Friday, September 4, 2009

The Parental President

Gazette columnist Barry Noreen thinks parents who worry about Barack Obama's address to school kids are all paranoids or ideologues. What's the big deal, asks Barry? Other presidents have tried to manipulate school kids, or have used school kids as props and pawns. Shouldn't this president get his shot at it?

I think Barry is too cavalier in his analysis and conclusions.

What Obama is proposing -- a captive audience with all American school kids -- isn't analogous to the cases he points to, as examples of other presidents reaching out to school kids. School houses have served as backdrops for many presidential photo-ops, as when President George W. Bush went to a Maryland school to tout No Child Left Behind. But that event was aimed not at winning over school kids, or teachers, but at getting his mug on the nightly news and influencing adults. That's not the same as demanding an audience with all school kids, while they are in school.

George W. Bush did ask American school kids to donate a dollar to help Afghan children -- but he didn't do that during some national address to school kids. So once again, Noreen's analogies don't hold up. George Bush senior did hold a "kids symposium" on space, but I'll bet Barry Noreen a 6 pack of cerveza that this was narrowly targeted to a subset of students, or science classes. I would be shocked if he can show me that all American school kids served as a captive
audience for that one.

These aren't analogous situations, in short. And even if some Republican president did do it before Obama did it, so what? That doesn't make it right. Presidents should serve as good role models and govern wisely, acting with the welfare of children in mind. But they shouldn't drag kids into adult policy disputes. That crosses the line. The "Bush did it" argument doesn't fly with most real conservatives or libertarians, who understand that neither Bush was a champion of limited government ideas, and that both men had a hand in drawing the GOP into the statist camp, landing it squarely where it is today.

I think this event does seem unprecedented. And I can understand why some parents would object to it, even on non-ideological grounds. I'm uncomfortable with it not because I disagree with Obama, or because I think one presidential address will turn American school kids into an army of little Obamatons, bent on bringing their skeptical parents into line with his agenda. I also have no problem with kids taking an interest in politics and the president -- I'm delighted when they do.

It just strikes me as arrogant and presumptuous -- smacking of an "imperial presidency" -- for a president to demand a captive audience of all American school kids, while they are at school and when parents can't be there to contextualize what they're told. That's something that Castro or Chavez or Putin could get away with. All self-respecting totalitarians make a play for the kids. But I'm not surprised that it strikes some Americans as creepy or "Orwellian."

What precedent might this set for the future? Presidents (of both parties) will now assume they can talk directly to school kids whenever they please. Obama might just want to give a pep talk about education. Fine. But maybe next he'll want to pass along some important information about health issues: smoking is bad; obesity is bad; don't forget to use a condom; look both ways before crossing.

And what else might future presidents want to lecture kids about? War? Health care? The environment? Energy policy? Social Security (today's school kids will be carrying this ponzi scheme on their backs, after all)? A slippery slope beckons. And this could set the precedent for a lot of mischief, not just with Obama but with presidents that follow.

I know Obama is anxious to finish construction on the American nanny state, but we don't need a parental president. And many American parents may resent seeing him trying to assume that role. This speech almost seems as if it's designed to remove parents from the equation, which there's already far too much of in the education arena.

The timing also raises red flags. Obama's numbers are tanking. The halo he wore inauguration day is in danger of falling off. The media that showered him with roses is now sticking him with thorns. Obama's "good war" in Afghanistan is a bloody mess. With health care not working for it, the White House is just dying for a subject change.

Maybe a presidential pep talk to school kids would help turn things around; you can almost hear the sprockets spinning in Rahm Emanuel's head. Political calculation is written all over this, in other words. It's driven by political cynicism, not sincerity.

Obama should direct this speech to American families, not just students, since we all know that families are the key to educational success. And he should deliver his speech not during the school day, to a largely captive audience, but in the evening, when students and their parents can opt in or out as they choose, without peer pressure or coercion being part of it. Students who want to will be free to listen. Students who don't won't have to sit in the study hall, or stay home from school for a day, or ask for special permission. Parents can be there to help contextualize what's being said.

I don't think most Americans would have a problem with that, whether or not they support Obama.


Anonymous said...

I disagree. I think this is a tempest in a teapot. I think it is totally appropriate for the President to talk to school kids. Do I want him to do it every month, no, but once in a Presidency isn't a big deal. As long as it is used to inspire (nice vague term, huh?) and not sell his policies. There is a very fine line but he is the President of the United States and many people look to him as a hero.

Anonymous said...

I fully agree. It's a slippery slope. But is also a sign of the increased "emperorization" of the function of the president in this country. There's too much of him, in too many corners and niches. This function should be cut back to its appropriate size before it is too late.

Craig Cox said...

This cannot be compared to other presidential talks. Let's keep in mind what was originally in the worksheets that DOE sent out when announcing this speech. The presence of the question, "How can I support Barack Obama?" was originally a part of the package. This proves that the motives were much more sinister than simply to encourage kids to stay in school. The other questions that remain in the package are nothing more than poll questions, such as , "What did the president say that most inspired you?" No doubt the teachers' labor union is on board to send copies of student answers onto the Obama political machine for assistance in framing future ads and talking points.

Nothing this man says or does has any other purpose than to advance his radical agenda.