"He's going to push his agenda on our children." That's how I first learned of President Barack Obama's plans to speak to students at noon next Tuesday. I was eavesdropping on the next table during lunch. In my defense, they were rather loud. I later learned that some parents were planning to boycott the President's speech - to keep their children home from school that day. And that some schools were planning to make "reasonable accommodations" to excuse students whose parents objected to their hearing the President's speech.
I'm appalled. This is our President. Would these people have objected, had it been President George Bush? What on earth could be so objectionable in the President's speech, that people would be likening this to Hitler and the Hitler Youth? According the the U.S. Department of Education:
On September 8, 2009, history will be made. Will you be a part of it? At 12:00 p.m., Eastern Time (ET), President Barack Obama will deliver a national address to the students of America. . . .During this special address, the president will speak directly to the nationâ€™s children and youth about persisting and succeeding in school. The president will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning.
When your position is insupportable by facts and rational argument, it is quite tempting to rely on emotionally-charged buzzwords. Why? Because they work. Throw out a reference to Hitler and the world stands still. Talk about "death squads" setting their sights on Grandma the minute her health care bill exceeds her productivity and income potential, and it's hard to resist the instantaneous urge to protect her against the evil government. It's certainly a lot easier to throw yourself dramatically in front of Grandma or to stand on a chair and heroically proclaim yourself opposed to Nazism than it is to actually read a 1017 page monstrosity before complaining bitterly about it.
Rather than stand up and say, "That's completely nonsensical, and here's why..." half the room is nodding - because it's a lot easier than thinking or arguing against the mob mentality. The other half is sitting there open-mouthed, thinking, "How the ... can these people be so STUPID?" It's not that they truly believe everyone in the room is stupid. It's just that they feel they've already delivered rational arguments until they're blue in the face - never mind that they weren't making them to this particular crowd - and they're exhausted, unable to think of another approach.
When you've run out of new, persuasive ways to say a thing - when the other side isn't listening or understanding or willing to consider what you have to say, but you still feel strongly about the rightness of it - there are two choices: Shout and wear down the opposition through bullying, name-calling, and heated emotional rhetoric - or shut down.
It seems to me that if you're going to liken the President of the United States to a Nazi dictator who killed millions of people, you ought to have a stronger argument than a misunderstanding of a provision in the proposed Health Care Bill, or the fact that - thanks largely to modern technology and the fact that, yes, we can - our President is going to take time to speak to the kids of this nation next Tuesday.
Most of us don't really don't want to believe that our friends, neighbors, and indeed, a few members of our own families, hail from the Planet Irrationalis. We can't even imagine normal people of average intelligence saying some of the things we're compelled to find persuasive arguments against, and in an ever-increasing funk of depression, recognizing the futility of it all, and rapidly losing faith in people, we begin to envision a world in which close-minded opinion matters more than fact, and relying on one's own ignorance is hailed over an actual education. Where "gut feel" and cherished (though often baseless) beliefs pass for "critical thinking." A world in which hate-filled fearmongers like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News tell people what to think, and they think it, because it's a whole lot easier than doing any research or reading, and they were inclined to think it anyway. Rush and his ilk just gave them a public stamp of approval to think it. I wonder if this is what it felt like, standing at the verge of the Dark Ages and staring into the abyss.
Ironically, I'm not sure this 1000+ page health care reform bill is the "best" plan bright minds could've come up with, and I know first-hand the problems of hastily passed legislation. That said, I haven't yet found any scary, evil, bad provisions in it and I happen to think it's better than the status quo. Unfortunately for all of us, we have lost a great deal of time that could have been spent on rational discussion, brainstorming, and crafting better ideas. At this point, the bill will probably pass or fail regardless of its real merits or lack thereof. It will be "won" or "lost" like a damned football game. And I am sick to death of politics-as-sporting-event.
I'm not opposed to a bipartisan government; I think it provides - at least in theory - some much-needed checks and balances. But to treat each issue as an either-or proposition, as a winner-takes-all competition, is a horrible obstacle to government accomplishing anything meaningful for anyone - and ironically, people still take potshots at government for its inability to thwart their self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.
