Analysis: Obama Foes Contrived Back-To-School Fuss

There may be a lesson plan for grown-ups in the contrived controversy about Barack Obama's back-to-school pep talk to students. It would be to do your homework, just as the president told the pupils.

That way, the people who protested the Obama speech before they knew what was in it would have realized there is nothing unusual about a president appearing at a public school as the classroom year begins. The previous three Republicans have and there wasn't any stir, aside from some Democratic nitpicking about White House expenses, proving that neither party has a monopoly on pettiness. It was routine. As, in the end, Obama's Tuesday talk was.

Then again, many people doing the complaining, and certainly the broadcast talkers and anti-Obama bloggers who fomented the whole business, were not looking for information or for reasons not to make a fuss. They wanted one, and got it.

At least some of the complainants presumably took advantage of the White House's early release of Obama's text, 24 hours in advance, so they could read what he was going to say and make sure it wasn't offensive.

And one formerly outraged Republican, Florida state GOP chairman Jim Greer, who had said the president was trying to promote socialist ideology, relented after reading the text and said it was appropriate. Although he also was quoted as wondering whether Obama would really give the same speech.

Of course he did, urging students in his televised talk at an Arlington, Va., high school to study, work hard and stick to it, all the things a president would be expected to say in such a setting.

"I expect you to get serious this year," the president said. "I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you.

"So don't let us down — don't let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it."

There was no count of his student audience; millions, presumably, despite the schools and school districts that blacked out the president because of parent protests, which were most vehement in Republican areas.

It was an invented and inflated controversy in which the administration provided its foes an easy target by issuing a proposed lesson plan in which students would have been asked to help the president meet his goals. That was revised to ask pupils to write letters about their own goals and how they would try to achieve them.

There were no Republican complaints in 1991 when President George H.W. Bush spoke at a Washington, D.C., school and told the students, "Write me a letter — I'm serious about this one — write me a letter about ways you can help us achieve our goals."

Nor did Republicans claim that Ronald Reagan was trying to create a cult of personality, as some did this time, when he spoke to students at the White House in 1988, near the end of his second term. Answering questions, Reagan boasted of economic progress and a patriotic revival under his administration. He also said he opposed rigid gun controls or handgun bans.

More politics there than in Obama's school session. At a meeting with students before his speech, the president did tell a questioning youth that he favors universal health insurance and thinks it can be done. But he never mentioned his policy agenda in his speech.

President George W. Bush was at a Sarasota, Fla., school reading to pupils on Sept. 11, 2001. He was to have delivered a back-to-school talk there, but never did. The terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington intervened.

Until now presidential school speeches hadn't been treated as anything out of the ordinary. Obama's wasn't either, but right-wing activists saw an opportunity to hassle him and to stir up people who don't like the president by inventing an issue.

This wasn't really about the propriety of a president speaking at a school or about what he might say that parents claimed they had to guard their kids against. It was about opposing Obama. There's nothing wrong with opposition. That's the way politics works.

But the underlying tone of the most vehement critics goes past the traditions of politics to the idea that schoolchildren shouldn't be listening to this guy because he shouldn't be president.

The office, whoever the man in the White House, always has commanded respect. That is eroding in the era of nonstop talk shows and angry blogs.

It has been an American tradition for losing candidates in presidential elections to urge their followers to respect the outcome, to say that the winner is their president, too. Episodes like the school speech flap say something different.

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  • by Ryan Location: North Carolina on Sep 10, 2009 at 08:06 AM
    Dear momof3, while your argument might be intellectually sound in is not realistic in my humble opinion. And, all the news and drama about him, supports my assertion that America is having trouble with his race...because it presents in a manner the country is not used to for the power he holds. We have people trying to say he was not born a US Citizen, all the fuss about his old church...socialism! I am approaching middle age, but I do not remember people trying to call out a President as socialist. I think we would be well served if people could honestly talk about their fears in an open, honest way...not get shouted down in public or online. To try to deny that this is not a core issue for many people does not allow for understanding, healing, or growth. If I were one of his counselors, I would encourage him to slow down on forcing health care. And, get the country really talking...about long held fears and isms of all kinds and help it heal.
  • by This Station Isn't Neutral Location: Greenville on Sep 9, 2009 at 11:10 AM
    This a site that is supposed to remain neutral to these situations. Now it shows that your station is in fact anything but that. Does this have to do with the fact that a lot of arguing happened on your previous stories that had to do with the president? I was not one of the people arguing on the posts because I was one that believed that the right to watch or not to watch, be it the case, should be up to the parent or the child, if old enough to decide for themselves.
  • by The Wise One Location: NC on Sep 9, 2009 at 10:56 AM
    Oh no! Right-wing nuts gone wild!!! There wasn't much controversy here in the triangle about the President's speech. Some Chapel Hill school students even wrote about how the President's speech has inspired them. That is so wonderful. :D
  • by Momof3 Location: Greenville on Sep 9, 2009 at 10:24 AM
    To Ryan: Though I agree with most of what you say. I have repeatedly posted, and again will post that Obama is NOT black. He is BI-RACIAL. He is of equal parts. People are trying to make an issue of out race that simply isn't there. Neither whites or blacks can claim race and issue with him as he is equal parts the other.
  • by James Location: Kinston on Sep 9, 2009 at 09:50 AM
    Does anyone really believe that the speech that was delivered was what was originally intended ? Why else would the follow-up question " How can I help the President acheive his goals ?" be left out ? That question indicates that the original speech must have included the President talking about 'his goals ' All the attention ( the contrived controversy as you call it) is what caused them to change the speech . The original was probably closer to what he said to the students where the speech took place.
  • by Ed Location: NC on Sep 9, 2009 at 09:43 AM
    Its no surprise that the liberal AP would rally to support the President after this speech was over nor is it any surprise that Obama's comments were largely neutral. The real issue here is that this speech was intended to open the door for educators to inject their bias into the speech by the discussions that took place in the classroom afterwards. It's no secret the most labor unions including the teachers' unions overwhelmingly supported Obama, and this speech was nothing more than a political tactic to introduce the liberal agenda to impressionable young minds. If the speech was so innocent, why was it shown during the day, taking up valuable classroom time instead of being shown during the evening when parents could discuss his comments with their children. Remember this; every socialist, communist, or terrorist organization, begins indoctrinating children in the educational system. Go back and reread your history
  • by John Location: Greenville on Sep 9, 2009 at 07:18 AM
    Both sides made a mountain out of this mole hill. It was not an Obama allegiance training camp OR a life changing kick in the pants for our more challenged students. It was a nice gesture from the president to today's youth, and that's about it.
  • by Ryan Location: North Carolina on Sep 9, 2009 at 06:51 AM
    My two cents. First of all, not sure if Obama has handled the recession, etc. better/the same as a Republican Pres. would have. And, yes, some of his history with Rev. Wright, socialistic tendencies,etc. do give cause for concern. But, the more the days pass, it seems the big challenge with Obama and people trusting him is race. Sad but true. But, I think reasonable people need to understand this is going to be natural in a country so troubled by race. The media and society portray black men negatively and the news reports enough crime stories that fears and stereotypes stay reinforced. And, now a black man is President. It is natural that there is going to be some push back, some fear. Obama is in a tough spot in many ways. And, to think every American is going to trust him overnight or even in a year or two is naive. Change has come to America, but it is going to take internal change in each citizen to evaluate him on his agenda and results and not his skin tone.
  • by Bob Location: Belhaven on Sep 9, 2009 at 06:32 AM
    I couldn't make a point any better than Alice and Momof3 did, but as was indicated this President is not trusted as others have been. He has a history during his short term of lying depending on who he is talking to. The above article starts out talking about a "contrived controversy" when parents only wish to have a say in what their children hear! The above article is as biased as most liberal news media are! Look at HOW LONG the SHRINE to Kennedy the KILLER has been at the top of this page! Look at this page and see how many articles you see about THIS president! Mary indicated the things he should be speaking on, if he truly wishes to make a difference in children's lives. Schools and colleges are already known for spreading their liberalism so no help from the "one" is needed! People need to take a serious look at what is going on in this country! We face the most serious threat to Democracy since the revolutionary war! Wake up people!
  • by Not Surprised by the Ignorance on Sep 9, 2009 at 06:20 AM
    I just hope the whole rest of the world is looking at our country and doubled over laughing at the pure ignorance and hate that is the United States of America. It's not wonder we fall behind in just about everything now; we're too busy hating each other. And the rest of the world is moving farther ahead. Fools!
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