Thursday, September 10, 2009

Obama's school pep talk (a surprise political post)

Yes, I'm late to this discussion. Last night, the president spoke about health care reform. But, I'm still thinking about his public address to students, and the fact that many schools, including the one just three miles from my house, chose to not watch it. In the two days since this happened, thinking about that fact, that all of the kids from grades K-12 were given the message that the President of the United States was making a speech that somehow was dangerous for them to hear, well, the thought of that has been nagging at me, and nagging at me hard.

I didn't hear the speech. I doubt any of these kids did, either. You can read it here.

It was a pep talk, and a most American patriotic pep talk indeed. Those people who were quivering in their boots thinking that this speech was the first step in the socialist indoctrination of children couldn't be further from the truth.

I could have told you that even before I read the speech, but that's beside the point.

I wonder if the co-worker Dick has who approved the school's decision not to air the speech even bothered to watch or read it after the fact. Somehow, I doubt it. Once people are on the willful track of ignorance, they tend to do an awful lot to keep things that way. I worry about the fact that there are people in the school system who are so ignorant. This principal of this K-12 brand new state-of-the-art building doesn't believe in evolution. And in the last sentence, I hesitated when I was about to type the word school; instead, I used the word "building."

Of course it is a school. But I am worried, and I didn't realize this until I was driving home last night from the Zen center. We were asked if we wanted to cut the evening short so we could all watch the President's speech. We didn't, but it got me thinking about how fractured attitudes have become.

During the campaign season, I thought, most hopefully, that because of conservative patriotism, the right-wing talk show hosts might tone down their rhetoric some after the election was over. I couldn't have been further from the truth. Now, I hear people compare Obama to Hitler at the General Store. I have been going in there less and less. And who would ever imagine a school not airing the President of the United States' talk to it's children? I don't care what president you're referring to. If G.W.Bush had deigned to give a pep talk, I'm sure it would have been watched. Just what is going on in this country? What are people so afraid of?

The nearby school was afraid that parents would complain if the speech was aired. I truly do not understand what is happening. The rural area I live in is rife with fear and anger, but when I listen, I can't understand it, mostly because it is so irrational. I certainly can understand irrationality, for I'm not immune, but this is stuff of science fiction madness. Fears about things like death panels and signs reading "Obama Lies Grandma Dies". . .it's as if all apocalyptic fear and general angst about a country that is going through rough times has been rolled up into one big ball and given a name that is "Obama." In the end, sadly, I think it still all comes down to an innate racism, a fear of the other, and that somehow we will lose an internalized (inaccurate and outdated) sense of this country as an all-white Christian nation.

Segueing into last night's speech, when I heard Obama say that all Americans have a responsibility to have health insurance, just like they have car insurance, I could imagine plenty of people around here yelling, "Damn no! I have a right to never go to a doctor!" When I was tattooing Downeast, amongst a lot of fishermen, I heard many folks proudly proclaim that they or other family members had never set foot in a doctor's office in their lives. There's nothing wrong with that if you're healthy. But, I also saw plenty of the same people who imposed this on their kids, or who were about as healthy as an elderly person at the age of 30. And sadly, many people die too young because if you never set foot in a doctor's office, a cancer that can be cured early was caught too late. Sure, you can fight for your right to live like that, but it's another form of ignorance, in my opinion.

I suppose the question is whether government should meddle in these affairs. Well, it already does. Most people do send their children to public school, for instance. And most poor people, when faced with catastrophic health issues, do wind up using government assistance.

I'm sad that things have gotten so out of hand. It makes me sad when I listen to talk radio and realize it's become even more the voice of the people I live amongst. I hear so much hatred and fear and it serves no one well. I'm sad that my belief that this kind of talk would simmer down wound up being a fairy tale. This last bit makes me realize that that these same self folks who have spoken so much of "patriotism" are, well, full of it. Driving a wedge through our society, speaking such bald-faced lies, drumming up and playing to fear, encouraging ignorance; none of these things are are patriotic. None of these things are what the dream of America is about. I may have issue with that American dream story, or the very notion of patriotism, but still, they are better than the alternative of the paranoid, hateful quasi-ideology the right has turned into. William F. Buckley Jr. must be turning over in his grave.

