PORTLAND, ORE. — This is a message for all the children of America. We grownups are under a lot of stress right now because of the coming presidential election, and a lot of us will be getting mad, saying things that aren't true, and calling each other bad names. So it would really help us a lot if you young folks could be on your best behavior for the next couple of months.
That may seem like a strange request, but certainly not surprising.
As many of you have learned by now, adults love to make up rules for kids and then turn right around and do all the things we told you not to do. Some people call it hypocrisy, and others may prefer the term "double standard," but let's not get bogged down in semantics.
My point is that our frustrating lack of self-control can be especially severe during national political campaigns.
"Watch your language" is a phrase that you've probably heard in school when a teacher catches someone using naughty words. "Show respect" is another behavior requirement in many classrooms. So I wouldn't blame any of you for being confused when you heard those news stories about Vice President Dick Cheney saying the "F" word during an exchange with Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
Why, you may ask, doesn't Congress have a timeout room? All I can tell you is that logic and politics are often incompatible.
Another thing we lecture you about is celebrating diversity and being inclusive. You're not supposed to make fun of other kids just because they wear different clothes or don't like your favorite movies.
But in the adult world, a huge number of us gravitate into cliques based on age, occupation, income level, and myriad other considerations. I call this phenomenon "the bubble effect."
Once you've created an artificial social boundary, humanity is easily divided into two simple parts: folks who share your bubble, and everybody else.
The political commercials you'll see on TV in the weeks ahead will put a spin on this idea by saying, "We have the best bubble. The whole country should be like us." Grownups love to talk like that, but most of us realize that a culture of uniform values and behavior wouldn't be very pleasant. Next time the Sci-Fi Channel runs a "Twilight Zone" marathon, look for the episode entitled "The Mind and the Matter." It's the story of a man who has the power to make everyone in the world a duplicate of himself, with very unhappy results.
Also keep in mind that even though a lot of grownups are making it sound as if a huge disaster will occur if their candidate doesn't win, our system is pretty durable. The dire predictions are usually exaggerations. Candidates on the losing side end up disappointed, angry, or bitter, but they don't try to overthrow the winners.
Someday, kids, you too will experience the shock and awe of presidential elections. I'm not sure there's any way to fully prepare yourselves. It's like studying for a test that never ends. Just do the best you can, and try to set a good example for the next generation.