One percent doctrine of parents

July 04, 2006|By SUSAN REIMER

Ron Suskind's new book, The One Percent Doctrine, is much in the news for its inside look at what the White House was thinking as it moved toward war with Iraq.

The title comes from a theory attributed to Vice President Dick Cheney: If there is a 1 percent chance that something terrible may happen, the United States has to treat it as a certainty. No time for analysis. Response is what matters.

What started as a response to the possibility that Saddam Hussein had access to nuclear weapons and would give them to al-Qaida, Suskind writes, has morphed into the overriding principle of American foreign policy: Shoot first, ask questions later.

I am no fan of Cheney's, but I am wondering what all the fuss is about.

Cheney is merely adapting the overriding principle of parenthood. That is, if there is a 1 percent chance that your child will do something foolish or dangerous, assume it will happen and act accordingly.

It starts with baby-proofing the house. If there is a 1 percent chance your child will drink the drain cleaner under the kitchen sink, lock all cupboards. If there is a 1 percent chance your toddler will fall down the steps the minute you take your eyes off him, put gates up everywhere.

I don't see the problem here. I know exactly where Cheney is coming from.

Parents carry this doctrine into middle school and beyond. If there is a 1 percent chance your child will fail to do his homework, ask the teacher for a homework log. If there is a 1 percent chance your daughter will make inappropriate choices in back-to-school clothing, go with her even if she is spending her own baby-sitting money.

Parents don't insist their children wear bicycle helmets because there is a 1 percent chance they will have a bike accident. Parents insist their children wear bicycle helmets because they believe there is a 100 percent chance their children will be among the 1 percent of children who have bicycle accidents.

There is only a 1 percent chance that our high school senior will not get into a college of some description, but we assume the worst and worry for the entire school year. If we could, as the White House did in Iraq, pre-emptively get our children into college, we would.

I am reminded of another mother who, when shopping for senior beach week, threw a box of condoms into the grocery cart along with the chips and soda. Ergo, if there is a 1 percent chance your child will be alone with the opposite sex during a week at the beach, send along a gross of condoms.

It is the 1 percent doctrine of parenthood: Assume sex. Assume drinking as well, and act accordingly.

My husband should be on Cheney's staff. He is of a darker temperament and believes that lightning strikes are a reminder that there is no reason for optimism. He has this unnerving habit of warning the children against some unlikely mishap, only to have the warning prove true.

The kids have come to believe that just his giving voice to calamity makes it happen and are more cautious as a result. I figure that is the response Cheney is going for, too.

Recently, I purchased a "Life is Good" T-shirt, and my husband warned me that I was tempting fate to prove me wrong.

But I think there is probably only a 1 percent chance that he is right.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

To hear audio clips of selected Susan Reimer columns, go to baltimoresun.com/reimer.

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