One of the great childhood memories for any member of Generation X is “The Muppet Show.” Popular in the late 1970s and early ’80s, the program almost always provided an occasion for the family to gather around the rabbit-eared big box color television while cute puppets did the talking. Or did they? As we pretty well then, and learned in greater detail as we got older, the puppets were all being controlled by adults. They appeared to be different characters, but their movements, words, and personalities were simply the imaginings of Jim Henson and his crew.
No one would bother to ask Kermit for real advice, particularly about politics, and no serious person is looking for guidance from our youth who are not much above the age of Kermit’s intended audience.
In fact, this post-Parkland youth movement advancing gun control is purely trompe l’oeil. It is not spontaneous in the least, with certain politically correct survivors themselves being promoted from the earliest days of the tragedy as spokesmen for a community—“the youth”—which had diverse views on guns before and still has them after this horrific attack.
Those views, whatever they may be, more often than not reflect the views of their parents and teachers. Some kids may have the strength to go off in their own direction, but most people are followers, aspiring as much to popularity as to wisdom, and youth are especially inclined in this way. This is the implicit assumption of all education: to be a fully functioning, autonomous adult who thinks independently requires knowledge, skill, and training. Education used to aspire to open up the pathways for a person to do this, but now it seems more focused on “consciousness raising” or, in other words, brainwashing.
This week the “student” movement reached its apotheosis, in a nationwide coordinated student walk out, where principals, school boards, and teachers unions all got behind an unmistakable message: guns are bad.
The maudlin use of youth to support a political position should persuade no one. The protesters did not formulate this movement, the events in Parkland had little impact on Peoria or Portland, and high school students are not of one mind on guns or anything else. But the use of youth as political props can give false signals of great political passion, among our youngest voters—the group that least reliably can muster itself to vote at all.
Opposition to the Vietnam War was a genuine youth movement, motivated by the extreme self-interest of those who were worried about getting blown to pieces in the jungles of Southeast Asia, but even then certain interests were happy to use them and a quiet majority of young people supported the war. Many volunteered to serve honorably.
The last time we saw anything quite like the current gun control stunt was the Nuclear Freeze Movement of the 1980s. Cold War tensions were high as Ronald Reagan built up our military, deployed medium range missiles to Europe, and condemned the Soviet Union as an Evil Empire. While Bill Clinton lamented foreign policy was simpler during the Cold War, this is mindless revisionism, as the Left opposed the basic tenets of deterrence against the Soviet Union. The John Kerrys and Ted Kennedys of the world criticized expressions of U.S. strength as arrogant provocations, declined to support anti-communist movements in places like Nicaragua and El Salvador, and opposed the development of new, more effective nuclear weapons such as the Peacekeeper Missile.
Children were mostly oblivious to these political debates, but they were definitely fearful of nuclear war. Psychiatrists at the time attributed ennui and drug abuse to the fatalistic belief in “inevitable nuclear war.” This fear reached a fever pitch in the early 1980s. Young children and their families watched in horror the 1983 made-for-TV movie, The Day After, which chillingly portrayed the likely consequences of a nuclear war.
While Ronald Reagan is now hailed as a paragon of national strength and commitment, his views were controversial at the time. From a combination of ideology, Soviet support, and widespread anxiety, the anti-nuclear movement itself became powerful as America reasserted its commitment to defense. A million protesters came to Central Park in 1982 to support a nuclear freeze. Teachers famously mocked the growing defense budget, saying it would be a great day when the Air Force needs a bake sale to buy a bomber.
The movement’s adult leaders frequently employed and channeled the innocence (and credulity) of children to advance their preferred policy, childlike “unilateral disarmament” proposals. Kids would hold signs at protests and engage in letter writing campaigns at school to express deep thoughts on the complexities of nuclear policy, such as, “Can’t we get along?” and “I am too young to die.”
Then, as now, children were in no position to weigh the pros and cons of various potential approaches to nuclear defense policy. They had their fears, they had their parents, and they had their half-formed intellects, as well as the desire to do fun things like cut class and go to protests. Does anyone think, for example, the young people of the Westboro Baptist Church who protest military funerals with highly offensive signs are spontaneously expressing their independent thoughts? Everyone recognizes that a type of abuse is taking place there. Why not here?
While teenagers feel strongly, it is strength without direction or persistence in most cases. That is part of the point of being a teenager, a transition point between childhood and adulthood. Ideas and lifestyles are tried on and discarded. Identities are formed and reformed. Rules and restrictions grate against teenagers, but everyone realizes as soon as they’re on the other side of the divide that they’re quite necessary. Youth, by definition, are immature.
America’s Founders accounted for this disability through the restriction of voting to the age of 21 and we persisted in that restriction until the adoption of the 26th Amendment in 1971. In spite of this bow to the powerful youth consciousness of the Baby Boom generation, age-related legal restrictions remain ubiquitous, both within the Constitution and elsewhere. Members of the House of Representatives must be 25, senators must be at least 30, and presidents must be at least 35. Similar requirements abound at the state level.
Only limited discussion took place regarding this restriction during the constitutional debate, but George Mason said the following, which accords with the view of nearly everyone who has emerged from their tumultuous youth: “Every man carried with him in his own experience a scale for measuring the deficiency of young politicians; since he would if interrogated be obliged to declare that his political opinions at the age of 21 were too crude and erroneous to merit an influence on public measures.”
Young people have many virtues that accord with their youth, including idealism, innocence, enthusiasm, and energy. They do not, however, have educations or experience. They lack independence. And, in the latest far-from-spontaneous protest in favor of gun control, they are not only wrong, but also the victims of shameless manipulation by adults for narrow, partisan ends. While such manipulation was entertaining to watch in the case of the Muppets, when constitutional rights are at stake and the puppets are our children it is simply offensive.
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