The Power and Prudence of the Bully Pulpit

Children of Immigrants

MegaphoneBoyI read two interesting blog posts today offering equally valuable but very different observations about White House communications. Both have important implications for when and how children’s advocates engage in public conversations.

Media watchdog Howard Kurtz contrasted the White House’s public response to the Boston tragedy with their more cautious, even reluctant, approach to the 2009 “underwear bomber” incident. Kurtz observes that the Obama team learned that, by assertively using the bully pulpit, the president can play an important role in reassuring the American people and shaping the public conversation. On a smaller scale, of course, children’s advocates can play an analogous role in shaping coverage of children’s issues — or helping journalists and citizens understand that kids have a lot at stake in debates not generally considered “children’s issues.”

But Washington Post uberwonk Ezra Klein commends the White House for largely sitting out the media conversation about the Senate “Gang of 8” immigration bill. He rightly observes that a public connection between the president and the bill would complicate the politics and make it harder to pass.

My default instinct is to join the conversation, because the status quo in today’s media is to ignore kids in policy debates, and if kids’ advocates don’t get involved in changing that, it’s never going to change. It’s always useful to take a second to consider our public communications would accelerate or impede progress toward our immediate objective, and there may be times when it’s best to stay on the bench. But if our long-term goal is to make children a top-of-mind concern for policymakers, we should always be looking for opportunities to get in the game.