In a new ad, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal frames his ongoing battle to curb the federal government’s involvement in life with a potent slogan: “parents know best.”
It sounds good on the teevee, and it resonates strongly with parents who don’t just think that but know it, under real-life circumstances, to be an accurate account of their relationship with their children, relative to, say, the federal government’s relationship with their kids.
Nevertheless, as a political statement with roots very deliberately located far outside of politics, it calls to mind some of the large-scale complications that have long confronted Republicans trying to summon the authority of the nuclear family as a bulwark against the bureaucratization of everything and the centralization of all decisions.
Fortunately for everyone, however, we don’t have to be dragged back down into that cycle of unending debate.
Let’s look at the language. Regardless of what a rhetorician implies — and knows his audience to bring to the table conceptually — a statement is a statement, and it lives or dies on its grammar’s own terms. And the politics of grammar surrounding PARENTS KNOW BEST is a familiar one. The response to its call — from a critic, an adversary, or just a philosopher — is as reflective as it is predictable. DO they really know best?
Already we are in territory that probably makes you dismayed or depressed. If the past twenty-five years has proven us anything, it’s that national politics is a subpar forum in which to hash out questions like these. But Republicans are oftentimes reluctant to walk away from them because they feel like, in so doing, they’d betray their foundational principles.