The New Clarion

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The Nag in Chief

By Bill Brown · September 7th, 2009 4:15 pm · 9 Comments ·

With two children in public-school Kindergarten, I was very concerned about Tuesday’s speech by President Obama to all public school students from pre-Kindergarten to sixth grade. It wasn’t so much that I thought my two girls would become Obamatons—my concern was more along the lines of the precedent being established.

Any speech suitable for delivery to such a wide range of ages is likely to be little more than rah-rah cheerleading about staying in school. [UPDATE: That is exactly what it turned out to be.] But this sort of thing always starts out innocuously; next thing you know kids are writing out pledges to Obama that they’ll stay in school and there’s a weekly address to them. The whole thing reeks of the “cult of personality” that has encircled Obama since he announced his candidacy. I guarantee that he would not exercise subsequent restraint, it’s just not in his nature.

But the left rightly points out that Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush made such a speech once each and there wasn’t a groundswell of opposition. Leaving aside the fact that most parents of school-age children now were school-age children themselves back then (a salient point that they conveniently ignore), they see only one possible explanation for the current backlash: the president’s race.

For leftists, racism is the easiest way to dismiss an opponent. If you can blithely note that a lot of the opposition is in the South, you can get away without even considering other possibilities or actually arguing about anything. Leveling that charge effectively shuts down the discussion. It can’t be that a lot of people don’t trust Obama to give a innocuous speech or that they think the federal government is overreaching or that they spurn a politicization of education—it has to be that he doesn’t look like them.

I am sympathetic to those who are outraged at Obama’s audacity, but honestly it’s a minor issue. Even the most interventionist speech he could give pales next to the insidious messages that school children get everyday. We live in a culture of unreason and that permeates the classrooms of the nation, no matter the source of their funding. Parents should be evaluating the curriculum, not pulling their children out for a school day.

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 TW // Sep 7, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    I have thought from the beginning that the reaction to Obama’s speech was overblown. It is telling, though. Not, however, in the way that the left thinks, as you noted, Bill.

    You pointed out that accusations of racism are the easiest ways to shut down discussion. I think it is especially important that all rational people push back against this dishonest tactic.

    It works now because so many people run in fear when they think there is the slightest chance that they might be suspected of racism, no matter how ridiculous such a charge happens to be in a given context.

  • 2 Mike N // Sep 7, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    I do think the alarm over Obama’s speech is hyped too much. Rational Jenn has a good post along the same lines. http://rationaljenn.blogspot.com/2009/09/one-about-obamas-speech.html

  • 3 Mike // Sep 8, 2009 at 9:14 am

    I actually found it a bit more insidious, while generally agreeing that most of the content is mere static. I hope I am not being rude by self-linking my post on this topic, for any interested.

  • 4 Bill Brown // Sep 8, 2009 at 9:49 am

    Self-linking is fine. I just can’t get that worked up about a single speech from someone my kids have never seen before saying things that will mostly go over my kids’ heads. I’m far more concerned about the messages they hear day after day in school, on TV, and in books.

  • 5 Myrhaf // Sep 9, 2009 at 2:27 am

    I don’t have children, but my first reaction to the idea of Obama speaking to children was negative. I don’t trust anything about the man. The speech apparently turned out to be boiler plate stuff about personal responsibility — ideas, as Rush Limbaugh pointed out, that Obama as a collectivist does not really believe. I think they rewrote the speech because of the initial response, taking out the part about kids helping Obama, and they probably had a good laugh at how they made Republicans look like hysterical nuts.

    The much greater danger than this speech is the fact that we have government schools at all. I believe with Mencken that the goal of public education is to destroy independent thinking and create citizens who will obey and go along with the welfare state.

  • 6 Embedded I // Sep 9, 2009 at 8:12 am

    “I think they rewrote the speech because of the initial response, taking out the part about kids helping Obama, and they probably had a good laugh at how they made Republicans look like hysterical nuts.”

    Some of Obama’s most frequently consulted advisers are not members of his cabinet, have extraordinary Leftist backgrounds, and certainly know a wide range of propaganda techniques.

    What is the likelihood that Obama’s ‘team’ & speech writers, deliberately allowed negative expectations to foment, and knew they could make their political enemies look foolish by a middle of the road speech?

  • 7 Bill Brown // Sep 9, 2009 at 8:18 am

    That would be a shrewd move, but there’s ample contradictory evidence that they’re not as calculating or clever as we often ascribe them to be. It wouldn’t surprise me that they re-wrote the speech, toning it down to neutralize obvious criticisms, and are enjoying the shrill calls of “all that fuss about such an innocent speech.” But I don’t think they went into it with that plan.

  • 8 Jim May // Sep 10, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    I believe with Mencken that the goal of public education is to destroy independent thinking and create citizens who will obey and go along with the welfare state.

    Myrhaf: have you ever heard of John Taylor Gatto?

    He’s a bit misguided in certain disappointingly common aspects (i.e. blaming business/”consumerism” rather than government), but otherwise his attack on socialized education is pretty incisive.

  • 9 Bill Brown // Sep 16, 2009 at 7:55 am

    Here’s a good op-ed by David Harsanyi on the racism charges.