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.