The reviews are in: POTUS speaks, and democracy appears safe (for now)

Fear-mongers would have had you believe that today’s address by President Obama was intended to foment a Marxist overthrow of everything good and decent in America. The horror! School children listening to a president! Here’s what two children thought about the speech. They are the daughters of Mary Elizabeth Williams, a writer for Salon.com.

The five-year-old had this reaction:

The president’s much ballyhooed address has been the subject of right-wing hand wringing since it was announced weeks ago. Several schools refused to air it. In my home, the most stinging criticism of the speech came from my younger child, who lasted 10 minutes before pronouncing it “boring,” grabbing her Hannah Montana wig and leaving the room in a huff.

And the nine-year-old got the message:

As we shut off the TV, I asked my soon-to-be fourth-grader what she got from Obama’s words. “It made sense,” she said. “I’m going to try to work extra hard now because the president said it’s good to do that and I trust him.” And then, brimming with her childish curiosity, she asked the question that had been burning in her mind the whole time. “Can we have lunch now?”

Not quite what the talking heads on Fox News would have had us believe. Neither child wanted to storm the Washington Monument and hang a hammer & sickle on the side. Neither child was ready to sign up for a modern incarnation of the Hitler youth.

The whole incident is a sad commentary on the state of political affairs in this country. We should have been delighted that school kids were going to hear directly from the President, in a speech geared to them. But instead, it was the cause of partisan rancor. Of course, several wags have noted that Democrats weren’t much better when George H. W. Bush addressed kids during his time in office. What goes around, comes around.

Well, I want off this twisted merry-go round. When I was a kid, I didn’t walk to school (both ways uphill). But I was taught some basic respect for the President of the United States. Even as a middle-school kid, I knew that not all my teachers had the same admiration for the views of the current president. But there was a basic level of respect and civility when speaking of the president. Shouldn’t we have that now?

I disagree with almost everything George W. Bush did while in office. In fact, I think he might prove to be the worst president in US history. But he was the President of the United States. If he were coming to Rhode Island and wanted a place to attend church, I would gladly host him. It would be an honor for me and our whole parish — liberals and conservatives alike.

What kind of country have we become when we are unwilling to listen to the viewpoints of those with whom we might disagree? What kind of nation are we when we teach our children that the President can’t be trusted, and he mustn’t be heard? Couldn’t we teach our children that our President deserves respect, but that not everyone feels the same way about him (or, someday I hope, her)?

Republicans were saying ridiculous things: the President must not speak to kids without their parents around to buffer what their kids might hear. Never mind that Republican Presidents had done the same thing. In fact, I want to ask this question of anyone who thinks Obama shouldn’t have spoken to kids: what was President Bush doing on the morning of September 11 when the planes hit the WTC? Oh, right. He was reading to kids. In a school. With no parents around to monitor their kids’ intake of subversive political messages.

Who cares if we agree on tax policy or health care or even war? Who cares if it was at least partly just a photo op? It’s just plain cool and inspiring that the President went to read to kids. That encourages learning, work, reading, and public service, and those are values our country needs. Those values should transcend politics.

So, politicians in Washington: grow up. Next time a President makes time to address kids, be glad you live in this country where we have the freedom to vote for those who like and where we have the opportunity to hear from those with whom we disagree. Even though Obama spoke to millions of kids today, and even though thousands of kids probably missed a day of school to avoid liberal cooties, I guess democracy will be safe for another day. I hope.

Tip of the tinfoil hat to Ann Fontaine — on Facebook. Photo from Salon.com.

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4 Responses

  1. Doreen Gardner says:

    Sadly, in recent years I have noticed a pervasive lack of respect in this country not only for the President, but for police officers, teachers, parents, and many others in authority, as well as for each other. I am not sure why this is so, and I wonder if we as a nation have become so egocentric that it is a matter of not caring for each other. Can’t people just agree to debate politely without finger pointing or name calling?

    President Obama does deserve to be treated with respect. I hope that his words for children will inspire them. All parents should be teaching their children to respect the President, and all figures of authority, whether they agree with them or not.

    Every president deserves respect. The press was absolutely merciless in dealing with George W. Bush. Even as he was leaving the Presidency on his very last day in office, I recall one reporter continuing the vicious attacks unnecessarily. I thought to myself, “Enough already!” Couldn’t he leave office with just a little dignity? After all, he was the president, whether he did a great job or not.

    There was a mention of trust in this blog, and that might be part of the problem. American politicians (including presidents) from both sides of the aisle have betrayed the trust of the American people so many times in recent years, that one can’t assume that people will trust any one in office, including a President.

    Saadly, I am not sure how this lack of respect will ever turn around, or if it can. We can only hope…

  2. Judy Stark says:

    When are we going to say “Enough!” to the tantrums, the name-callng, the screaming and ranting, the demonizing and finger-pointing that pass for public debate these days? We don’t tolerate it in three-year-olds; why do we tolerate it in adults? Who’s going to be the adult who says, “Just stop it. We’re not going to listen to you when you act like that. Go to your room and come out when you can behave.”

  3. Great analysis and total agreement with all who feel enough’s enough already. (Or as I said to my kids yesterday, mom’s tired of people being MEAN.)

    Just one important correction — I’m a writer for Salon.com, not Slate.

  4. Scott Gunn says:

    Dear Ms. Williams,

    I’ve fired my entire copy editing, proofreading, and website verification departments for this unforgivable error.

    Really, sorry about that. I’ve fixed the error. This is what happens when I write things and hit “post” without proofreading. Sigh. I guess I should really learn from my mistakes.

    Anyway, it’s fixed. Thanks for stopping by. Next time I’ll try to have things right for you.

    Peace,
    Scott