by David Safier
Oh, wait, sorry, that was George Bush.
Remember that? How loud would the screaming be if Obama said that? The cries would be for his immediate removal. Forget about impeachment, that's too slow. Think of the damage he'll do in the meantime!
And then, what if they dug back and found Obama made a statement like this, which Bush said when he was governor.
See, Obama's got a history of this stuff! We need the National Guard to pull him out of the Oval Office, Quick!, before he has a chance to put all the Republicans into concentration camps!!!
With two separate statements to play in tandem, the news cycle would extend for days, weeks. So much oxygen would be sucked out of the air, every American would be gasping for breath.
True, some of us got lathered when Bush made his "dictator" statement, and we continued to refer back to it as his presidency continued. But we didn't have a scream machine in place to make it headline news. We even had trouble getting serious press for massive demonstrations against starting a war in Iraq.
But now, the fact that Obama has a study question in a packet suggesting students think about what they can do to help the President is a major controversy and a major news story, brought to you by the right wing scream machine. If I had written the material in the packet, I would have left that line out. It was a bad choice at a moment like this, when anything that can be construed as political will be taken that way. Lots of presidents could have done something similar, and it would have gotten some complaints but little notice — FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, probably JFK, certainly Reagan — so the problem isn't the suggestion that students should think of ways to support the President of the United States. It's that there is such a huge rend in the political fabric right now, a statement like that is certain to rile up lots of people. Better to leave it out.
But it's not a very big deal, really. A president addresses what many people consider a national emergency, the quality of students' educations. He talks directly to students and tells them to take ownership for their own learning, take personal responsibility, something both liberals and conservatives agree is a good thing. Then a follow-up packet asks them to think beyond themselves and consider ways they can make this a better country. It uses the phrase, "help the President," a self serving phrase sounding like it was created by a political operative, not an educator, but the concept, thinking about how to make the country a better place, is downright patriotic.
But the people who are ginning up the outrage find that one phrase, see an opening, and they jump on it, turning it into a huge national controversy. Their minions scream, call the schools in droves, create a news event which the papers and cable channels are happy to cover. And the drum beat goes on.
How many times a week did Bush's handlers take some ridiculous, often frightening statement he made and tell us, "what the President meant was . . ." Bush slipped up daily, especially in the first year of his presidency. And Rove's propaganda machine was in constant spin. One question in an educational packet would have been so minor, honestly, no one would have noticed it, or would have been taken seriously if they tried to bring it up. But if anyone like a Democratic leader had the temerity to criticize it, the immediate right wing response would have been, "How dare you say children shouldn't respect the President!" Within the week, the Democrat would have been made to get on his knees and apologize.