September 11, 2009

The Politics of Ignorance

Like many Americans, I was appalled by the crazed, right-wing reaction to the prospect of the President’s addressing school children. From the beginning, it was clear to most people that Mr. Obama’s address was simply going to be a pep talk, telling students to work hard, stay in school, etc., etc. It was, in other words, going to be a talk about what are usually considered “family values.” To some parents, mostly evangelical Christian Republicans who listen to talk radio rather too much, the President’s pep talk was really satanic propaganda designed to turn ordinary children into robots supporting Mr. Obama’s “socialist agenda.” School administrators were intimidated. Many schools decided not to air the speech or to allow parents to have their children opt out of being subjected to the President’s words. In the end, not even releasing the speech a day in advance mollified large numbers of irate parents or terrified school administrators.

With this incident behind us, I would like to make a few observations. First, the speech was not anything its detractors suggested it would be. It was encouraging, inspiring, and nonpartisan. (You can read the full text here.)

Second, it is discouraging that some Americans tried to impose a kind of prior restraint on a speech by the U.S. President. Can we not give Mr. Obama the benefit of the doubt and let him give his talk, exercising our right afterward to criticize him if he misuses his office? Has this President, who has been in office less than a year, behaved so outrageously that we must censor his words from our children? Have we no respect for, if not the President, then for the office he holds? The answer to this last question, at least for some element of the citizenry, is clearly no. It is not a coincidence that Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina (also not a coincidence) accused the President of the United States of lying in the middle of his joint address to the Congress.

When I first began thinking about writing this post, the point I am about to make seemed in the realm of political satire—certainly sarcastic and perhaps just a bit over the top. After listening to an interview with author Max Blumenthal yesterday, I’m not so sure. Blumenthal is the author of the new book Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party, and he was interviewed on Fresh Air by Terry Gross. Introducing her guest, the host said, “The Right is trying to de-legitimize the Obama presidency according to my guest, journalist Max Blumenthal.” The interview was chilling. Listen to it all on the NPR Web site here.

Now on to point three. Republicans may be mean-spirited demagogues who confuse the American political arena with the ancient Roman Colosseum, but they know where their interests lie. Their success depends on ignorance and misinformation. It is surely not in their interest for children to study hard, absorb the lessons of history, think for themselves, and learn how to distinguish fantasy from reality. In other words, for the Republican Right—there are, of course, no longer any Republican moderates or liberals—the President’s speech was indeed subversive.

God preserve us!

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