Over the next few hours, millions of American children will head home from school, having been indoctrinated with the Socialist ideals of hard work, perseverance, and personal responsibility. Meanwhile, conservative pundits who can find no fault in Obama’s words scramble to re-define their opposition to the speech as “based on principle” rather than on the speech itself. Really?
Since when is the office of President so ill-respected that we totally disregard everything he says? When did we stop listening critically to the words of our elected officials, agreeing on common ground when it exists, and providing civil, well-reasoned debate when we disagree?
The exact same thing has happened for the last eight years, when, in the eyes of the left-leaning media and our more liberal fellow citizens, George W. Bush could do no right. People on both sides of the aisle frequently resort to name-calling and fear-mongering, all in the name of “preserving freedom and democracy”. Funny: Last I heard, refusal to listen to opposing ideas was a hallmark of Nazism (extreme right) and Communism (extreme left), not democracy.
You see, it’s so much easier to create two-dimensional caricatures of those with whom we disagree than to listen to them, critically evaluating their arguments while clearly articulating our own. Most of us — and I’m including myself, because I have so often been guilty of this — see the “D” or “R” after a politician’s name, and automatically assume we know exactly what he or she stands for based on that affiliation.
We have gone from a nation that initially opposed the formation of political parties (for this very reason) to a nation that, by-and-large, votes the party line. Instead of cooperation and compromise, we alternate between gridlock and unilateralism. The direction of our country is determined by the “swing vote“, which consists of the few who truly do think critically and those who are most easily swayed by marketing, media, and opinion polls… and I’m going to say it’s that latter group that makes up the bulk of unaffiliated voters. Unfortunately, these fickle folks seem to be the ones calling the shots, or at least choosing who will.
I’ve been saddened over the last week by the uproar over the president’s speech to school children delivered this morning, on several different levels. Besides the fact that, as President of the United States, he’s a role model whether we like it or not, and is to be respected, if not endorsed, I think conservatives have poorly played this entire episode, both personally and politically.
Personally, in that this should have been a great opportunity for parents to give their children a lesson in discernment. As with anything children are taught at school, parents have a responsibility to know what they are learning, to compare it with Scripture, to reinforce what is True, and to refute what is not. That way, children learn to defend Truth rather than avoid lies (which they can’t do forever), and in the case of today’s speech, see that Obama, like Bush and every President before them, is neither 100% right or 100% wrong all the time. He’s not a caricature, but a human like everyone else. And like everyone else, he was once a student. One who has worked very hard to get to where he is today, which is a lesson from which all children can benefit.
Politically, in that even if the most cynical conspiracy theorists were right about a political agenda behind the speech, they walked right into a trap by making such a big fuss. An Obama administration that has been reeling lately can now point to the negative reactions to the speech — which look overblown and even a little silly, in hindsight — as “evidence” that ALL negative reactions to things the administration is doing are similarly baseless. Furthermore, it allows them to point out that the GOP’s poster boy, Ronald Reagan, also addressed the nation’s school children… only his address DID include a political agenda, as he talked about things like tax policy and gun control, and then told the students that they would be responsible for creating government some day. Twenty years later, that generation is largely responsible for voting Obama into office. So much for the “indoctrination” argument. And when the NEA challenged George H.W. Bush’s address to students in 1991, which was remarkably similar in content to the speech delivered this morning, it was ruled to have been both legal and free from violations of restrictions on appropriations for publicity and propaganda.
If politics is a game, this whole mess is a huge win for the Democrats.
I’m not here to talk about what anyone should have done, but about what all Americans must do going forward. We absolutely MUST stop with the partisan bickering. We MUST get back to civil, logical debate. I’m so sick of hearing nothing but logical fallacies when it comes to political “debate”. Attacking an issue (say, a presidential address) because you disagree with a person (say, the president) is what’s known as Ad Hominem. Attacking an misrepresented version of an issue (say, Capitalism) is a Straw Man argument. Enough already!
Consider this a call to reason. If we truly care about our country, we need to cut out the pettiness and get beyond our surface-level understanding of the issues. We need to regard our opponents with respect, not contempt. We need to quit the generalizing and name-calling, and consider that some people who have different opinions might just have good motives… without falling into the opposite extreme: Naïveté.
Case in point: Two examples of discerning men who write much more eloquently than I. Ironically, they are on opposite ends of the liberal-conservative theology spectrum (not to be confused with political liberalism and conservatism).
First is John Piper, who has written two blog posts about the President’s speech, one before and one after. And lest you think that holding the view that this was a good speech equals a carte blanche endorsement of Mr. Obama, I suggest you watch this video, which is an excerpt of a Piper sermon from May:
Finally, the man who may have said best what I am trying to articulate is a man with whom I have rarely agreed: Brian McLaren. His call for “worthy loyal opposition” is spot on. Check it out.
Grace and peace be with you all.