A Letter To My Children And Grandchildren

Joseph A. Califano, Jr., who was President Lyndon Johnson's chief assistant for domestic affairs and Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the Carter Administration, last night sent this email to his daughter in response to emails about coping with the election that she had received from her children's schools and sent him.

Dear Claudia,

Please do not accept such emails without realizing that they express the "conventional wisdom" (a phrase Ken Galbraith crafted when I was young) of the elite folks at the big corporations, universities, private schools and national media, living in affluent suburbs and urban enclaves. Their school leaders easily imagine (that's the "in" feeling) that their kids would be shaken by this troublesome, traumatic exercise in democracy and so offer "counseling."

These elites just can't accept the relentless pain of parents who must send their kids to (often lousy) public schools, who work two or three jobs to keep their families together, and who think their kids are locked in a caste system with no upward mobility. These parents are hurting because government in Washington has not been working and has let them down for decades.

As Churchill said, "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others." To me it's appalling that schools like your children's don't say: "This is democracy. Learn from it. Learn that there are lessons here. Learn that most people don't live like you do. Work to make the world a better place for all, and when you grow up don't vote just for your own good (lower taxes, etc.)."

I remember when Harry Truman succeeded Franklin Roosevelt and the elite, including your most conservative grandmother, my mother, said, "Terrible. Awful. He's part of the criminal Prendergast political machine and a haberdasher." But he turned out to be a great president.

I remember when John Kennedy was assassinated while I was working in the Pentagon. I went into my boss Army Secretary Cy Vance's office and said, "I'm going back to New York. Lyndon Johnson's a southerner from Texas; he'll be a second rate president," and Vance said, "Stay around." Thank God.

I didn't vote for Trump; I didn't like him or his ideas, but we are one nation--like an airplane we have only one pilot. So your schools should have quoted Barack Obama's eloquent statement about our democratic system, instead of writing emails like the ones you sent me.

I love you and the children too much to let this pass. Just as you make up your own mind, teach your children to do the same.

Love, Dad