President Obama's planned Sept. 8 speech to the nation's students has sparked what I'd call an automated controversy. The controversy isn't that Obama has announced something controversial, but rather than he's announced something. Full stop. He would like to speak to children about "the need to work hard and stay in school," according the AP, and conservatives are screaming as though playing the tape backward will unveil the subliminal message "Capitalism is deeeaaddd" or "Organize your communityyyy" or something. I'm sorry, I've recently pledged to avoid offering caricatures of the opposition, but this time I'm really struggling to find an opposition that doesn't caricature itself.


Gary Bauer, American Values leader and former undersecretary of Education under Reagan, concluded in his daily email (via Dave Weigel):

Once again, the Obama Administration is using its power in unprecedented ways, this time injecting itself into the nation's classrooms. Tuesday may be a good day to sit in on your child's classes.

To do what exactly, one can only guess. Distract the children with nagging? Bauer asks what I suppose is a fair question: "How would the media have reacted if President Bush had been beamed into classrooms coast-to-coast?" If he's means the first President Bush, the answer is "They did nothing." George H. W. Bush made a similar speech to the nation's students in 1991, and all reports indicate that we withstood the agitprop.

If Bauer means the second President Bush, my guess is that liberal hosts would make some utterly predictable, somewhat off-color joke like "Isn't Bush telling kids to study hard like Barry Bonds broadcasting nationally about fair play in sports?" and then they'd move on, knowing full well that the speech wouldn't be played in most schools north of the Mason-Dixon line anyway.

Obama's speech probably won't be played in a lot of schools, either. And that's OK! He's hasn't signed a unfunded mandate to outfit every classroom with televisions to broadcast the oration, which will probably be a litany of oft-recited but well-said lessons about integrity and hard work. "Only in the America could a boy with a funny name raised by his mother..."

If the schools don't want to run Obama's speech, that's fine, and I won't second-guess them. School time is precious, and school administrators have their prerogative. But conservatives jumping on the speech like parents on a back-to-school sale are giving the nation a bad lesson in both manners and intelligence.

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