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The Child-Beating Mandate of George W. Bush, Reaffirmed

In the year 2000, we asked ourselves whether George W. Bush's mandate might be one of violence. Mind you, we had no idea Mr. Bush would take it upon himself to prosecute two wars. No, we had a domestic sort of violence in mind, one by the name of "corporal punishment." Corporal punishment, for those of you who aren't familiar with the term, refers to physical forms of punishment (not to be confused with capital punishment, which refers to forms of punishment which involve a person being put to death). Most people still use colloquial terms to talk about corporal punishment, and you may be familiar with these: spanking, paddling, caning, lashing, popping, smacking, whupping, beating and so on. Each of these words refers to a certain kind of corporal punishment and carries special connotations, so most professionals use the general, more neutral term corporal punishment, and we'll do so in this article as well.

What a lot of people don't know is that corporal punishment is still in common use in public schools in the United States. Most states have outlawed the practice, regarding it as outdated, cruel, and ineffective. However, a large minority of states (22 out of 50) have refused to pass legislation banning corporal punishment in public schools, and in most of these states, the corporal punishment of students is rampant. Below is state-by-state map showing the distribution of laws on corporal punishment as of 2004:

corporal punishment law by state, united states

In this map, states which have outlawed the corporal punishment of children in public schools are colored blue, and states which still allow children to be corporally punished are colored red. As is clear to see, there is a clear regional pattern in the distribution of the legal corporal punishment of public school students. In a solid line from the Deep South, through Texas and all the way to Arizona corporal punishment remains legal in public schools. Some extensions of this pattern reach up the Rockies and through the northern rim of the Appalachians, so it is not accurate to say that only the South allows the corporal punishment of its public school students. It is accurate, however, to say that the South is set apart from all other regions of the United States by the strong majority of its states that have passed no law to outlaw the corporal punishment of children in their public schools.

Culture is a funny thing, with connections in places you just wouldn't normally think to look for them. We've seen a map very much like that before, haven't we? Of course, the other map is the one you see below: it's the map showing the electoral college victories of George W. Bush and John Kerry in 2004, with Kerry in blue and Bush in red.

election 2004 electoral college results by state

Notice some similarities? Now, of course the distributions shown by these two maps are not identical. A small handful of states that have outlawed corporal punishment in public schools gave George W. Bush their electoral college votes. However, one and only one state that allows corporal punishment swung to the Kerry column: Pennsylvania. Overall, the pattern is clear. By and large, those states that still allow their public schools to strike children in order to punish them or otherwise discipline them were won by Bush. What's more, that same regional pattern centered in Texas and the Deep South is present on both maps.

Of course, maps only tell so much. Let's look at the numbers. Political analysts often talk about different candidates getting the support of different "votes". For example, in the 1996 Presidential election, Clinton was said to have gotten the "black vote", meaning that the majority of African-American voters ended up voting for him. We at Irregular Times have committed ourselves to tracking the child-beater vote, measuring with each Presidential election which candidate gets the support of those who hold that the corporal punishment of children in public school should be legal. Unfortunately, voter registration records don't keep track of individual preferences for the discipline of public school students. We can, however, see which candidate gets the child-beater vote by seeing how entire states vote in the electoral college.

So, which presidential candidate got the child-beater vote last year? The graph below reveals the clear answer:

George W. Bush and corporal punishment laws

Who got the most electoral college votes from states that still allow children in their public schools to be beaten? It's George W. Bush, in a landslide. Of the 22 states in which public school corporal punishment is still legal, George W. Bush and his running-mate Dick Cheney won 21. Kerry and Edwards only got 1. The race was a little tighter for the states that don't let their public schools beat students for punishment, but Kerry clearly came out ahead, with 18 states to Bush's 10.

The following graph shows the same numbers, but from a different angle, revealing the portion of each candidate's support that came from states in which public school corporal punishment is legal and states in which the practice is illegal.

President Bush and corporal punishment laws

Here again, the difference between the states that supported Kerry and the states that gave their electoral college votes for Bush is very clear. 67.7 percent of the states that gave George W. Bush an electoral college victory allow children in their public schools to be beaten by teachers and administrators. On the other hand, only 5.3% percent of Kerry's support came from such states. George W. Bush may not have come out of last fall's election with a sizeable general mandate, but one specific mandate is clear: President Bush was voted into office by states that still maintain it's a good idea to hit children every now and then. It seems that there's something about Bush that appeals to those Americans who are most fond of using some form of physical violence to keep children under control. In short, Bush has the child-beater vote all wrapped up, sweeping him into office with a mandate of violence.

It might be a stretch to say that voters all over the United States consciously voted for George W. Bush because they believe that he supports corporal punishment more than John Kerry. What the numbers do suggest is that there is a strong ideological link between support for striking children and support for the agenda of George W. Bush. There's an undeniable empirical connection.

That connection makes me nervous. After all, the relationship between the American people and their government is in some respects like the relationship between child and adult. We trust the government to take care of the matters that we are unable to address as individuals, but we do so under the assurance that our trust will not be abused. George W. Bush was elected with the support of cultural conservatives who seem to believe that authority figures have the right to use violent as a tool for control when those over which they exercise authority become disobedient.

Will the reinforced, retrenched Bush administration be tempted to lash out in physical punishment when the American people talk back? When we fail to fall into line? When we don't stay in our seats? When we disobey? The mandate of George W. Bush is undeniable. We can only hope that he fails to follow through.

Spooky Spectres from the Presidential playground of King George The Second can also be found at the official website of The Ribald Reign of King George the Second.

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