Debra J. Saunders

Indeed, state law mandates that teachers, health-care professionals and cops report suspected child abuse to the proper authorities.

Lieber mentioned the Hill case over the phone -- which is wrong-headed because Hill was beating his son with deadly weapons, switches and belts, for weeks before he killed him.

Joseph D. McNamara, a retired police chief of San Jose, Calif., and now a research fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, told me that if he were a beat cop, he would be "horrified" at the prospect of enforcing a spanking ban.

Such a law would put police in "everyone's living rooms," where they would have to regulate parenting.

Or as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger so aptly put it when first told about the proposed law, "How do you enforce that?"

McNamara told me he never spanked his children, but he could conceive of instances in which good parents might choose to do so. Say a parent repeatedly tells a young child not to run into the street, or not to talk to strangers, or to stop hurting a younger sibling -- and words alone have not worked.

In such cases, parents -- not a Sacramento lawmaker -- know what best to do. And while Lieber told me she wants to draw a line that makes physical discipline a "black and white" issue, California parents have been dealing with shades of gray since before Lieber was in diapers. Parents are not stupid, they know the difference between beating and spanking, and they do not need her to draw the line for them.

What's next -- McNamara wondered -- a law against grabbing your kid by the arm? Pass such laws, he added, and you'll see a state in which "parents are afraid to discipline the child." As if that would be good for California families.

Lieber's response is that wife-beating once was off-limits to law enforcement, but in this enlightened age, the law does come between a man's fist and his wife's face. Again, she fails to distinguish between beating and spanking.

Just as some people choose not to distinguish between physical and verbal abuse.

Lieber explained: "Things have changed. Now we tell parents what to do and what not to do." The state makes adults use car seats for children, and there are laws to keep them away from lead-based paint.

Except spanking doesn't cause physical harm, as car accidents and lead paint can. And if spanking does injure children, it is illegal. This is more about philosophy than safety -- and California lawmakers don't have a right to mandate how parents think about raising their own kids. Those who want the government to stay out of the bedroom should not want it in the nursery or at the kitchen table, either.

Debra J. Saunders

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