Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 3, 2009

THE STAY-IN-SCHOOL MESSAGE.... There was a major-league freak-out yesterday when right-wing activists learned that President Obama was prepared to challenge America's students to "work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning." It's a message the White House would broadcast live to schools that choose to air it.

It caused Jim Greer, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, to have something of a breakdown. He issued a statement condemning the president for, among other things, trying to "indoctrinate America's children to his socialist agenda." He added that Obama "has turned to American's children to spread his liberal lies."

Greer was hardly alone. Much of the right was simply apoplectic about this, and many, including Glenn Beck, began organizing a campaign to keep children from going to school the day of Obama's speech. What got the crazies so worked up? Apparently, there's a phrase in the Department of Education supplementary materials that, when taken out of context, becomes politically controversial. So, officials edited it.

In a set of bullet points listed under a heading, "Extension of the Speech," one of the points used to say: "Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals."

However, that bullet point now reads as follows: "Write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short-term and long-term education goals. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals."

In context, "help the president" wasn't about health care or economic growth, it was about the president encouraging young people to do well in school. The edited language makes this clear. As Alex Koppelman explained, "In context, it's clear that was an attempt to get kids to think of working hard in school as something they were doing not just for themselves, but for the president -- and not politically, either. But that's not how Obama's opponents saw it."

Well, I wouldn't rule out the possibility that Obama's opponents understood it just fine, but are on hair-trigger alert to turn any opportunity into a hysterical temper tantrum.

Or as Matt Yglesias put it, "Probably the biggest moral of the story is that the contemporary conservative movement is run by crazy people with no scruples, who'll turn anything into a pretext to level wild accusations."

Steve Benen 9:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

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Comments

yeah, what matt said.

just think, at least 26% of americans would want to have a beer with that freak, jim greer.

the other 74% appear to be led politically by phantoms scared of their own shadows.

Posted by: neill on September 3, 2009 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

When will the Democrats and the White House stop rolling over reflexively every time the right-wingers attack them?

Posted by: HaroldinBuffalo on September 3, 2009 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

Headline in my paper this morning was about how parents want to pull their kids from class so they don't have to sit through the "indoctrination". Of course this is Texas and we are well established to be bat-shit insane.

Posted by: jeff on September 3, 2009 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK


"I wouldn't rule out the possibility that Obama's opponents understood it just fine"

That's what they call understatement, right?

"When will the Democrats and the White House stop rolling over reflexively every time the right-wingers attack them?"

Would we recognize them if they didn't legitimize each and every attack against them?

Posted by: Lab Partner on September 3, 2009 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

The Left and the Right are unhinged. Leftists reacted as if Bush was a Neo-Hitler when he proposed anything. Rightists react as if Obama was a neo-Hitler when he opens his mouth. The comparison to national socialism, fascism, is actually quite apt: co-opt the youth, create a national religion (consumerism, for the right, and environmentalism for the Left), align industries with national goal, taking them over if needed, and promote a culture of hero worship.
I would argue that both the Left and the Right dll into the same category: neither are even closely still a true constitutional party.

Posted by: Chris on September 3, 2009 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

Jeff, my paper in Green Bay is also writing articles about how parents want to keep their kids home. So stupid.

Posted by: Margaret on September 3, 2009 at 9:32 AM | PERMALINK

Because nothing says socialist indoctrination like holding someone accountable for their own plans and goals.

Actually, it speaks volumes.

Posted by: jcricket on September 3, 2009 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

I wouldn't go so far as Chris, but you have to admit that if the Bush DoE had talked about "what they can do to help the president," you would've jumped all over it.

If there's a difference, it's that I can easily imagine the Obama DoE going, "Oops, we didn't mean it that way; here, that'll clarify things," whereas the Bush guys would've attacked the critics and left the language unchanged.

Posted by: Grumpy on September 3, 2009 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

Steve -- commenters T-Rex and ajaye on your earlier Greer piece yesterday (and now I see a commenter at TPM as well) have nailed it that this is an orchestrated campaign to delegitimize the president as a person and as a leader.

The right is attacking every single thing Obama does -- from the policy front to the most mundane -- to delegitimize this majority-elected leader as somehow dangerous and "other." (I personally think race has a lot to do with this, but without devolving into an argument over why this is happening (that the other side will use as Democrats "playing the race card"), suffice it to say that this is at the very least a highly immoral attempt at a power grab.)

You have done an amazing job of deconstructing each of the individual crazy attacks the conservatives have launched -- now I hope you'll dedicate some posts to the notion that this is an orchestrated campaign (which, by the way, seems to be working as we watch the administration's poll numbers slipping).

I'm hoping if you pick up on this and push it, and TPM does, and your fan (smile) Rachel Maddow does, and then the Daily Show -- MAYBE we can eventually awaken someone in the DNC to go on the offensive and point out to the (shrinking?) swath of sane people in the country just what this conservative campaign is doing.

Then, there's a chance that each new crazy attack ("The President said "good morning" -- what, doesn't he want you to have a good afternoon? The President hates night-shift workers!") makes the average (sane) American think, "Hunh, just like Steve/Rachel/Josh Marshall/Jon Stewart said -- they really are attacking every breath this President takes. They sure are desperate." Because this is really demoralizing and has got to stop.

Posted by: rr on September 3, 2009 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

Jeff, Here in Colorado, some districts are already allowing parents to "opt out" their kids from hearing the President speak. One of the district is Douglas county, previously very, very conservative, but which went for Obama in 2008. Denver Post has a headline on the controversy.

