This interview is the first time I heard about President Obama's upcoming address to school students across the nation. My first reaction, "Great! Kids will hear the President of the United States tell them how important their education is to their own future and to the future of the country. Young minority students will hear the President talking to them, about their responsibility to pay attention in class, to do their best and to challenge themselves to not settle for anything less than their absolute maximum effort they can give! That ought to be pretty inspirational!"
Here's a letter that was sent from the White House to principals throughout the country announcing the first of its kind event:
In a recent interview with student reporter, Damon Weaver, President Obama announced that on September 8 -- the first day of school for many children across America -- he will deliver a national address directly to students on the importance of education. The President will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning. He will also call for a shared responsibility and commitment on the part of students, parents and educators to ensure that every child in every school receives the best education possible so they can compete in the global economy for good jobs and live rewarding and productive lives as American citizens..." The rest of the letter can be read here.
Jim Greer, Republican State Chairman, was inspired to send an interpretive of this letter and the President's intent to Republicans and conservatives which, quite frankly is almost as disturbing as anything I've ever read:
"As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama's socialist ideology. The idea that school children across our nation will be forced to watch the President justify his plans for government-run health care, banks, and automobile companies, increasing taxes on those who create jobs, and racking up more debt than any other President, is not only infuriating, but goes against beliefs of the majority of Americans, while bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power."
"While I support educating our children to respect both the office of the American President and the value of community service, I do not support using our children as tools to spread liberal propaganda. The address scheduled for September 8, 2009, does not allow for healthy debate on the President's agenda, but rather obligates the youngest children in our public school system to agree with our President's initiatives or be ostracized by their teachers and classmates."
But that is the reaction of a Republican state official, whom one may expect is particularly partisan and is simply trying to stoke the fires of the 'loyal opposition'. Right? Certainly education loving, patriotic citizens are responding more reasonably to the prospect of the President of the United States encouraging their students to stay in school and learn. Right?
Not so much...
"By midday, local school districts say, they were inundated with hundreds of phone calls from parents urging them to not show Obama's speech at school."
'Some parents threatened to keep their children home from school if the video was aired."
"We had no idea that there would be a public outcry," said Laura Jobe, a Mesquite ISD spokeswoman. "It caught us by surprise""
"Cody Cunningham of the McKinney ISD said: "We rarely hear of parents pulling children out of history or government classes where they're studying the politics or historical significance of a previous president.""
Listen to what a local radio talk show host and newspaper columnist is saying about the broadcast...
How much sense does this make? In public schools, with curricula, teachers salaries, facilities and equipment, supplemented with federal tax dollars, people are worried about 'socialism'? The illogical nature of the fear and pandering suggests another problem that we are too afraid or too ashamed to face.
The fear mongering, racism and hysteria of all of this, from the 'birthers', to the 'tea partyers', to the health care town hall meeting disruptions and now this, show a side of America that maybe we need to see. We need to avoid the easy path of dismissiveness. The most convenient thing in the world is to say that these people constitute a fringe, or that they are simply afraid for their families. There is something in all of this antithetical to what this country stands for. It is going to something much more sinister and much more dangerous. There are obvious words that cannot be used in public to express the hatred we are seeing in our country for this president. And because it is the political arena and we are more 'sophisticated' now, different ways of saying the same thing have evolved. So the presidents legitimacy as a citizen is questioned, his past is questioned, his ability to speak eloquently is ridiculed, they see something nearly demonic in his ability to draw a crowd, and something nefarious in the capacity to attract diversity. His education is branded as suspicous or elitist. He is painted as something foreign, foreboding and subversive.
And the people who promote and provoke this stuff are shameful.
When white people have thought that a 'black leader' was threatening, in ways subtle and not so subtle, they would ask a black friendto disavow admiration and respect for that leader. "He doesn't really speak for you, does he?"
I'm waiting for Republicans and conservatives to disavow these people, without qualifying the disavowal with, "Well you know people are afraid and frustrated..." That's like saying an athlete recovering from an injury is 'day to day'. Aren't we all day to day? Aren't we all 'afraid and frustrated'.
It is one thing to disagree, and even disagree vehemently with public policy positions. Its perfectly within the bounds of political reason to criticize a president because you may not like his style or how he runs the country. It is quite another thing to publically and intentionally dishonor a president in ways that fan flames of hatred. These are virtually the same people who said after the elections of 2000 and 2004, "We won; get over it. This is the way the system works." What we are seeing now are the deliberate attempts to delegitimize a duly held election, because people are, quite honestly, not comfortable with the color of his skin.
It stopped being surprising long ago. It is now becoming one of the most shameful episodes in American history.
About 40 years ago, when someone who claimed to have problems of with black people but defended themselves by saying, 'But I'm not a bigot', the acid test would be, 'Yeah, but would you want your daughter to marry one?'
In the 21st century, the test is, 'Yeah, but could you respect one if he or she were president?'
My fellow Americans - we have our answer...at least we know.