I had my first dream about President Obama last night. At some point during every presidency of my adult life, I have dreamed about having some casual, one-on-one time with the current president. In each case, whether I agreed with his politics or not, it made the man more human and accessible. I am told that such dreams can be interpreted as anxiety dreams, where my unconscious mind tries to influence powers beyond my control.
I can see that. Obama was certainly non-threatening in last night's dream. I said as much to him as we sat together, telling him I thought he was being very approachable and that I felt we could talk about normal stuff, like the Red Sox. I then mentally kicked myself because he is a White Sox fan, but he just nodded and indicated that we were both wearing the same Fenway colors. (I also noted that the curl of chest hair at his neckline had gone gray but am not going to try and interpret what that means). In any case, I do not at any time recall him speaking to me, just that it felt comfortable in his presence.
I usually keep my personal politics apart from what I write in this blog. Perhaps Obama was on my mind because of the consternation in some vocal quarters regarding his upcoming speech to America's schoolchildren. The message to work hard and stay in school is hardly partisan, but apparently having it come from the President is perceived that way by many who oppose his politics. The AP reports:
"As far as I am concerned, this is not civics education — it gives the appearance of creating a cult of personality," said Oklahoma Republican state Sen. Steve Russell. "This is something you'd expect to see in North Korea or in Saddam Hussein's Iraq."
I'm calling bullshit. It gives the appearance of respecting the office of President and of encouraging students to dedicate themselves to learning and to being good citizens (things that partisan politics on either side lost track of long ago).
Public school is one of the bastions of our democracy. Every single day, my children salute the flag and pledge allegiance, which is an indoctrination in civics and patriotism that few of those crying foul about the President's address find objectionable. I am not concerned in the slightest that my children may have the opportunity to listen to the President speaking directly to them about personal responsibility and developing their full potential. I would not object to that message from any President. I have the opportunity and responsibility as a parent to discuss what they heard and thought when they come home.
President George W. Bush asked America's children to donate a dollar to help the children of Afghanistan as we went to war in October of 2001: a far more overtly political message to our youth. His father gave an address to America's schoolchildren that this transcript shows is exactly in line with what Obama intends to do next Tuesday. A presidential address of this sort is not unprecedented, nor out of line with the respect usually accorded to Chief Executives of our nation since generations of American schoolchildren were taught to venerate Washington. One can only conclude that it is an objection to this President, and what he represents, that is behind the calls to keep children out of school in districts that have elected to show the speech, and the decision by others not to show it at all.
I want my children to appreciate that there are many sides to the issues they will face in life, and particularly that there is more to history than what they are taught in school. I want them to be critical and informed consumers of information. The teachable moment in this case is sadly not about the President's message, but the reaction to it from those unwilling to trust their children to listen to it thoughtfully and discuss with them afterward what they heard. Respect for the office even when you oppose the politics of the officeholder is a traditional value that has been abandoned in American politics. There is nothing liberal or conservative about that dereliction.
The real risk here is that by speaking directly to schoolchildren, President Obama becomes more accessible to them, and with that familiarity perhaps more acceptable as well. Then he may appear in their dreams, and we know what that leads to...