Friday, September 4, 2009

The Silly Season

I don't know what Barack Obama plans to say to schoolchildren in the speech he is going to give when classes resume after the three–day Labor Day weekend. Odd as it may seem, he never sought my opinion on either the content of the speech or the wisdom of giving it.

So I can't comment on the former, and I can't reach a conclusion on the latter without access to the former.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs has called this "the silly season," and he's probably right about that. But it's a silliness that Obama himself has invited.

In a way, these are uncharted waters for me. I have no children of my own, so, lately, I've been trying to remember if a president ever gave a televised speech when I was in school.

When I was growing up, I don't think a president ever did what Obama plans to do on Tuesday. In fact, the only presidential address I remember being given on a school day was the inaugural address given by Richard Nixon in 1969.

Inaugurations, of course, only come around once every four years — unless the president dies or resigns. For most people, there are three inaugurations during a typical school career.

In 1969, I distinctly remember that my teacher brought a TV into the classroom, and we watched Nixon take the oath of office and then give his inaugural address. His second inaugural, as I recall, was on a Saturday in January 1973. Nixon resigned in the summer of 1974 so Gerald Ford's inaugural happened while school wasn't in session. Jimmy Carter took the oath of office on a weekday in 1977, but we had had a snowfall overnight in my central Arkansas hometown and school was canceled for the day.

Of course, a presidential inauguration is an historic occasion. So, too, was Ronald Reagan's address to the nation following the Challenger disaster. As I recall, Reagan gave his speech late in the day, so most schools in the eastern half of the country probably had dismissed for the day. But his speech may well have been watched by students in the western United States.

But neither Nixon's inaugural address nor Reagan's Challenger speech were delivered specifically for schoolchildren — and that, I suppose, is the difference. Many parents seem to be under the impression that Obama has something sinister up his sleeve — that he wants to unduly influence young, impressionable minds.

I don't know about that. My understanding is that he plans to speak about the virtues of education. As the son and grandson of educators (who also happens to have four years of teaching experience under his belt), I believe in the importance of education, and I'm in favor of a president promoting it. There are things about which Obama and I disagree, but the value of getting an education is not one of them.

However, there clearly are some parents who are worried that their children are going to be subjected to some sort of mass brainwashing/indoctrination. I think they should be free to decide to keep their children home from school on Tuesday if they wish.

That wouldn't be my decision. But it isn't my decision to make.

I could be all wrong, you know. Obama may be planning to mass hypnotize millions of young people and plant health care talking points in their brains, thereby wielding unprecedented influence on their parents.

On the other hand, if Obama really was capable of doing that, wouldn't it be simpler to just mass hypnotize the members of Congress in a speech to a joint session of the members? Why bother with the millions if the same goal can be accomplished by cutting out the middle man and indoctrinating a few hundred?

I guess logic gets in the way of a good conspiracy theory.

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