Image note: I'd like to attribute this to someone, but it's all over the Web, unattributed. Folks, you don't have to send your kids to public school. But, still, I don't get it. When I was a kid, we talked about current events every day in elementary school, had civics class, watched NASA launch rockets (a government program!), and we were taught to be "proud of our country." I may have issues with that, too, but there was a sense of the public good, and we were a part of it. What ever happened to that idea? I hear Obama trying to bring it back, and it seems absolutely right to me, but this (above) is what we hear as a counter. Please, someone, explain this to me. I just do not get it.


Anonymous said...

The extreme right seems to have a field day in areas of the country where people are choosing to be ignorant. What most of the folks in your area don't realize is that listening to right wing radio talk shows doesn't qualify as "educating" yourself on the current issues. But that's often the case when people get whipped into a frenzy instead of learning the facts about the proposed Health Reform (or any other issue for that matter).

It's easy to let emotions and fear rule your life, it's harder to sit down and do some research. How can one form an opinion if they are not familiar with the facts? I wonder what percentage of the population actually knows the facts. I'd say about 5-10% at best actually know enough about the topic to form an informed opinion.

And yet, if you ask people on the street, almost everyone has a strong opinion one way or the other. Willful ignorance, indeed!

BitterGrace said...

I find it all very distressing, too, and I'm horrified that Obama may actually fail to do the one good thing I hoped he would, which is achieve some health care reform.

But it's worth remembering that racism, paranoia, etc., are not new trends. Remember the Know Nothings.

The Southerner in me actually sees all this hysteria as a hopeful sign. Racist blather reached its peak in the face of civil rights victories. It was just the last gasp of the old order passing away. We may be seeing something similar now.

jmcleod76 said...

The "death panel" people, especially, scare the shit out of me. I mean, seriously ... seriously, how do those people keep a straight face while they claim the Obama & Co. want to start rounding conservatives up into concentration camps? It's absolutely asinine.

I listened to a really interesting edition of Fresh Air on NPR all about these issues tonight while I was driving home from karate class. You can hear it here:

Larry said...

I agree with you that people are afraid of the country changing: more non-European immigrants, fewer old-line factory jobs, a Black president, etc. But I do think there's a "moral majority," to borrow Nixon's phrase, who think all this right wing crazy talk is just that. Unfortunately for Republicans, they can't win a primary without the support of the fringe right wing. I'm optimistic that the louder and more often these people shout "Nazi," "socialist," and "I want my country back," the more the majority of Americans will turn off to them.

I think it's a little like a vending machine. Every day you put your dollar in the machine and get your coke. Then one day it doesn't work. So you start pushing buttons. Then if you still don't get your coke, you start kicking it and screaming at it. I think these people are now in the kicking the vending mahcine stage.

jmcleod76 said...

I wish I could agree with you, Larry, but I think the more noise the far right fringe makes, the more they tap into the deep-seated fears of average people. On the radio program I referenced above, the interviewee talked a lot about how there is a "groundswell of right wing grassroots activism" that has risen up in response to the Obama presidency. Of course, in part, that's just what happens when either party is in charge - the other side gets energized and starts throwing stones. Outlandish statements affect people's emotions in a way that reasoned critique does not. There are many well-spoken, thoughtful conservatives who raise genuine concerns about their disagreements with the president's policy initiatives. But subtle, reflective arguments about economic feasibility or the constitutionally appropriate length of the government's reach just don't motivate outrage the way phrases like "death panels," "concentration camps," and "socialist indoctrination" do.

Julie H. Rose said...

Yes, the fervor is a sign of desperation, but fear is a powerful thing.

I have neither optimism or pessimism about all of this. Yes, we've seen worse, and moved through it.

What I feel is sadness. I feel sad when I see kids holding hateful signs and repeating their parents' hate and fear filled words. I feel sad that the local school has become a place where fear has taken hold and that fear keeps science from being taught properly, civics to be eschewed completely, and silence on so many subjects has become the norm. If education is the antidote to ignorance, when educating is filtered through this lens of fear, what happens?

Julie H. Rose said...

Thanks for the heads up, Jaime. Blurb from the Fresh Air website: "In his new book Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party, investigative reporter Max Blumenthal theorizes that a culture of "personal crisis" has transformed the Grand Old Party — and threatened its future."

Link above is broken. Here's a new one:

Julie H. Rose said...

Fascinating 47 minute interview with Max Blumenthal on Democracy Now: