By Brian | September 7, 2009 | Share on Facebook
Four years ago, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I wrote this about the way the nation was treating President George W. Bush:
This is a bad sign for our country. Much as Watergate lifted the “nod and wink” attitude of the press and the public that John F. Kennedy enjoyed, this willingness to “Blame
First” threatens to poison our national dialogue for years to come. We’re stripping away yet another layer of logical debate and respect for our leaders, and we’re doing it in a world where our internal squabbles are increasing played out on the world stage.
This is a great country. It’s one of a very few in the world where one can criticize the leadership freely, publicly and without fear of retribution. There was a time where this gave us a great sense of pride and freedom in our nation. Over the past decade or so (one could argue that this attitude began with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky), this right we hold so dear has been hijacked and used to make us feel less free, less secure, and less invested in seeing our government and our nation succeed.
The President, whoever he/she may be, will always have enemies. If those enemies feel free to indiscriminately paint him/her as the cause for all evil and strife in the world, we will all suffer the consequences. We absolutely must find a way to hold the president accountable for his/her mistakes, without clouding the argument with hyperbole that serves only to heap more shit on the pile in hopes that it will increase the stink.
God Bless America. God Bless the people of New Orleans. And yes, dammit, God Bless the President of the United States.
Tomorrow at noon, President Barack Obama will address the nation’s school children on the occasion of their return to school for the 2009/2010 school year. When this was first announced, there was a vocal minority of parents who strenuously objected. Some threatened to keep their children home from school. Some school districts announced that they would not show the address to their students in response to parental objections. A friend of mine, who’s name I won’t use here, summed up the feeling thusly:
I don’t want my son to hear a speech that I don’t know the content of, without me there to explain, answer questions or mediate. I don’t need Barack Obama indoctrinating my son into Socialism without being there to counter what he says. . . . I don’t look up to him, I think he is systematically ruining this country. . . . I don’t trust him. I don’t know what he’s going to say, and I don’t know why he needs to address school children absent their parents. What does he have to say that we can’t hear?
As I feared, the way we perceive and interact with the President of the United States has continued along the trajectory that started with Nixon/Watergate, and proceeded through to Reagan to Clinton and to Bush. It is no longer a strong enough sentiment to disagree with the President’s politics. Disagreeing with a particular program, or even offering reasonable alternatives, no longer ranks as sufficient political opposition. Influencing your Congressional representatives by engaging them in debate (at a town hall meeting, for instance) or by writing them a strongly worded e-mail or letter, or even by voting against them in the next election is no longer considered a full and free expression of your duty as a citizen. We’ve reached the point now, where in order to truly be against the President, you have to question his motives. Barack Obama cannot simply be wrong about bank bailouts, stimulus packages and healthcare reform. If you are truly a member of the “other team,” you have to believe that he is intent on “indoctrinating [your children] into Socialism.”
I should be quick to point out that the friend I’ve quoted above is not one of those nutcases who believes that a gay, Jewish Congressman from Massachusetts is in favor of Nazi policies. She is a well-read, intelligent woman with whom I typically agree on political matters. We can, and have, had civil and informative conversations about politics. She has taught me some things I didn’t know and, I dare say, I have taught her some things as well. And so, while it would be easy to write my friend off as temporarily insane, instead I find myself thinking back to the words I wrote in 2005 about how we treated our President, and what the next level of escalation would be. And now we find ourselves in this place, where the President of the United States cannot speak to the children of America, without first clearing his remarks with parents who question his motives for doing so. Not the content of the speech, mind you, but his reason for giving it.
The epilogue to this story, ironically, occurred before the speech itself. In response to these concerns, President Obama released the text of his remarks ahead of the actual speech. After reading them, my friend said this:
I am really happy they released the remarks in advance. I plan to watch it with my kids so that they can be inspired by this speech, which I think will go a long way toward getting kids to appreciate their education and their VERY hardworking teachers.
And so once again, my friend and I agree. If you’d like to inspire your kids as well, the speech will be carried live on C-SPAN at 12pm EDT. The White House web site has also provided a live video feed:
Good luck to all our students in 2009/2010. May they learn, amongst other things, to respect the authority figures in their lives – their parents, their teachers, their coaches, their counselors, and yes, the President of the United States. Maybe, as President Obama says in his speech, when the President addresses American school children in twenty or fifty or one hundred years, he or she will look back on this generation as the one that turned the tide away from suspicion and distrust, and toward mutual respect, responsibility and accountability for all.