Why do we let politicians hold our babies?

April 9, 2012 at 11:09 AM ET

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP file /
Oh baby! Time to go back to mama.

Everyone agrees that modern moms are overprotective. We hover, we coddle, we helicopter. Our kids wear helmets for practically everything and they don't talk to strangers.

So why on earth are moms so quick to hand over their babies to the least trustworthy people on the planet?

I'm talking, of course, about politicians.

Bipartisan baby blues: Who are you, and where's my mother?

As the 2012 presidential race heats up, politicians can't leave the house without being handed a baby. Republican or Democrat, incumbent or challenger, doesn't matter: They're swimming in babies. What gives? After all, any public opinion poll will tell you that politicians are among the least-trusted professions. Not to mention one of the germiest -- all that hand-shaking!

Related: TODAY on the Trail: Romney goes gaga

It's all about power and reflected glory, says TODAY contributor and psychotherapist Dr. Robi Ludwig.

"Having your baby held by a politician is having your child held by someone powerful and important, making the baby important by proxy, or touched by greatness," Ludwig says. And important baby = important parents. "The child and family become part of history, in some way. And in the end, everyone wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves."

Everyone except, perhaps, the babies themselves, whose tend to react with either apathy or terror.

(One notable exception: the crying baby on the 2008 campaign trail who instantly quieted in Barack Obama's arms. Possible DNC plant, but worth it for the "are you kidding me?!" look Michelle shoots him.)

Dan Anderson / Reuters /

Of course, there's not much real risk involved in exposing babies to politicians. We may suspect them of lying about raising our taxes, but they're (usually) not hardened criminals. It's not like Mitt Romney is going to make a sudden dash for the campaign bus with your child tucked under his arm. And if anyone has incentive not to drop your baby, it's the candidate with a hundred cameras on him.

Kissing babies is a long tradition on the campaign trail. Perhaps the first recorded instance happened in 1828, The Atlantic reports, when a proud mother held up her baby for Andrew Jackson to admire.

Paul F. Boller describes the scene in his book Presidential Campaigns:

"Here is a beautiful specimen of young American childhood," said Jackson obligingly. "Note the brightness of that eye, the great strength of those limbs, and the sweetness of those lips." Then he handed the baby to his friend John Eaton.

"Kiss him, Eaton," he cried, and walked away.

Even if he couldn't bring himself to pucker up personally, Old Hickory knew he needed to butter up mom.

Handing babies to politicians says a lot about how we want to see them -- as wise, responsible, parental figures. It's an act of optimism and trust. Sure, it may be just another photo op on the campaign trail. But maybe, just maybe, holding a baby could nudge aside the cynicism and remind politicians of the very real responsibility they have to future generations. Maybe they'll rise to our expectations one day.

In the meantime, it's a cute picture for the baby book.

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TODAY Moms editor Rebecca Dube believes holding her son would be an unfair advantage for any politician; the voting public can't withstand that much cuteness.