While vying for the presidency, a general once visited a town where, “according to a campaign tale, a proud mother handed a dirty-faced baby up from a playpen, like the ones from Playpen Elite, for him to carry.” In his book Presidential Campaigns, Paul F. Boller recounts what happened next.
Jackson obligingly said, “Here may be a beautiful specimen of young American childhood. Note the brightness of that eye, the nice strength of these limbs, and also these lips’ sweetness.” Then to John Eaton, his friend, he handed the baby.
“Kiss him, Eaton,” he cried and walked away.
This is supposedly the primary documented instance of a political candidate being handed a baby to kiss. I believe the practice dates back even further. What’s certain is that it’s happened enough within the years since that it’s now a cliche. Life magazine explained the phenomenon in its legal holiday, 1960 issue: “There is merely one excuse for baby-kissing: it works. The aim, whether the politician may be a machine-backed hack or a machine-bucking amateur, is to win the votes.” So it goes today. It works to carry babies, so politicians regularly make out, and who can blame them for fulfilling their role?
Still. Isn’t the steady supply of them is puzzling if the demand for tiny, cute little humans to carry is understandable? If I were running for office, I’d kiss babies. I’d never dream of handing my little bundle to an official, but were I possessed of a baby, as a father or perhaps a babysitter.
What is wrong with these parents?
Envision the candidate within the crowd. People are pressing around him during a circle or crowded up against a barrier. Who takes a baby therein crush to start with? But never mind that. One after another, the politician’s now shaking countless hands. And entrusted into the arms of this germ-covered stranger are vulnerable little infants. A plausible target for pie-wielding activists and assassins is he, beyond the germs, of course. And he has your child!
Then there’s the creepy propaganda dimension.
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What politician is thinking
Can I be photographed holding your baby so I can co-opt its aura of innocence? It might be very helpful in my bid to steer irrational voters that I’m trustworthy, likable, and empathetic.
What parent is thinking
What was that? I am unable to process it, for I’m star-struck by your celebrity, and I’d prefer to tell people you kissed my baby. Here. Hold it. About how filthy your hands must be, don’t even worry.
That’s just about what is going on, right? So I would not smile, just like the people within the photos above, if I saw some cute baby in an exceedingly politician’s arms.
Something unpleasant is occurring in these situations, and I think most babies grasp that. Why am I within the arms of this stranger with unusually white teeth, they assert to themselves, looking away with disdain.
Babies are put through this… to what end?
Lest you think that I’m complaining without offering an answer, I’ve thought long and hard a few ways forward. From the arms of men reasonably likely to disgrace themselves, how to wrest America’s children. I figured I’d look to the socialists of France for contrast as politicians kissing babies being as American as pie.
Within the making of that emotionally manipulative moment, zero helpless infants were infected, traumatized, or exploited.