should be familiar.
When women rise in power, men howl about man-hating. When Black people claim their rights, white people fear for the end of the republic. When LGBT-plus people free themselves from cultural constraints, the status-quo elite freak over “a crisis of masculinity.” Whenever liberal democracy challenges the established political order, political elites rend their garments and gnash their teeth.
It’s the way of things.
It’s the same for kids.
Whenever the state empowers kids, as it does when it teaches them about sex or American history or “emotional learning,” some parents will attack the state – unless the state benefits them. The state is problematic only when it serves and protects “the undeserving.”
What most of us see is a question of whether parents have the right to protect their kids from potentially harmful political views. But this isn’t about protecting kids. It’s about protecting established interests. If it were about kids, the GOP would be calling for “children’s rights.”
That they aren’t tells you everything you need to know.
The truth is in plain sight.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.