Let’s take the blandest, most inconsequential, boilerplate thing a president can do—talk to school kids—and then try to figure out how doing this could become the subject of fevered controversy.
The president’s proposed speech, to be delivered next week in a Virginia school and then broadcast on the White House website, is, according to the New York Times
, making conservative parents apoplectic and “igniting a revolt.”
“School officials in Texas and across the nation said they continued to receive hundreds of calls and emails from parents who demanded that the speech not be mandatory for students to watch. Critics have accused the president of injecting politics into the classroom,” said the Dallas Morning News
. The Dallas school district has decided not to show the speech.
Let’s parse this. No school district is compelled to make students watch the speech. So the act of objecting to it involves a calculated point—a specific refusal. A public act of resistance. We’re shunning the president. We’re shunning him because…well…why exactly?
Presidents have always directed bromides at school children. What’s more, you could reasonably argue that part of the cultural currency of the presidency and of the commonweal begins with these classroom bromides. Bland hagiography about presidents is what we have in classrooms instead of prayer.
There are many pedagogical bases on which you might object to this, but they are not at issue. Rather, it seems, an Obama speech is objectionable because of…socialism. Socialism seems to be the umbrella word for big government. But it isn’t, evidently, just big
government, it’s alien government, it’s illegitimate government.
And because responsible parents must protect their children. The White House has even been forced
to release the text of the speech in advance so it can be scrutinized for…what exactly? Four letter words? Extreme left-wing utterances? “I wouldn’t let my next-door neighbor talk to my kids alone; I’m sure as hell not letting Barack Obama talk to him alone,” the New York Times
quotes Chris Stigall, who it identifies as a Kansas City talk show host. There are two points here, the first is the suggestion that the president might be a sexual predator, the second is that the Times
is quoting a shock jock as though he’s a man on the street. This isn’t a real objection, in other words, it’s symbolic and theatrical—it’s sending a message.
What is the message? All presidents can speak to school children, but not this one. For all schools and all school children at all times, the president (even George Bush reading The Pet Goat
) has been an object of relative awe and civic celebrity, but not Barack Obama. He’s a symbol of something else—suspicion and civic contempt.
Here we are.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NewserColumns.