The President Speaks at Wakefield High

Updated September 9 .  I added this cartoon by Dan Wasserman.



President Obama gave a “first day of school” speech today that was broadcast to schools across the country – and available on the internet to anyone who wants to watch.  (there is a link in the New York Times story below) The conservatives, actually, the far right Limbaugh and Beck followers were convinced that the President was going to indoctrinate the the nation’s school population.  It has been compared with speeches given in North Korea and the former Soviet Union.

So what did he actually say?  According to the New York Times

President Obama exhorted America’s students on Tuesday to study hard, set goals, accept personal responsibility, and “get serious this year’’ in a back-to-school address that became a lightning rod for conservative parents who accused the White House of trying to indoctrinate their children with a political message.“The future of America depends on you,’’ the president declared, in one of the few departures from his script.


President Barack Obama spoke to students at Wakefield High School

This was a speech worthy of Bill Cosby.

“At the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – none of that is an excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude,’’ the president said. “That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. There is no excuse for not trying.’’

The President tried to explain that you won’t like everything you study and that some things will be hard but you had to set a plan for yourself and stick to it.  I think this is my favorite part of the speech.

Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it. 
I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work — that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things. 
But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.
That’s OK.  Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, “I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” 
These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying. 

E. J. Dionne comments in the Washington Post

We have just gone through one of the most shameful episodes of the young Obama presidency — shameful because of the behavior of the right wing, shameful because the media played into an extremist agenda, shameful because we proved that our political system has become so dysfunctional that a president gets punished for doing the right thing.

Upon Barack Obama’s election, even my most conservative friends who supported John McCain said Obama could do a world of good for poor children in the country by stressing the importance of education, hard work, staying in school and taking responsibility. Yes, those are often thought of as conservative values.

But when Obama proposed to do just that on the first day of school, the far right — without asking any questions or seeking any information — decided to pounce, on the theory that everything Obama did should be attacked relentlessly as part of some secret and dangerous ideological agenda.

Out popped Jim Greer, the Florida Republican chairman, who accused the president of trying to “indoctrinate America’s children to his socialist agenda.”

In a normal world, the media would have asked Greer for proof of such a wild charge and, since he didn’t have any, his press release would have gone into the circular file.

But, no, the media is so petrified of being criticized for being “liberal” that it chose to take a lunatic charge seriously and helped gin up this phony controversy.

And, of course, Obama’s speech was not at all “political” in any conventional definition of that word. It was about highlighting the importance of individual achievement. Here is an example of the president’s “socialist” propaganda, from the text of his speech:

I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.

But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world — and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.

If that’s “socialist,” then Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and just about every parent in America are “socialists.”

So have the Limbaughs, Beck’s and Greers apologized?  Of course not.  There had to be a hidden or coded message in the speech somewhere.  Greer did concede it was a good speech but seems to continue to insist that it must have been rewritten.  Asked on CNN for proof, he had none.

It was a good speech.  Newt Gingrich, Laura Bush and Karl Rove said so.

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