Feature

Obama’s pep talk: The tempest in a classroom

In spite of the initial uproar, when President Obama finally gave his highly anticipated pep talk to the nation’s schoolchildren, there was barely a peep of protest.

“Worried parents called for boycotts,” said Tom Hamburger in the Los Angeles Times. “Administrators struggled over whether to let students hear it.” But when President Obama finally gave his highly anticipated pep talk this week to the nation’s 50 million schoolchildren, there was barely a peep of protest. That’s because there was nothing to criticize, said Kathleen Parker in The Washington Post. “If you quit on school,” Obama told students, “you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.” It was a “strictly apolitical,” even “certifiably schmaltzy” message. Yet even before Obama delivered it, conservatives were howling that he was trying to indoctrinate America’s youth. Florida Republican chairman Jim Greer complained that taxpayer funds were being spent to spread “socialist ideology.” Oklahoma state Sen. Steve Russell accused Obama of creating “a cult of personality” comparable to “something you’d expect to see in North Korea or in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.”

“So this is what American politics has come to,” said Steve Benen in WashingtonMonthly.com. We have truly gone down the rabbit hole when “conservatives don’t want schoolkids to hear a message from their president”—a message to stay in school, work hard, and take responsibility for their own lives. That’s Marxism? To today’s conservative movement, everything Obama says and does is dangerous, said Joan Walsh in Salon.com. No other contemporary American political figure, “not even Hillary Clinton,” inspires the “visceral, irrational hatred” that Obama does. The same forces that have depicted the president as a mysterious foreigner are now shrieking, “Obama’s coming for your children!” The agenda is the same as in the birther movement—“to abolish Obama’s existence and deny that the office of president has any authority under his hand,” said Jason Linkins in Huffingtonpost.com. Why does anyone take this foaming-at-the-mouth paranoia seriously?

Paranoia? said Kathryn Jean Lopez in National Review Online. Check out the suggested discussion topics the Education Department “prepared in connection” with Obama’s speech. They read like a Democratic National Committee primer by way of Pyongyang. Among them: “Why does President Obama want to speak with us today? How will he inspire us?” Washington even suggested that students “write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president.” Only after a “genuine and vociferous backlash” did the White House soften its cultish language. However “well-intentioned” Obama’s speech may have been, said The Washington Examiner in an editorial, using taxpayer money “to go over the heads of parents and advise millions of public-school children on how to conduct their lives is without precedent.”

No, it’s not, said Clarence Page in the Chicago Tribune. “Ronald Reagan in 1988 and George H.W. Bush in 1991 gave similar televised addresses on the taxpayers’ dime,” with only mild complaints from Democrats. Maybe that’s because Obama’s ability to reach “across racial and party lines” has utterly unnerved his opponents. To all these terrified conservative moms and dads, let me provide some assurance, said Michelle Cottle in The New Republic Online. One quickie, platitude-laden speech “isn’t enough to wipe away an entire childhood of conservative teachings.” If you’re still worried what Obama’s magic did to your kids’ heads, make them watch a few hours of Glenn Beck, and then insist they “genuflect before a poster of Rush Limbaugh.”

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