A proposal by California Assemblywoman Sally Lieber (D) to make spanking of a child under three years old a misdemeanor has drawn sharp opposition from state Republicans, although not from the new kinder gentler Governator (himself a frequent spankee as a youth). Developmental psychologists are virtually unanimous that spanking very young children is ineffective or counter-productive, as it teaches them to resort to violence themselves. So why the opposition?
One possibility is religion. "Spare the rod, spoil the child" is a Biblical maxim, and in fact, some religious conservatives continue to promote spanking. However, based on my brief web-surfing of conservative Christian websites, it appears that even most religious conservatives believe spanking should be used rarely, that other forms of discipline should be preferred, and that spanking should never be administered in anger. I don't see the opposition to a proposed spanking ban as primarily based in religion.
My own guess, based on quoted statements of opponents of the proposed ban, is that opposition has less to do with its specifics than with general opposition to, for lack of a better term, "the nanny state." If the government can ban spanking, it can ban smoking in the home (probably worse for children's health than infrequent spanking), and even require that children be fed healthy food (which, as one conservative commentator helpfully explains, will make your kids gay.)
At least I hope that opposition to the spanking ban simply reflects a more general embrace of parental rights, rather than Californians' desire to hit infants and toddlers. But if the spanking controversy gets traction, look for it as a wedge issue in the '08 Presidential election!