Jonah Goldberg

In her first appearance as a presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton spoke at a community center while holding the hand of small child. Nancy Pelosi has said that when she took the Speaker's gavel, she took it "from the hands of the special interests and (put it) into the hands of America's children." Sen. Barbara Boxer recently belittled Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice because Rice doesn't have children and therefore cannot appreciate the full impact of war the way Boxer can.

Of course, there's no draft, and Boxer doesn't have any kids in uniform, nor would they be eligible for a draft if there was one.

But all of that misses the message: Democrats love The Children.

Well, I don't.

In truth, I do love kids. But it's the "the" in The Children that's the problem. It transforms children into a principle for which any violation of limited government is justified.

Marion Wright Edelman, Hillary Clinton's old friend and colleague at the Children's Defense Fund, comes as close as any to being the architect - or, more apt, the mother - of this idea.

The CDF was launched in the early 1970s largely to push for more generous social welfare programs. But Edelman realized that welfare could be a hard sell. "When you talked about poor people or black people, you faced a shrinking audience," she said. "I got the idea that children might be a very effective way to broaden the base for change." The idea was as simple as it was brilliant: By making The Children the beneficiaries of welfare rather than the adults, the left could portray any attempt to curb the welfare state as "anti-child."

Ever since, liberals have argued that disagreements over policy are motivated by cartoonish animus toward kids. For example, when Bill Clinton finally signed Republican-backed welfare reform, the CDF called it an act of "national child abandonment," while Ted Kennedy denounced it as "legislative child abuse."

Such acrimony over welfare reform hardly translated into the Clinton administration abandoning its "do it for the children" approach to politics. Former Attorney General Janet Reno - America's chief law enforcement officer - always cast herself as the protector of children. "I would like to use the law of this land to do everything I possibly can," she declared when nominated, "to give to each of them the opportunity to grow to be strong, healthy and self-sufficient citizens of this country." If only al-Qaida had been targeting day-care centers, she might have paid more attention.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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