by AndrewMc | 9/07/2009 07:00:00 AM
This week, the President of the United States plans to speak to the nation’s school children in order to urge them to stay in school, work hard to succeed, and don’t do drugs. According to an e-mail sent by Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, the president’s message is that kids should “work hard, set goals for their education and take responsibility for their learning.” Uh oh.

The message of working hard to better oneself is apparently one that is both dangerous, and anathema, to large swaths of the Republican Party.

Naturally, there is a Republican backlash against the president’s attempt to indoctrinate our children with the crazy message that they should work hard in school, that they should use their education to get ahead in life, and that staying off drugs will, in the long run, lead to a life in which they can become prosperous citizens who can contribute to the greatness that is the United States of America. The very idea of this speech has made Republicans irate.

Of course. Because what could be more insidious that the president of the United States trying to get children to do the very thing that the vast majority of us agree that they should do? Is it the message that they should work hard? That they should take responsibility for their learning? Both of those ideas strike at the very foundation of Republican ideals of laziness and reliance on the government to tell you what to do.

We can posit a number of reasons for Republicans’ reaction. Robin Gibbs dismissed it as an indication of the “silly season.” I dunno. If that’s the cause, it’s been “silly season” since November 5th. Others have attributed it to the August doldrums. But what with the health care debate raging across the country, the war in Afghanistan, and the steady trickle of mostly-depressing economic data, there’s been a distinct lack of fodder for the papers this August.

A new term seems to have entered the American lexicon—Baracknophobia—which describes the irrational fear of all things related to Barack Obama. Except I’m not sure it’s that, either.

I think there are a couple of intertwined explanations. On the one hand, the Republican party is essentially bereft of any single elected national leader with a coherent intellectual agenda who can reach people in a systemic fashion. They have nobody who can speak for them from the steps of the Capitol who commands the respect of the rank-and-file. Perhaps the only elected official who comes close for them in terms of national prominence, unfortunately for Republicans, is Michelle Bachman. Most people, however, would recognize that she’s nuttier than a fruitcake. Seriously.

Instead of intellectual rhetoric, what the Republicans have is an array of people from the talk-circuit-media [Hannity, Limbaugh, Beck] who throw out red meat to their listeners in order to boost ratings. A vicious cycle ensues as the more traditional media outlets—television and print news—pick up on the rantings and elevate those “ideas” to national prominence.

It makes for great entertainment, bad politics, and, I believe, a dangerous cultural and intellectual environment.

A republic is at its healthiest when it has political parties that can stand in opposition to each other on policy matters, but cooperate when necessary. Within that, though, it is imperative that both parties have clearly defined agendas with intellectual foundations that speak to the core principles of their respective followers. In cases where a country has only a two-party system, it is especially important for the opposition party to have a clear set of policies with which it can challenge the majority group.

Right now the United States doesn’t have that. We have one party in power that is attempting to forward the set of policies on which it was elected. This party has not done the best job of framing the debate, to be sure. However, while it may not be clear what the Democrats will eventually settle for in negotiations, it is pretty clear what the Democrats stand for—health care reform, environmental policies, greater regulations, great power to labor instead of management, and a whole array of other reforms.

Republicans used to have a clear ideology, framed by people like Russell Kirk and William F. Buckley. These were people who actually attacked the founders of the John Birch society for being too wingnutty. Such a thing would be unimaginable in today’s so-called conservative environment.

And so we find ourselves in a setting where asking schoolchildren to write letters to the president to suggest solutions for the president [something that my own university would call “student engagement” and for which they would dish three credit hours] is labeled “Marxist” by the Michele Malkins of the world. If that weren’t loopy enough, Democratic strategist Patricia O’Neill writes this off to “diversity,” as if one of the Democrats’ main party platforms [the push to include more minorities in all areas of American life] is equivalent to the ranting of a fringe group of whackjobs.

It’s not news that something is seriously wrong with civic discourse in American pubic life. It’s probably not even news that there is something so fundamentally flawed inside the Republican party that it cannot challenge and control, or at least ignore, the crazy in its base. And, I have to say, it’s not really even news that the Republican party cannot form, much less act on, any kind of coherent set of policies that reflect either its party platform or its core principles.

This latest round of “Say no at all costs” might be different. The vocal group of Republicans who scream about Obama asking children to be responsible, stay in school, and not do drugs may not represent the core of the party. But they do represent the most vocal group. They are the same group of people who just got home from Teabagging and disrupting town halls. And they are the face of the party, whether mainstream Republicans like it or not.