This video was not crafted to be shown in schools.
To encourage ever greater levels of service throughout the country, MySpace and Katalyst Media, a production company co-founded by Ashton Kutcher and Jason Goldberg, teamed up with celebrities to record their personal pledges of service. The moving pledges illustrate how they will help make the nationwide change, inspired by President-elect Barack Obama, a reality. Directed by Demi Moore, the videos will be presented to President-elect Barack Obama during the inauguration festivities.
It was not created by Obama and it has NOTHING to do with Obama's unprecedented speech to students next Tuesday. Here, watch the "I Pledge" video for yourself:
All of these pledges are personal, individual - at most, a springboard for viewers to craft similar pledges. The only conceivably "objectionable" part is the one line where Demi Moore pledges to be "a servant to our President." It rankles. It places too much importance on the man, not the country as a whole. But does it also rankle to pledge service to one's country? Perhaps Demi should have said "supporter" in this particular context. Regardless, I do not see the harm in children or adults watching a video that encourages a return to public service as a value - a return to activism, volunteerism, being a good neighbor, caring about people or a cause, or supporting one's country. "Service to Barack Obama" is a little too personal and over the top, but what do campaigners and voters of all parties pledge? Service to their candidate - to support their ideals and their run for office, right? To support their efforts to fulfill their campaign promises, once they are elected. It's not as if anyone in this video demands that viewers "Pledge to SERVE Barack Obama NOW!"
What about the pledge to serve this country? Is patriotism a bad thing, when touted by the other side? The very people who reviled Obama for his failure to wear a stupid little flag lapel pin are now down on a message that encourages real - as opposed to symbolic - patriotism? Give me a break.
From the article "Parents upset over 'leftist propaganda' video," Salt Lake Tribune (http://www.sltrib.com/News/ci_13249171):
Cieslewicz said such values should be decided in the home, not at school.
"They shouldn't be troubling our youth with the woes of the world and making them feel like we're in slavery or they have to worry about how many times they flush the toilet or if they have a plastic water bottle," Cieslewicz said, referring to pledges in the video to "end slavery."
What are students supposed to be learning in school? How not to think for themselves? That the world is a perfect, beautiful, loving place where the policeman is always your friend, where sex-slave-trafficking and child labor and hunger and global warming and pollution and corporate corruption don't exist? Where science is a myth? When I was a kid, we had no debates over "creationism" vs. "evolution." We were taught in neutral tones about a wide variety of theories and beliefs and told what, if any, evidence existed for each. Maybe that's why I grew up believing in both God and science, baffled at the notion that the two can't peacefully co-exist.
Is it any wonder that kids see school as a sentence to be served in boredom until they're 18 and can go out and get a job slinging burgers at the local fast-food joint? Maybe they can find an intelligent, philosophical conversation over the fry cooker as they discover, for themselves, the harsh and unjust realities that exist in the real world around them. As they try to make sense of them, since it wasn't the school's job to teach them. In the 1960s and 1970s, we were taught values like public service, patriotism, social activism, personal responsibility, and right from wrong - both at home and at school. Beginning in elementary school. I cannot tell you how many posters I made: anti-littering, anti-animal-cruelty, anti-smoking, anti-drug abuse (sounds like a terribly negative time, doesn't it?) I don't know if our parents got much say in the matter, but mine seemed okay with it. Whether they agreed or disagreed with what was taught in school, they made themselves aware of it and they were never shy about discussing issues with me and giving me their perspectives on them.
People from the Planet Irrationalis have a habit of twisting things - you know, if you say, "Hate crimes against gays are wrong," suddenly they're telling the world that you're indoctrinating their children with a "Being gay is FUN, kids!" message. How do you argue against that - repeatedly - without having an urge to bang your head against a brick wall (it'd be more fun) - repeatedly??
I have to admire people like Barney Frank for trying. Here's his response to a woman likening President Obama to Hitler at a town hall meeting: http://www.dccc.org/page/s/FrankResponse?source=082109_jv
I'm glad that when I'm tired and ready to throw things at the wall in frustration, there are other voices that persist.