Barack Obama's up to his audaciously hopeful tricks again. First he has the unmitigated gaul to seek affordable health care for all Americans. And now--get this--the guy wants to give America's schoolkids a televised pep talk. His plan to urge kids to stay in school, study hard and do their homework has right wing politicians and commentators crying foul, while some parents vow to keep their children home on Tuesday to avoid being subjected to the speech.
Sanctioning hooky playing, obviously, undermines the heart of such a speech. And the hysteria surrounding it is just that--hysterical. A Republican friend(admittedly a moderate)reminded me that the first Pres. Bush gave a similar speech in 1991 encouraging science education. At the time some Democrats decried it as political maneuvering, too, but there wasn't a real brouhaha from parents and the speech went off without much fanfare.
President Obama is under greater scrutiny, it seems, and greater suspicion. Fright wing commentators like Glenn Beck have been warning people for days, " He's out to grab your children." This whole notion that Obama, the Cult Leader-in-Chief, is trying to indoctrinate America's youth, claiming them for his socialist agenda, is outrageous. One of my favorite explanations for the widespread panic came from former Gingrich staffer turned commentator/PR maven Tony Blankley, who said on CNN last Friday night, "Obama has to fight his image as 'The One,' 'The Chosen.'"
This stuff would be laughable if a lot of ignorant, scared people didn't believe it. What are they afraid of exactly? Maybe Obama will use that old movie theater technique of running subliminal messages. Instead of prompting people to buy popcorn and candy, perhaps messages urging kids to " support health care," "cash your social security checks," and "send letters through the U.S. Postal Service." can run while he talks of the practical and intrinsic values of academic rigor.
I have no problem, by the way, with educators and parents reading a transcript or even screening the actual speech before airing it to kids. Much of the controversy stemmed from the teaching materials that were to coincide with the speech. The original curricular aides included an activity in which students would write down ways they could help the President reach his goals for the nation. This is the part that got those looking trough socialist-tinted glasses all clammy and bombastic and had them turning to Fox News for comfort. The modified activity asks kids to write about their academic and personal goals. This does seem safer and more politically correct. However, there is nothing wrong, nothing socialistic about the President asking students to become civic-minded; there is nothing sinister about our top elected official nurturing national pride. Remember President Kennedy's famous quote: " Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country?"
The thing people have to realize is whether you voted for him or not, President Obama is our President.(And--not to rub salt in the right wing's wound--he did get more votes than any other president in history). And as President he has certain ceremonial privileges that transcend party lines and politics. As President he is afforded the opportunity to host foreign dignitaries, throw out the first pitch at the All Star Game, pardon Thanksgiving turkeys and speak to America's schoolchildren on the value of education. Given the ignorant reaction, more presidents should have availed themselves of this opportunity in past years.
I read another blogger's take on the subject. "It's probably okay if he speaks to kids about education. It's probably not dangerous," he wrote. " But I'm still keeping my kids home that day because it smells a little fishy."
If something smells fishy, you might want to check your kid's lunchbox. You'll probably find a soggy half-eaten old tuna sandwich.
Drive safe. Play nice. Think peace.