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OPINION - From my kids' point of view

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  I was in the car with all four of my kids last night. We were listening to the radio, and on the news the final votes were being taken to end the government shutdown. My kids and I talked about it.

I told them that someone is going to have to pay back our nation’s $16-trillion debt. We agreed that this is probably an amount that can’t reasonably be repaid. Even attempting to pay down some of this debt would mean a government that does much fewer things or much higher taxes (and probably a combination of both). Or our nation could default, which would also have substantial quality-of-life consequences for people living in our country.

My 14-year-old daughter, an honors student at Wausau-West, offered the opinion that she’d rather live somewhere else. France, Germany, Australia, or New Zealand seemed like good choices. She rattled off the criticisms of America as if she'd watched Aaron Sorkin’s ‘The Newsroom’. Our education system isn’t best in the world, nor is our quality of life, or the job market, etc. My daughter also said we’ve taken capitalism to the extreme, and that’s not good.

My 12-year-old son, who spent part of his summer vacation two years ago in Canada, said life there looked better than life here.

My 7-year-old twins, who are generally fascinated with kings, queens, castles and knights, began chanting “England! England!”

Please take my word for it – I’ve always taught my kids to be proud Americans. I’m frustrated that my message to my children is being drowned out by other competing voices. I’m not even sure where this is coming from. School? The news media? Friends?

The greatness of America, i.e. American exceptionalism, was taught to me without question. My father’s message to me was that I was a citizen in the greatest country that mankind had even known. He was, and is, a man who removes his hat and sings during the national anthem. Since retirement, he’s become politically active. He taught me that the American economy and political system was my best framework possible where I could achieve personal success, wealth, and happiness. “Don’t like something?” he’d say to me. “Then work like hell to change it.”

My kids could see that I was frustrated and upset. Our car ride was short, we arrived home after a few minutes. They scattered. The older kids had homework to do. The twins got ready for bed.

I’m certain we’ll talk about this some more. It’s important to me. Love of country is something I want to instill in my children. My bigger concern is the arguments in favor of our great nation are harder to make. The things that make our nation great aren’t as apparent as they used to be. My children see a nation in decline.

Chris Conley