Category Archives: The Baby Primary
Way back when Barack Obama was just a regular rock star, only filling high school gymnasiums instead of NFL stadiums, my daughter got to cuddle with him twice.
Nothing scandalous, mind you, Dahlia was a five-month-old baby at the time. But her combined 90 seconds with the future president made her a New York Daily News covergirl, inspired a bit in Jay Leno’s monologue and briefly inflated her importance to the same level as Angelina Jolie’s pregnancy.
In the ultimate baby scrapbook exercise, I chased down nearly every major presidential candidate for saliva-free photo ops during the New Hampshire Primary. Only Obama broke the no-kissing rule and the press photographers went nuts. The resulting photo essay, “The Baby Primary,” inspired worldwide speculation about the candidates’ body language.
Exactly a year after the media madness, I’m frequently asked two questions:
1. Did Dahlia ever get to snuggle up to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin or Vice President Joe Biden?
2. Will Dahlia be attending the Inauguration?
Caribou Barbie only came to NH once and I regrettably could not leave work that day. It would have been hilarious to introduce my baby as Tigger or Trigger or Tugg or Tagg (oops, that’s the name of Mitt Romney’s kid). I did try to meet Biden at a local community college, but his blathering oratory put my girl into an irreversibly cranky mood.
As for the shocked friends and relatives who cannot believe that Dahlia was not invited to Tuesday’s star-studded love-in, here’s a reality check: Barack Obama kisses babies in every city and town in America.
Do they even sell formal gowns at the Baby GAP?
Even though the Obamas’ so-called “Youth Ball” is for 18-year-olds, not 18-month-olds, I do have a lingering feeling that my daughter has been stood up at the prom. Seeking solidarity, I managed to track down political photo-op guru Andy Green, a junior history major at the University of Northern Iowa.
Green pulled off a major coup before the 2008 Iowa Caucuses, posing his Mr. Potato Head toy with Obama, McCain and the rest of the pack. The stoic Biden was the only luminary who refused the honor, explaining that he does “not take pictures with funny hats or funny toys.” But his wife, Jill, happily obliged.
It turns out that Green and his plastic spud, which once had its butt panel removed to satisfy Hillary Clinton’s Secret Service agents, were not invited to Washington either.
Green and I aren’t alone, of course. Scalped tickets to the Inauguration, which were originally distributed free through Congressional Districts, are fetching $500 on Craigslist.
Refusing to shell out that kind of moolah, I figured I had nothing to lose by pretending to play the DC Who-You-Know powergame. I contacted a close friend, who is the son-in-law of Someone Very Important, with hopes of scoring some “extra” tickets. He laughed at me, poking fun at his own lack of clout. Amazingly, his mother-in-law, a.k.a. the influential wife of Someone Very Important, has been turning away her own close friends. (As an aside, he noted that unclaimed 2004 Bush Inauguration tix were as plentiful as Skee-Ball prize tickets).
I now regret trying to play my weak Who-You-Know card. The magic of the New Hampshire Primary was that I had no special connections enabling us to mingle with the next President and the next Secretary of State. It was bad karma to try to force it.
However, I am convinced that Dahlia influenced at least a few votes for Obama during the earliest primaries, when he most desperately needed them. The blogosphere was buzzing with women cooing over his natural baby-handling skills, which are impossible to fake. My own wife, Stacy, fell into this camp. She told CNN that Barack won her vote just by “the way he’s looking at her so lovingly and so warmly.” (To be fair, Stacy also factors the economy, foreign policy and social values into the equation).
But Obama obviously owes my family nothing — except for stuff like defending the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
And the truth is that Dahlia will probably be much happier staying home on Inauguration Day. She has yet to ask for one of those designer Inaugural handbags or t-shirts by Diane Von Furstenberg or Donna Karan. She’s still far more impressed by Fisher Price.
News headlines don’t lie. Well, okay, sometimes they do.
But this one’s for real: The New Hampshire legislature is strongly considering lowering the presidential primary voting age to 17 — provided that the voter turns 18 by Election Day.
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if the slippery slope thing kicked in and we dropped the voting age limit altogether? That would allow Dahlia to vote in the 2012 NH Primary!
Heck, many of us already vote like infants anyway. I have a friend, an extremely intelligent friend, who confessed to me that her mother voted for President Bush for only one reason. She liked his mother, Barbara.
Moving on to the rest of the primary season, it is now time to somberly assess the true political impact of Baby Dahlia’s photo-ops with the presidential candidates.It is no coincidence that three out of the four most gentle “baby whisperers” are still in contention to win the White House: Clinton, Obama and McCain.
