Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Little Boy Who Cried Socialist

Having read the text of Obama's controversial pep-talk to school kids yesterday, one of the most striking things about it is that it was total, down-the-line, unrelenting partisan propaganda. At no point did it vary from the party line. Every talking point, every rhetorical flourish, every turn of phrase...all of it...presented a particular ideology. The speech was a flagrant effort to embed that ideology into the hearts and minds of our young people.

That ideology is, of course, the ideology of American conservatism. Work hard. Study hard. No one owes you anything. To succeed, you have to put in effort. You are responsible for your own success. Listen to and respect your elders.

The intense resistance to this fundamentally conservative speech among conservative ideologues may, I think, be part of a turning point for the American right. Conservative parents, panicked by the fear-mongering of their own media, bombarded schools with calls of outrage. Some opted their kids out of the speech, concerned that the message amounted to the indoctrination one might receive from the Dear Leader in a totalitarian state. While this is certainly consistent with the view of Obama that some folks have been pitching, it poses a problem for the right. Here, with crystal clarity, American conservatives have taught a lesson to the children of America about the current nature of their movement.

It has gone mad.

For the vast majority of kids who listened to or dozed their way through this speech, the idea that there was anything evil or socialist about it will be obviously, basically wrong. Not just a little off. Way off. Paranoid schizophrenic off. "Your mom wouldn't let you watch that? What a whackjob."

That's not to say that one can't disagree with the current administration. I do on a range of fronts, particularly in terms of fiscal responsibility. But the reflexive roaring of the right-leaning media and blogosphere increasingly seems less like legitimate opposition, and more like raving. And if conservatives allow themselves to be painted into that corner, the legitimate critiques they have will no longer seem legitimate.

I think Obama knows this. I think some Republicans are realizing this, which is why the Florida GOP chair publicly recanted his accusations of socialist propaganda after he saw the text of the speech. He even went so far as to say he was going to be sure his kids listened to it.

But the damage is done. If you keep shouting the same thing, over and over again, no matter what, you aren't being consistent. You're being that little boy who cried socialist, and eventually, no one will believe you.


  1. I'm no fan of the President's Statist policies, but I think it's obvious he's not a "socialist" by definition. He is certainly a Statist, but so are most politicians on either end of the spectrum. Socialism just would not fly in the US. I'm convinced of that and I think he is too.

    It's important to not lump all conservatives in together just as it is equally important not to lump all liberals or progressives in one group. The folks getting the press are the ones making the most noise, plain and simple. Same as with the previous 8 years and the folks suffering from BDS (Bush Derangement Syndrome). We now have the onset of ODS (Obama Derangement Syndrome). No matter what he does they'll go nuts, villify him and make noise. That noise, at least in regards to this school speech, is pretty nonsensical.

    It may be interesting to note that when Bush 41 did a similar speech to the nations children, the then Democratically controlled Congress got all hot and bothered and even held hearings regarding the speech.

    Politics, slimey as always.

  2. By the way, Happy 9/9/09!

    Number 9...

    Number 9...

    Number 9...

  3. Okay, but seriously: "work hard, study, make an effort, invest in your own destiny/path/future..." This is basically the groundwork for a good work ethic, and you don't have to be a Republican or a Democrat to own that. Isn't this just sound advice, no matter who it comes from? Why does it even have to be an ideology?

    As for raving republicans, that's definitely become an observable phenomenon. So when I met an atheist republican last winter, I was pleasantly surprised. I know they're out there, but I'd never met one in the flesh. What I liked was that while we didn't agree on most policies and fiscal issues, we could discuss these things without using faith to discredit (or validate) what the other had to say. Because of that, I felt his points were sound, even if I didn't personally agree. We could speak to each other as peers rather than arch-enemies, which is unfortunately how the public debate has evolved between democrats and republicans. It's unfortunate only because the opportunity for a dialogue is essentially gone, and that's not progressive for anyone, least of all citizens, many of whom have followed suit and adopted a sort of "us vs. them" mentality.

    That said, there are plenty of Christian democrats out there who are keeping mum about their faith because of the raving. And that's unfortunate because "Christian" should not equate "crazy." And considering Winston Churchill's role in conservatism, "republican" shouldn't mean "batty."

    I'm not saying that one's personal faith can't interact with one's political beliefs. But in a pluralistic religious environment, it seems that addressing each other as citizens first might give everyone more legroom in a political dialogue.

  4. I think the far right have proven themselves to be a bit silly since the Election, this speech was a prime example of their fake outrage, that amounts to nothing.

  5. Jonathan: Yeah, I don't lump conservatives together. There are sane, thoughtful voices among American conservatives...they just don't happen to be the ones who are driving the debate right now. You're right about the parallels between BDS and ODS. 9/11 "Truthers" come to mind. And I remember not just Aitch-Dubya's speech to kids, but also Reagan's. I'm old.

    Olivia: Darn right. It is just plain old common sense, and that it happens to be ancient wisdom doesn't make it less valid. Among American conservatives, those principles are identified as foundational...and they aren't bad ones, frankly. I live by them.

    Faith doesn't have to be something that impedes civility. For my fellow Jesus folk, civility in the public square is a core moral obligation. We just happen to be pretty lousy at it.

  6. Here's a great book that I read recently by Os Guinness on the subject of civility and it's seeming recent stagnation. If you ever hear him speak, he comes across as a genuinely 'good guy'. Right up there with Tim Keller.

    Give it a read if you get a chance. The review is posted over at

    The Case For Civility by Os Guinness