The Des Moines Register reports that a conference billed as "Parents 2008: Putting Children on the National Agenda" will take place in New York today. The agenda? Duh. Unlike Italy, Japan and now Iran, our procreative society is hardly in short supply of young'uns. How we care for the 40 million children under ten is a fine descriptor of the state of our union. Education, health care, green spaces and after-school support all factor in. (Some may be surprised to know that the US has the 42nd lowest rate of child mortality worldwide, a metric that may be dragging down our ranking in the UN's Human Development Index.)


In light of this important political consideration, Parents magazine has conducted a reader survey with this question: Which presidential candidate do you most trust to baby-sit your children? The polling shook out like this:

Hillary Clinton: 26 percent
None: 19 percent
Barack Obama: 13 percent
Rudy Giuliani: 9 percent
Fred Thompson: 6 percent
John Edwards: 5 percent
Mitt Romney: 5 percent
John McCain: 4 percent

Ouch. More parents would rather have an empty rocking chair watch the kids than any of Hillary's (male) competitors. It's perfectly understandable that Hillary would get high marks from Parents' mostly female, family-oriented readership. This is the woman who wrote It Takes a Village, and who has staked an implicit claim over the "child and families" issue, first in Arkansas, then in the White House.


The inverse question, however, proved a complicating factor. When asked who they would least trust to mind the kiddies, parents responded as follows:

Hillary Clinton: 25 percent
Rudy Giuliani: 13 percent
John McCain: 7 percent
Barack Obama: 6 percent
Fred Thompson: 6 percent
John Edwards: 5 percent
Mitt Romney: 4 percent

Whoa. Don't touch my baby, Clinton, legions cry. But why? My thought is that the issue of parenting--which deals so much with compassion, patience and the imparting of values--also smacks squarely into all of Hillary's character vulnerabilities. Despite the built-in credibility of her ovaries, Clinton may be seen as the kind of mommy who can't do it all (a forgivable foible)--and won't even try (not so much). Critical moms may even see the well-guarded Chelsea as a one-child policy, lip service paid to motherhood, while her real ambitions trend political. That's a damning argument, but is reflected in the plurality of surveyed parents who won't let their kids near Clinton.


As for the others' showing, here are my guesses: Edwards and Obama are young, bright faces with small children themselves, an easy uncle for voting parents. And grandfatherly McCain seems just the type to pull a Werthers Original from behind the ear of a 6-year old. Conversely, Giuliani's tough-guy image might provoke fears of arrest among "panhandling" tots on Halloween (an argument Hannity and Colmes make eloquently here.) The real surprise is family guy Mitt Romney (of all the GOP candidates, he's prominently still with his original wife), getting the nod for least scary 'sitter. Then again, his low showing on both questions may point to a lack of national name recognition.


Here we have Exhibit 361 that Hillary is deeply polarizing, among many demographics. This poll also complicates the natural bye Hillary gets on "women's issues," suggesting other skill sets taken for granted--like the White House "experience" card, and her "military" bona fides, courtesy of a senatorial Committee--may receive further scrutiny in future.

 

--Dayo Olopade