During Monday night's State of the Union address, President Obama proposed that every American be required to stay in school until they turn 18 or graduate. Now, Republicans, like a bunch of wingtip-wearing circa 1985 Beastie Boys, have leapt to fight for the right of teenagers to drop out of school. This is surprising coming from the party that advocates requiring teens who seek abortion to notify their parents and applauded a move to restrict the sale of Plan B to girls under 17. Should teenagers have rights of self-determination, or shouldn't they? Make up your mind, guys!
Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee was the first to express how hopping mad he was at the President's suggestion that teens get themselves educated. After the State of the Union, Lee told reporters that Obama is "not a governor, not the mayor!" and that whether students drop out of school to join the circus at age 12 should not be up to the federal government. Yeah, who does this "President" guy think he is?!
Other conservatives have echoed Lee's sentiment, claiming that a federal requirement that teens stay in school is tantamount to big government intrusion in affairs that should be left to states or municipalities. Arizona Republican Trent Franks, who some of you may remember from such head-slappingly stupid pieces of legislation the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, said that it should be up to the parents to decide what is right for their children. Education is a choice, that every family should be able to make for itself.
Why, just today our buddy Rick Santorum told the audience at a campaign stop that parents should discourage their kids from going to college, because college is a hotbed of liberal indoctrination, where impressionable young people gather together to learn about stuff like history and science and math, and get indoctrinated by the reality of the world beyond their childhood bedrooms. College is also an excellent place to discover that fun is good, and not nearly as dangerous as everyone's made it out to be, as long as it's had responsibly. If Rick Santorum is so worried that kids raised with conservative values will have their minds changed by Philosophy 101 and some mid-level weed, maybe instead of blaming the knowledge and drugs, he should reexamine the reasons that people would choose to abandon his brand of conservatism. An ideology that collapses when challenged is a weak ideology to begin with.
Ironically (or not), conservatives are whistling a different tune when it comes to what teenage girls can do with their bodies. It was Senator John Boozman, another Republican, who in 2011 sponsored a bit of legislation that would have required all minors from coast to coast to notify their parents or get a judge's approval before having an abortion. Who does this Boozman character think he is? A mayor? A governor? Everyone's doctor? What happened to individual decisions being left up to individuals? State legislatures from coast to coast have attempted to enact similar parental notification laws with varying degrees of success. Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney are also on the record supporting the nationwide enforcement of parental notification laws for minors seeking abortions.
Social conservatives also applaud restrictions on birth control and the morning after pill for teenagers. Back in October, Santorum remarked that birth control is a license to "do things." Presumably, those "things" are: be sexual without the consequence of pregnancy.
So, which is it? Are kids old enough to make serious decisions with lifelong implications, or aren't they? Or do politicians like Rick Santorum, Trent Franks, Mike Lee, and John Boozman just want to let teens be as uneducated and pregnant as they want to be? Whatever keeps 'em voting Republican... or not voting at all.