#ObamaAndKids: The Truth behind the Hashtag

April 13, 2016 • Commentary
By Nat Hentoff and Nick Hentoff
This article appeared on Cato​.org on April 13, 2016.

During the last week in February, the hashtag #ObamaAndKids swept Twitter with a nostalgic celebration of Barack Obama’s presidency. The popular Internet meme was started with a photograph of a child looking up at Obama posted in a tweet by Democratic social media operative Michael Skolnik.

“We’ll never truly be able to measure the impact that President @BarackObama has had on our children,” Skolnik tweeted, encouraging other Twitter users to share photos of Obama with small children.

The Chicago Tribune reported that “within a few hours Twitter was filled with hundreds of photos of the president kissing babies, fist‐​bumping elementary schoolers, grinning with Girl Scouts, bending down to let a little boy touch his hair, holding hands with just‐​learning‐​to‐​walk toddlers and, of course, hugging his own two daughters.”

According to Essence magazine: “Twitter soon became flooded with moments of hilarious and aww‐​worthy photos all courtesy of POTUS and his love of little ones.”

The comments from Twitter users were equally as effusive. “One of the most heartwarming hashtags ever,” one Twitter user responded to Skolnik’s tweet. “If you’re ever feeling down or think you may be losing your faith in humanity, just search #ObamaAndKids and cry tears of joy,” said another Twitter user.

As is the case with most political propaganda, the heartwarming photographs obscure a much darker reality. President Obama’s foreign and domestic policies have had a devastating impact on children both at home and abroad.

For instance, if you add the words “drones” or “Yemen” in a Twitter search using the hashtag #ObamaAndKids the resulting photos may make you cry, but not with tears of joy.

They include pictures of children starving in Yemen due to a famine caused by Saudi airstrikes on the civilian population. A Twitter search that adds “drones” to the hashtag returns graphic images of some of the hundreds of children killed and maimed by Obama’s drone strike program in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Just as shocking is Obama’s indifference to the fate of child soldiers enslaved by foreign governments who receive U.S. aid. As we discussed in our recent column, “Washington Warlord: Hillary Clinton’s Child Soldiers,” Obama has been religiously waiving sanctions imposed by the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act.

In 2015, Human Rights Watch and the nonpartisan think tank Stimson Center published a joint study on Obama’s use of child soldier sanction waivers. The report’s analysis was discussed in an op‐​ed last September on CNN​.com, which revealed that “during the five years the (CSPA) law has been in effect, President Obama has invoked ‘national interest’ waivers to authorize nearly $1 billion in military assistance and arms sales for countries that are still using child soldiers.”

The op‐​ed noted “that only $35 million in military assistance and arms sales — a mere 4 percent of what was sanctionable under the law — was actually withheld from these abusive governments.”

Obama’s destruction of children’s lives doesn’t stop at the U.S. border. His inept and immoral domestic policies have also hurt thousands of children within the United States.

An October 2014 report by the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and the Women’s Refugee Commission — “Locking Up Family Values, Again” — noted that “the United States will soon have roughly 40 times as many family detention beds as there were in spring 2014.” The report also revealed that “more than half of all children who entered family detentions in Fiscal Year 2014 were six years or younger.”

In August 2015 a federal judge ordered the Obama administration to improve conditions at a Texas immigration detention center and release most of the children being held there. Peter Schey, president of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, told The Los Angeles Times that “Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson should be ashamed of his detention policy that ‘over the past year has caused thousands of innocent children to needlessly suffer severe psychological and often physical harm.’ ”

Obama’s Department of Homeland Security missed the Oct. 23 deadline set by the judge to improve conditions at the facility. It also failed to comply with the order to release the children, instead opting to appeal the ruling.

“They’re continuing to hold children in lockdown, prison‐​like facilities with unrelated adults,” Schey told the Times in October.

Then there’s the Obama administration’s abandonment of child farmworker safety regulations in 2013, described by The Nation’s Mariya Strauss in her December 2013 article, “Regulations Are Killed, and Kids Die.” Obama’s Labor Department spent a year working on regulations designed to protect child farmworkers from dangerous working conditions, only to suddenly abandon them under pressure from agribusiness lobbyists and amoral farm‐​state Democrats like Sen. Al Franken (D‐​Minn.), Sen. John Tester (D‐​Mont.) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D‐​Mich.).

Even though the proposed regulations specifically excluded children who worked on family farms, the regulations’ opponents conducted a cynical public relations campaign claiming that they would destroy the tradition of family farming. A May 2012 Washington Post article by Josh Hicks carefully examined this argument and found that it was false.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D‐​Iowa) told an Associated Press reporter that he was “disappointed that the administration chose to walk away from regulations that were, at their core, about protecting children…”

Zama Coursen‐​Neff, deputy director of the children’s rights division of Human Rights Watch, told the AP that “the debate over the rules focused too much on family farms when it should have been about the real victims — poor Hispanic kids who do seasonal or migrant farm work and are sickened by toxic pesticides, suffocated in grain elevators or maimed by heavy farm machinery.”

Reid Maki, coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition, warned that the Obama administration’s abandonment of the child farmworker regulations “means more children will die in farm accidents that could have been prevented.”

So much for the “heartwarming” hashtag #ObamaAndKids.

About the Authors
Nick Hentoff