When presidents speak to classrooms

Coming on the heels of a blatantly racist “birther” campaign, a blatantly dishonest “deather” campaign, and a blatantly ridiculous “tenther” campaign, the opposition to Barack Obama’s urging of schoolchildren to stay in school seems like more of the same. Their accusation that Obama is a socialist doesn’t help.

But I remember another president whose State of the Union Address I didn’t want to listen to, but which our conservative professor insisted on playing in class as part of her notion of civic engagement. Though she was far more conservative than most of her colleagues, I’m not sure they would have disagreed. But George W. Bush was a liar, a war criminal, and a thief of constitutional rights. And I didn’t feel any need or desire to hear more of his dissembling.

One of the posts that flew by on Twitter today argued that it is the Pledge of Allegiance which is indoctrination, not Obama’s speech. The author of that post is undoubtedly aware of the Pledge’s prominent role in perpetuating the foolishness that so many cling to about the United States. And I remember when I was in high school feeling a cognitive dissonance so powerful that I defied my classmates’ and homeroom teacher’s pressure to conform and refused to recite the Pledge.

But Obama is a liar too. He ran on a promise of change, but has delivered Bush’s third term. Promising to govern from the center, he has in fact polarized this country more radically than it ever was under Bush. Many progressives whose votes delivered Obama’s presidential victory may well stay away from the polls next year.

One reason (there were several) I chose to have a vasectomy was that I feared for the future of any children I might have. Those fears included nuclear devastation (Ronald Reagan was president then, but we still have a lot of nukes), environmental havoc (okay, I didn’t forecast global warming), and my own financial uncertainty (though I didn’t realize that this would be a national problem with a series of devastating recessions). I did not forecast the complete betrayal of politicians and corporate managers in our political and economic system.

But now I have to think. Would I want this profoundly dishonest politician be the voice I would want urging my children to stay in school?

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