So I'm driving with my daughter, a sixth-grader who loves social studies and history, and we see a bumper sticker bashing President Obama. And I sigh and make a despairing (though not disparaging) comment about the bumper sticker, and the driver of the minivan, and my daughter asks, "So mom, what's the difference between Democrats and Republicans?"
"Well, honey," I said, and then paused, wanting to give her an answer that was as objective as possible, "it kind of depends on who you talk to, or ask, and the definition has changed over the years, as the parties have changed."
"And?" she asked, waiting for me to give her some actually useful information.
And this is what I told her, off the top of my head, trying to remain neutral and factual, while trying not to crash into another car or a tree.
I said that in general Democrats tended to be in favor of a social safety net, or the public funding of programs like social security and medicare, which helped elderly people and people who needed extra help (the latter with health care); that Democrats (or most of them) believed in public and/or government funding of education and the arts, and in making sure everyone had access to health care; and that they tended to believe it was up to a woman to decide whether or not she would have a baby. (And yes my daughter knows what abortion is.)
As for Republicans, I told her that they tended to favor a small Federal government, and lower taxes (though who isn't for lower taxes?), which meant eliminating or cutting back on public spending (on things like education and the arts and health care, pretty much everything except defense); that Republicans favored States rights; and that most, especially Conservative Republicans, thought abortion and homosexuality were wrong and should be made illegal (whereas Democrats tended to support both).
Now I realize neither explanation is comprehensive (far from it), but if you had just a few minutes to describe the differences between Democrats and Republicans to a 12-year-old, without the benefit of a computer (or PDA) or a library, how would you describe each party -- while refraining from making any negative or biased statements about either party?
Let me know via the Comments. (And note: I will delete any and all inappropriate, vicious, and/or nasty comments.)
UPDATED: While discussing this post with the spouse, I was reminded of this classic blog post by the late great Jon Swift, titled "Pro-America vs. Anti-America."
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