Being a natural nurturer did little for Dennis Kucinich, however.
February 8th UPDATE: NH Senate approves bill to give teens a vote in primary
OK, so Dahlia has already proved that Kung Fu star Chuck Norris might be a better people person than any of the men and women running for president!
Seriously, what else is there in life to discover?
After being cuddled by every politician with a chance to become the most powerful human on earth, Dahlia is now branching out as a political pundit.
Given that these pictures have now been seen by MILLIONS of people, it’s fun to speculate what impact they may be having on the campaigns themselves.
We know that Dahlia didn’t offer much help to Dennis Kucinich, who projected warmth and humanity but just bailed out so he could focus on keeping his Ohio gig.
Needless to say, I would love to hear from any campaign workers or volunteers with feedback about their candidate’s Dahlia photo-op.
That’s my 5-year-old boy, Ari, at the polls on New Hampshire Primary voting day.
He had the honor of marking my ballot and feeding it into the machine, although I retained my right to pick my favorite candidate (Clue: Does not rhyme with Shmavel).
With all this global media attention unexpectedly focused on my baby girl, a casual observer might conclude that Ari has been replaced by a younger, more media-savvy sibling. Nothing could be further from the truth.
My 5-year-old boy demonstrates an extraordinary grasp on politics (he recently asked why Tom Tancredo quit his bid for president before the NH results, asking: “That doesn’t make any sense. Aren’t you always supposed to try your best?”).
But he is a 5-year-old boy and is tough to keep still during three hour forums on social security benefits and tax reform.
Here was a precious opportunity to combine a romp in the snow with an “ambush” of New Hampshire Primary winner John McCain. If you’re curious, yes that is a Dino Flintstone doll in the picture with the guys.
The media response to my “Baby Primary” photo essay for Slate Magazine has been overwhelming and astounding. Floating amidst a tidal wave of positive support, have been a few morons who have questioned my parenting skills and have accused me of “exploitation” of the baby. All I can say is that I would have been absolutely thrilled if my parents had thrust me into the arms of a grumpy LBJ or Richard Nixon.
Oh, there is one more ridiculous accusation I would like to address — Wow, this is becoming just like real politics!
I did not “steal” this idea from “some guy in Iowa.” Yes, there are lots of parents who have taken pictures of their children with politicians. I suspect the kissing babies thing goes at least as far as Teddy Roosevelt (can a presidential historian help me out here?)
I started my photography on Labor Day 2007, and really in 2003 if you count my son’s political pictures as part of the project. Mike McNarney and his wife Lauren Roth started photographing Baby William in Iowa in December. And in fact, they managed to wrap up everything (plus a Chelsea Clinton bonus) in just a week!
I’m somewhat jealous they captured the elusive Fred Thompson, the only candidate who I couldn’t nab because of his anti-Granite State attitudes (can we call it anti-Granitism?).
I met Mike and Lauren over the phone and we wholeheartedly support each other’s projects. Aside from gender, the only real difference between my photos and theirs is that mine feature the baby in the arms of the candidates. Baby William is always in the hands of his mother or father, with the notable exception of cuddly Bill Clinton.
Babies are unpredictable and force the candidate to respond outside the usual stiff cardboard pose. Personally, I don’t think it reflects poorly if a guy holds a baby like a football. Because that’s how I was before I became a father!
In any case, neither Mike nor I invented the baby photo-op. Nor did we invent the camera.
I encourage every parent who shares our fun-spirited sensibilities to take your children to a campaign event or two!
This first picture with former NATO Gen. Wesley Clark is one of my favorites.
We had just eaten pancakes at an elementary school breakfast, where Democratic darling George McGovern (the guy that got whipped by Richard Nixon) was supposed to make flapjacks and endorse Clark. McGovern is the distinguished balding guy near the brick wall.
Before I started trusting politicians not to drop my kids, I played it safe with the less dramatic baby stroller pose. At this 2003 Fourth of July Parade in New Hampshire, I discovered Howard Dean standing by himself waiting for his volunteers to show up. He was in a jovial mood, opening up the stroller’s snack tray and pretending to eat Ari’s crackers. This was weeks before Dean’s Internet minions propelled him to frontrunner status. And, of course, months before his primal scream in Iowa (unfairly) ushered in his political downfall.
Joe Lieberman, months before introducing his horrendous “Joe-Mentum” slogan, didn’t seem at all flustered by the presence of a Howard Dean balloon! That’s Hadassah in the red. Ari’s the one in the stroller.
Originally, it was my intention to photograph my son and my daughter together with the 2008 presidential field. Click here to find out why Dahlia’s older brother had other ideas.