Several days ago, the White House announced that President Obama would address kids returning to school via the internet. As he told an 11-year-old in a press opportunity, his September 8 speech would be about “the importance of education, the importance of staying in school, how we want to improve our education system, and why it’s so important for the country.” Related classroom activities were to be made available via the Department of Education website.
This is not unprecedented. In 1988, President Reagan did a speech and had a Q-and-A with schoolkids which was covered on C-Span, and in which Reagan took the opportunity to tell the children that “I think there’s more patriotism today. We’ve been in a time when people have gotten rather cynical about those things,” promoted “an amendment to our Constitution that requires the Government every year to balance the budget,” and informed students that “one of the principal reasons that we were able to get the economy back on track and create those new jobs and all was we cut the taxes.” He also explained his opposition to gun control, citing a letter he had allegedly been sent by a burglar in prison (helpfully adding, “I don’t know why to this day he ever chose to send the letter to me”).
Those were simpler times; no internet, for one thing, and fewer clinically mad citizens involved in our national discourse. In our more enlightened, present era, Obama’s planned address inspired a firestorm of outrage, in which the President was routinely compared to Adolf Hitler and his mild address was declared a call for a new Aryan Youth.
Early attacks focused on a teachers’ guide for the event meant, as such things are, to get kids to write about what they’ve heard, and specifically to “discuss main ideas from the speech, i.e. citizenship, personal responsibility, civic duty” and to answer questions like, “are we able to do what President Obama is asking of us?”
Top rightblogger Michelle Malkin interpreted: “Schools have used students as little lobbyists on everything from illegal immigration to gay marriage to anti-war activism,” she said. “And most recently: Census collection.” If you were wondering what this has to do with the teachers’ guide, she added, “Will Obama be able to resist issuing a call to youth arms to marshal help in passing his legislative agenda?”
Malkin’s meme made the rounds. “My kids will be forced to listen to the views of a President that is perhaps the most anti-American in history,” said Sharp Right Turn. “What right does Obama have to tell my kids what their involvement in community should be?”
“If you STILL disagree with my use of the word fascist to describe the US President,” cried The Neolibertarian, “then consider that the only precedents for a socialist head of state’s universal presence in the classroom are the regimes of Mussolini, Hitler and Kim Il-Sung.”
The Hitler factor was very high on this one, so let’s get some of those out of the way:
“A September 8th address that the Supreme Leader of the left plans on delivering directly to the children circa 1948 when Hitler began his youth brigades known as what other than the Hitler Youth,” said Chicago Ray. “What Obama, Stalin, Mao, Hitler, And Freddy Krueger ALL Have In Common: Targeting Children,” said Start Thinking Right. “OBAMA TAKES A PAGE FROM THE NAZI HANDBOOK,” said The Conservative Watchdog. “Political Indoctrination of Youth was a tactic utilized by Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler,” said Conservative for Change. “Does the Hitler Youth come to mind?” asked Political Pistachio. Etc.
(Maybe we needn’t have bothered: World Net Daily provided a nice Obama=Hitler roundup of its own — with which its authors were in agreement.)
Some rightbloggers were cagier, though. Watcher of Weasels admitted “the school day speech is clearly not on the level of Hitler’s Nazi education schemes” before announcing that Obama’s supporters were engaged in “the same sort of propaganda used by the Obama Hitler Youth to intimidate non-believers into falling in line.”
“It’s possible to make too much of Obama’s Speech to the Schoolchildren,” said National Review‘s Jay Nordlinger. “And it’s possible to make too little of it.” He called the speech ” A little — just a little — Dear Leader-ish,” thus only mildly totalitarian.” Also, “George Washington would never have done such a thing, is my guess.” (Television was invented in 1927.)
The brighter bulbs gently walked the Hitler stuff back, but held their anti-school-speech ground. Matt Lewis said that people also compared Bush to Hitler, so it’s no big deal. Plus the Secretary of Education suggested kids “write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president,” which, while not Hitler, was “unsettling.” In the end “the Obama Administration is responsible for this controversy,” proven by the fact that it was “so out of touch with mainstream America that they are actually surprised by the predictable outrage.” He has a point there; we’ve been covering rightbloggers calling Obama Hitler for months. How could he not have known they would do this every time he did anything?
As further evidence Lewis also mentioned the ancient YouTube “I Pledge” video, which someone showed schoolkids in Utah, which became a fresh causus Hitler tied to the school speech, notwithstanding that Obama didn’t send the video to the school, nor did he participate in its making.
Malkin returned to the subject, promoting a “Hall Pass” with which patriots could not only keep children out of school the day of the speech, but also make a big deal of it. “Sept. 8 Is National Skip School for Freedom Day,” said the American Spectator.
The success of their program may be seen in the mainstream outlets which picked it up. “Critics Decry Obama’s ‘Indoctrination’ Plan for Students,” said Fox News. “Radicals always have viewed children as wards of the state to be shaped into shock troops to advance their revolutionary agendas,” editorialized the Washington Times. Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer decried Obama’s plot to “indoctrinate America’s children to his socialist agenda.”
“Many Indiana Schools Make Obama Address Optional,” reported WLKY (“Fort Wayne schools will air the address live but let parents excuse their children… Obama plans to speak about the need to work hard and stay in school”). “Complaints About The President’s Address To Students,” headlined WCBC. “Peninsula teachers to make the call on whether students see televised Obama speech,” filed Washington’s Peninsula Daily News (“‘There’s no district directive that would require that any teachers show the broadcast,’ said Sequim [School District] Superintendent Bill Bentley”).
“Area schools will not show Obama speech,” reported the Palestine (TX) Herald-Press (“PTA council president Cara Mendelsohn said Obama is ‘cutting out the parent’ by speaking to kids during school hours”). “Somersworth schools won’t show Obama’s address live,” said Foster’s (NH) Daily Democrat (“Education starts at home,” [School District Superintendent] Karen Soule said).” “No Obama Speech For Tri-City School Children,” said the Prescott (AZ) eNews (“The President’s speech next week is a perfect example of ‘A good idea gone astray'”).
CNN showed a mother weeping because “my kids — sorry — in school, having to listen to that really upsets me,” and another one saying she’d keep her children at home that day.
Thus a public service message to schoolchildren from the President of the United States was offered as proof of his Nazi agenda, and on those grounds encountered resistance — whether it is widespread is hard to say, but it certainly is widely reported. On Wednesday the President presumes to talk to the American people about health care. You have to wonder where he gets his nerve.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 7, 2009