For a while I had thought “good, then they can go on and lose a few more elections.” I’m no longer convinced that this is a good thing for the American Republic.

[An update: The White House has released President Obama's subversive speech.]

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Blogger Ahistoricality on 9/07/2009 3:46 PM:

Naturally, there is a Republican backlash...

That first word says volumes, though. You're right about the rudderless Republican party, but I don't think the backlash is a rudderless issue. It's a reflex, one honed in the Clinton era and kept fresh and dry by whacking on Democratic leaders and candidates (which has a lot to do with our rubber-spined Congressional delegation) during the Bush era.

There is, almost literally, nothing Obama and the Democratic caucus could do which wouldn't invite hostile, alienating attacks.

As a result, I think they should be considered background noise, static, and ignored unless and until there is some kind of responsible policy discussion on the other side of the aisle.


Anonymous Anonymous on 9/07/2009 3:53 PM:

Joe Scarborough on MSNBC (not exactly a liberal), told his Republican Party that they continue to look foolish with this kind of complaining. In the end, it just gets them press coverage that they quite frankly don't deserve, given their lack of any kind of message.


Blogger AndrewMc on 9/07/2009 4:54 PM:

This comment has been removed by the author.


Blogger nickname on 9/07/2009 5:43 PM:

"When Thai Express opened on the bypass, I must admit that I was a bit skeptical."

Yes, I suppose so. Who wouldn't be?


Blogger AndrewMc on 9/07/2009 6:27 PM:

Hahahahahaha. Sorry. I wrote in the box, then realized I wasn't logged in. So,I copied. But I was also pasting from something else,and apparently my second "copy" did not work.

Now I cannot even remember what I had said originally.



Blogger Ahistoricality on 9/08/2009 8:05 AM:

As a follow-up, my child's school district will not be showing the speech, nor will any school district for at least twenty miles in any direction. They got emails and phone calls, and wimped out. Most have said that teachers can use it later, after review, if it's relevant to the curriculum and they give parents a chance to opt-out.

So much for their fucking values education.


Blogger AndrewMc on 9/08/2009 11:12 AM:

Yeah, here they're showing it, but it's optional. I'm writing a LTE saying "Good job, Republicans!"


Anonymous MK on 9/08/2009 7:05 PM:

for an article, "Laura Bush Praises Obama, Bemoans Excessive Partisanship." An interesting and, perhaps for some ordinary readers, surprising take on Obama and his school speech before he gave it from someone who knows something of the challenges of the Presidency. Not surprising, actually, to those who have studied the Presidency and First Families intensively.

Money quotes:

"Former first lady Laura Bush praised the performance of her husband's successor Monday, breaking with many Republicans in telling CNN that she thinks President Obama is doing a good job under tough circumstances.
The typically reserved former first lady defended Obama's decision to deliver a back-to-school speech to students, putting her at odds with many conservatives afraid that the president will use the opportunity to advance his political agenda.

"I think he is [doing a good job]," Bush said when asked to assess Obama's job performance. "I think he has got a lot on his plate, and he has tackled a lot to start with, and that has probably made it more difficult."

Bush didn't completely dismiss the concerns of some conservatives but noted that controversial Education Department plans recommending that students draft letters discussing what they can do to help Obama had been changed.

"I think there is a place for the president ... to talk to schoolchildren and encourage" them, she said. Parents should follow his example and "encourage their own children to stay in school and to study hard and to try to achieve the dream that they have."

Bush indicated that she didn't think it was fair for Obama to be labeled a "socialist" by critics and expressed her disappointment with the intensely polarized nature of contemporary American politics.

Part of the reason for the polarization, she said, was the increase in the number of congressional districts dominated by either strongly conservative or liberal voters.

"We've seen that for the last eight years, certainly, and we're still seeing it," she said. "That's just a fact of life."


Blogger Ahistoricality on 9/10/2009 8:33 PM:

I finally got to watch it with the Little Anachronism: not bad, but very preachy.

That said, some of my intro students would do well to think about what he said, especially about draft revision.....


Blogger AndrewMc on 9/21/2009 7:59 PM:

@MK: I've read in a few places that Laura Bush is essentially a Democrat, but mostly kept her mouth shut for the past decade.