Current/Recent Reading List

07 September 2009

On "The Speech"

More from me on our big move in the next post (hopefully), but since tomorrow is the the ballyhooed presidenttial speech to school children, I thought I should oblige with a few thoughts:

1. Happily, since our lunches will be taking place during the time of the speech tomorrow, my school is recording it and "making it available" (direct quote from principal, and I'm not sure what that means) during 4th Block. Why does this make me happy? I have planning period during 4th block, so I get to avoid the issue altogether!

2. Literally, I have watched 4-5 campaign speeches, two inaguaral speeches, no press conferences, no other presidential speeches, and no state-of-the-union addresses since about 2003. That has been it for me and political speeches - I loathe them, and can catch the re-cap the next day. So under no circumstances would I be looking forward to another speech, no matter how unoffensive, from a political figure.

3. Having said that, I've been perfectly confident from the beginning that this would be an unoffensive speech, and positive in tone.

4. Still, even when I was a kid and political rancor seemed a bit milder, no one would have expected people to be enthused about a speech given by someone they didn't vote for and have no particular enthusiasm about. Just part of the deal we all have to deal with. When I heard about the speech last Thursday, I rolled my eyes, and agreed with the Wyfe that we would check off on the form sent home that it was o.k. for our son to watch it. This is the response I suspect most of my family members would have had if a form had come home about a speech Reagan was addressing to school kids: eye roll, and check "yes".

5. Much has changed since then. If Obama had decided to do this in February, say, it would have been much less of a big deal. Now he is indisputably a figure of controversy on a fairly high scale, just as Bush was before him. If Bush had decided to do this at any point after his 9/11 bump had waned away, we would have had a similar explosive reaction on the part of many who opposed him.

6. I understand , and mostly (?) still subscribe to the notion that we should respect the presidency and other elected offices no matter what. But, I'm pretty sure that the ship has sailed on that as a civic ethic that more than half the country, if that, still wants to abide by. And, given the sorry state of our political elites these days, it is harder and harder to maintain that automatic respect is completely desirable. After a while, it is almost impossible to separate the abstract offices from those who occupy them.

In addition, that ethic implies that it is good and necessary on the part of citizens to do all they can to respect someone they will often disagree with, since at some point we all have to endure having those in office that we don't support. Truly, that is how it should be. But what if the elected officials don't also extend such respect to those who disagree with them? Isn't that even more important in a democratic country? That was a complaint with the former administration, and it has already become one with the current. Brooks Brother's Brigade or Angry Mobs, anyone?

7. I know people who have decided they don't want their kids to hear the speech, not because they think it will be a controversial speech, but because they don't like the president much, and don't like the precedent set of him being beamed into classrooms. I'm not much bothered by the precedent (it's happened before, apparently?). If the president tried this even once a year after this, or Lord forbid more than that, I'm convinced even his supporters would say, "Leave the kids alone already, will you? Let them get to work."

8. I'm also not worried about teachers trying to twist this into another chance to swoon over the prez. Sure, many of them will use it as an excuse to do so, but in my observations over the years, even the kids who agree with their teachers who show political leanings in class don't really care, and those who don't agree don't have their minds changed. Rightly, the kids don't take their high school teachers seriously over this stuff, unless it somehow affected grades. It would be immeasurably better, though, if it never came up at all in the classroom.

9. While I don't think this is part of a cult-of-personality conspiracy, I do think the president and his handlers like the iconography and hero worship that the support groups and the media have fostered for lo these many months, and don't mind tapping into it a little bit. The original lesson plans that go with the speech may or may not have been part of a "tapping" effort, but they were unnecessary (not to mention lame and artless) and provided fuel for the fire. It also doesn't help the president in a situation like this that his administration has already become associated with the phrase "Don't let a good crisis go to waste" or with the book "Rules for Radicals" (now an equal-opportinity tome, I guess).

10. I despise nanny-statism, and understand sensitivity to government elitists trying to do parents' jobs for them. I've heard that objection, but it doesn't strike me as particularly relevant here because of the content. Nothing there parents can argue with, probably.

11. I have my disagreements with the president on many issues. That put aside, it seems to me the more he speaks in public, the more damage he does to himself, and the more I wonder at all the hype. Could be wrong, but I suspect the ole' cult of personality thing may not be an issue for that long. So, hey, unless it's going to do the country catastrophic damage, maybe we should encourage more of this stuff!

12. No one can better display the truism about unintended consequences than government policy makers. Someone at the White House, or the Dept. of Education (hey - quit laughing!), probably thought this would help teachers and administrators in their work, at least a little. Instead, this has just added a complication to our jobs for a day. Thanks guys!

13. When all is said and done, though, it is just one day, and this too shall pass...

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