"I think we've reached a little bit of the silly season when the president of the United States can't tell kids in school to study hard and stay in school."
−White House spokesman Robert Gibbs
On the surface, it seems benign enough. A sitting president wants to address the nation’s schoolchildren and encourage them to use education as the vehicle with which to achieve the American Dream.
It seems even more appropriate for President Barack Obama to convey that message as he is the living embodiment of academic diligence predicating unlimited achievement.
With all the good intentions that may have precipitated this gesture of youth motivation, the polarized political landscape that currently exists within these Disunited States has turned the Sept. 8 speech directed to children into an adult battlefield of conflicting ideologies and political partisanship.
Flustered with fear that the Obama speech will be used to "indoctrinate" America’s young people with the perceived socialist agenda that seems to be the Obama critique du jour, conservatives and their outspoken fans have ignited a controversy that has caused the White House to rethink and re-craft its approach to the broadcast speech.
In all fairness, one of the issues of contention does have merit. In the original lesson plan guide that was to accompany the speech, the Department of Education suggested that students compose letters to themselves addressing the question; “What can I do to help the president?”
I guess the better question for these young citizens would be "Ask not what you can do for your president, but what you can do for your country"
With apologies to JFK, had this been the question, conservatives and the legion of Obama haters would have had to search a bit harder to find fault with the president’s attempt to reach out to our youth.
Though the activity was eventually amended to students writing about how they can "achieve their short-term and long-term educational goals," the Republican conservative sharks had already detected blood in the water, and the Obama feeding frenzy began.
Some school districts, principals and parents decided not to let the children see the speech or participate in the suggested activities related to the speech.
The public statements condemning the use of federal funds to facilitate the broadcast have been visceral in their contempt for the president.
Florida Republican Party Chair Jim Greer is clearly riding with both hands on the conservative anti-Obama bandwagon with his statement; "I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology."
Conservatives and the political right have clearly forgotten that in November 1988, Ronald Reagan addressed and took questions from four Washington-area middle schools that were broadcast live via the Instructional Television Network to schools throughout the nation on three different days.
Weaved into the text of his speech was a clear political endorsement of the importance of low taxes.
Reagan unabashedly touted traditional Republican ideology in the speech when he stated; “We also find that more countries are following America’s revolutionary economic message of free enterprise, low taxes and open world trade.”
Reagan, the Great Communicator, goes on to herald the Boston Tea Party as "America’s original tax revolt."
Despite the profound political slant of this message, his speech seems to be immune from reproach.
What is unfortunate, however, is that George Bush Sr. received a similar Obama-like backlash from Democrats when he opted to broadcast a speech from a Washington, D.C. junior high school in 1991.
Though much less emotionally charged and primarily relegated to Democratic politicians such as then-House Majority leader Dick Gephardt, who said at the time, "The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students," there is history of Democrats exhibiting a similar hypersensitivity to a president attempting to communicate with America’s young people directly.
What President Obama must always realize is that he will face an unparalleled level of scrutiny and cynicism in all that he does and attempts to do. The conservative right anxiously awaits his failure, and gleefully revels in every misstep that he or his administration makes.
Even his most altruistic endeavors will be met with a conservative cacophony of opposition, and no good deed of his will ever go unpunished.