Saturday, March 05, 2005

An analogy I'll live to regret

...and I mean that. This is pretty much a piece of fluff to keep my hand in on this blog until I finish researching The Halliburton Question.

Here goes. Last night we went out to dinner as a family. What that means is two adults, one fairly surly almost-eight-year-old, one tired three-year-old, and one very tired one-year-old. We weren't about to attempt anything requiring sublime table manners - it was Cheeburger, Cheeburger, for any East-Coasters out there - but it was a sit-down place with cooked-to-order food. (Have you EVER seen so many hyphens in one place?)

Steve, recovering from a near-all-nighter (the hyphens continue) at work the night before, was a veritable zombie, functioning as only an experienced dad can to keep the littlest occupied while we waited for our food, but not speaking a word to me or the older two. I was fully engaged with them, one on each side, keeping the middlest (as we call her) supplied with crayons on demand, jollying the oldest along as he dealt with the angst of whether he'd made the wrooooooong decision by ordering the normal-sized burger (that comes in a "collector" car made of cardstock) over the 10-oz. burger that, if he were to finish it, would get his picture taken with a giant stuffed cheeseburger for posting on the wall. Then the food arrived and we switched functions to exhorting the oldest to slow down, nobody was going to take the food away, feeding the middlest "like a baby," as she sometimes requires in order to get any calories into her, and collecting the french fry pieces the littlest tossed in all directions. Still no chance for adult conversation, nor really for family fun.

Here comes the analogy: But it had to be done. The kids have to learn to behave in public and practice that behavior. Keeping them in the house because it's hard work to take them out will not enable them to develop the social skills they'll need in years to come. Ditto Iraq (see why I'm going to regret this analogy?).

I categorically deny that the United States should feel paternalistic about any other nation. But. In the Middle East we are - I hope - seeing the inception of a new way of thinking for that region, and we have some experience in that area: the longest and most successful experience in the world, in fact. We have to do what it takes to impart our experience to the newbies, even though it's hard, painful, and not especially rewarding for us in the short term. The long-term reward is one or more nations that can function productively in a democratic world they weren't born to - just as no child is born to socialization - with all the benefits, and the significant challenges, that derive from democracy. Showing them the proper fork, so to speak, reminding them which one it is when they pick up the wrong one, congratulating them when they choose the right one - these are things we can do not only to help the Iraqis and the others who are agitating for the same chance, but also to ensure that in future years we're not "embarrassed in public."

Okay, go ahead: rip this fluff up. I deserve it and will submit without demur.

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