Wrong Place, Wrong Motives: President Barack Obama’s Nationally Publicized Political Address to Public School Children

–Richard E. Vatz

There is a major brouhaha surrounding Tuesday’s presidential speech to the nation’s schoolchildren. Democrats and liberals claim that the speech is innocuous rhetoric, urging students, in the words of presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs, “to study hard and stay in school,” which is what comedy actor Charlie Sheen used to tell students to do in a satirical television promo years ago.

That may be the gravamen of the message now, pursuant to all of the conservative complaints, but there is reason to believe that the message was far more political initially.

The president’s Ministry of Truth, a.k.a. the Education Department, has looked particularly 1984ish in this dispute. They originally proposed that in commemoration of this auspicious occasion that kids write “What they could do to help the president.” Retreating under the exposure of this propaganda exercise, the Department has amended their recommendation to have kids write “how they can achieve their short-term and long-term educational goals.”

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It is quite possible that the President’s message will now be inoffensive, but the medium remains, shall we say, a mite creepy.

President Obama — who follows George W. Bush, the president Texas Gov. Ann Richards once nastily described as being born on third base and thinking he had hit a triple — has been misreading the 2008 election returns as a national ratification of his charismatic dominance. The only problem is that as real issues have emerged wherein people’s financial well-being is at risk, such as health care, his personal luster seems insufficient to carry the day.

But not necessarily with the youth, which dotes over the President unquestioningly, as young liberals are wont to do, and do to conspicuous excess when the liberal object is handsome and articulate.

Democrats own a majority of idealistic youth, those unschooled in measurable investment in the owning of property, the holding on to jobs and the threat of foreign aggressors who want to destroy the United States.

Taxpayer-supported public school children should not be a captive audience for a United States president. Democrats claim that Presidents George Bush (41) and Ronald Reagan spoke to school children nationally, but they did not get the kind of coverage President Obama is getting, and Democrats objected vociferously even then. Regardless, it is wrong for either party’s president to give a televised address to the nation’s schoolchildren during school time.

Don’t be moved by the Administration’s offer allowing students who don’t want to hear the President’s address (or whose parents don’t want them to) to be dismissed from the audience. That is a contemptible way to stigmatize students, and said students shouldn’t have to experience such a public embarrassment.

White House deputy policy director Heather Higginbottom has said that she thinks “it’s really unfortunate that politics has been brought into this.”

That is either deliberately misleading or evidence of this administration’s reading its own publicity notices.

A nationwide cult of personality in the United States begins with the claim that the country’s president is apolitical.

School leaders who herd children together to hear a presidential speech during school hours need a course in the necessary checks and balances of political democracy.

–Richard E. Vatz

Professor Vatz teaches political rhetoric at Towson University

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