Somewhere between worrying about swine flu and obsessing over Iran’s elections, the country apparently lost all sense of reasoning.
Obama’s address to schoolchildren on Tuesday was more controversial than it should have been. He wasn’t breaking new ground — two (Republican) presidents have done the same — but somehow conservatives found a way to complain. They were convinced Obama was going to indoctrinate the students and turn them into socialists.
Where this idea came from is unclear. Obama’s message was similar to the two that preceded his. Stay in school; work hard; aspire to do something and follow through with that aspiration.
So where’s the partisan message? “Obama’s going to turn our nation into a country of dreamers?” “We can’t have children who want to do something with their lives?”
Maybe he used subliminal messaging to brainwash this country’s youth. Maybe he hid coded messages in his speech. Or maybe our country is paranoid and overly partisan.
What kind of parents, regardless of their political persuasion, wish to convince their children that hard work and a good education is a bad thing? Is our political climate really so polarized that a universal message can be distorted by obstinate conservatives? Even the worst parents want their children to do well, if nothing else so they can be provided for in their old age.
Obama didn’t have an ulterior motive. His point was to inspire, which he did effectively. He told students about his time living in Indonesia, when his mother supplemented his school teachings with her own — at 4:30 in the morning. Like any other student, he wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the sessions, but his education obviously paid off.
His story is the prime example of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. It is the definition of The American Dream; a prime example of our nation’s greatness. It’s inspiring no matter what lens you view it through.
Conservatives’ claims that Obama will turn their students into liberals exposes a more troubling problem: Parents are using their children as political pawns. Denying them the chance to hear the president speak to them, not to their parents, is a dangerous game to play with formative children. Teaching children that all liberals — or conservatives, for that matter — are inherently bad, stupid or otherwise to be avoided will only foster partisanship and widen the chasm between the political parties.
Regardless of whether or not Obama’s message carried another message within, parents and teachers should preach tolerance and acceptance. Parents should set an example by at least listening to the other side before disagreeing. Parents should have encouraged their children to pay attention to Obama’s speech and then discuss it afterward.
Instead, conservatives exploited the situations for headlines and, I’m sure, direct mail pieces. Parents and school boards suppressed the free exchange of ideas in school by not showing the speech.
This country was built and developed through reasoned discussion and compromise, not mind tricks and partisanship. Could you imagine writing the Constitution today? We would still be living under colonial rule if the founding fathers had refused to even listen to each other’s proposals. Today’s discussions are hijacked with snarky comments on talk shows and by sound bites that distort the truth as shown by the way the claim that Obama’s health care reform would create “death panels” was, and is, furthered by pundits and talk show hosts.
The country needs to come down from its fevered political state and return to some semblance of normalcy. If our political system is to operate correctly — whether it be voicing opinions at a town hall meeting, passing any sort of legislation or even discussing the merits of a presidential speech to students — we need to relearn common rules of decorum.
William P. Davis is editor in chief for The Maine Campus.