This is another very successful effort to undermine the legitimacy of Obama's presidency. I think the Districts are acting irresponsibly. If parents keep their kids home, fine. But, if Districts provide a time and place for kids to go whose parents don't want them to hear the President of the United States, then the District is validating the right wing's propaganda. What is of real concern to me is the kind of fight this will cause in school communities between kids who hear the President and kids who don't. I think what Districts are doing is potentially very disruptive. Particularly, since it is my experience that kids just nataurally like the President.

Posted by: joanneinDenver on September 3, 2009 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

I suppose today's right-wing nuts would have called Kennedy's physical fitness program a "communist plot".

Posted by: converse on September 3, 2009 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

I suppose today's right-wing nuts would have called Kennedy's physical fitness program a "communist plot".

And isn't jury duty socialism?

Posted by: koreyel on September 3, 2009 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK


Of course the parents who withhold their kids are silly. Why would anyone object the Chairman MAObama's indoctrination? Don't these people know that the Chairman knows exactly what's best for them?

Posted by: t on September 3, 2009 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

I wish I could just laugh at all this...especially given Glenn Beck's latest BREAKDOWN using architecture to illustrate his utter crazy batshit ideology! But, anyone who is paying attention knows that there are far too many out there ready to lap up everything the wingnuts present to them...therefore making the presidents challenge to stay in school, work hard, learn things and use your brain to actually THINK ABOUT issues before deciding all the more DANGEROUS to these "keep them STUPID - the better to indoctrinate them" fools...it's the projection thing all over again...Education is the biggest foil to idiocy - and you only have to look over your shoulder at the previous 8 years to know where THAT leads you...

Posted by: Dancer on September 3, 2009 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

I just read those headlines also Jeff - probably the same paper. It has caused quite a stir in our office this morning. I asked my co-workers what the speech is about and none of them knew but they were wondering whether they should keep their children out of school on that day.

So it doesn't matter what the subject - it's just that it's Obama speaking and they don't want their children to hear anything he has to say. Guess it's appropriate that the speech is on the importance of staying in school and getting a good education. These morons will proof the point by taking their precious ones out. By all means, let's keep them ignorant. What a country we've become.

Posted by: whichwitch on September 3, 2009 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

Jim Greer doesn't believe Barack Obama is a citizen. He hasn't produced a birth certificate, right? If he is not a citizen, he's not president, he's a fraud, a con man, a traitor, and should most certainly not be allowed to speak to any child.

Would you let your child spend time, unsupervised by you, with an African con man?

That's right, you wouldn't. So I hope you are ready to apologize to Mr. Greer for laughing at him.

Unfortunately, Mr. President, you cannot speak to the children until we see your birth certificate.

Posted by: karen marie on September 3, 2009 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe they will "prove" the point too! I need to go back to school before I critize anyone else!

Posted by: whichwitch on September 3, 2009 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

Dumb, white, conservative, racist Floridians don't want a (1/2) black man talking to their kids in school. This is racism. Overreactions like this will persist as long as Obama is in office.

mhr: you're projecting. You can't read anyone else's mind. Grow up and try to be serious.

Posted by: John P on September 3, 2009 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

Um, how is the leader of the country giving a speech to students about the importance of their education considered a "cheap trick"?

By this token, I expect a lot of commencement addresses to either be changed or cancelled.

Posted by: TonyB on September 3, 2009 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

Leftists reacted as if Bush was a Neo-Hitler when he proposed anything. Rightists react as if Obama was a neo-Hitler when he opens his mouth.

Chris you're full of shit, and here's why.

Leftists reacted as if Bush was a Neo-Hitler when he proposed things like suspending habeas corpus, illegally torturing detainees, and invading countries on lies. Rightists react as if Obama was a neo-Hitler when he urges children to study and do well in school.

See the difference? STFU with your false equivalency.

Posted by: g on September 3, 2009 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, I think it was the "collected and redistributed" part that drove the wingnuts crazy...

Posted by: dr sardonicus on September 3, 2009 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

I was going to make a point about Chris, Grumpy, and false equivalence but now I think I'll leave it as...WHAT G SAID!

Posted by: howie on September 3, 2009 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

I had some fun last night sending missives to Jim Greer because the FL GOP Web site opens another text box for more comment a few seconds after sending a message. Each time the masthead changes to show another elected representative, all of whom are white men.

Posted by: Bob Johnson on September 3, 2009 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

"Probably the biggest moral of the story is that the contemporary conservative movement is run by crazy people with no scruples, who'll turn anything into a pretext to level wild accusations."

In other breaking news of the day, the sun rose in the east!

It may not be obvious to you idiots who support The Chosen One, but we republicans do not level wild accusations!

We lie.
We know that we lie.
There are no penalties for lying.
We will continue to lie.

Posted by: RepublicanPointOfView on September 3, 2009 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

Joanne in Denver wrote:

I think the Districts are acting irresponsibly. If parents keep their kids home, fine. But, if Districts provide a time and place for kids to go whose parents don't want them to hear the President of the United States, then the District is validating the right wing's propaganda.

Here in Texas, at least, the wingers have so many hot-button issues that they object to (sex education, guest speakers on other religions, evolution, in-school teen health clinics, etc.) that giving parents a formal mechanism for "opting out" of scheduled activities or instruction is standard operating procedure. It's nothing new here. Because school administrators answer to locally-elected school boards, and because the state agency's leadership is stacked with far-right political appointees (the governor's nominee for the head of the board is a young-earth creationist who home-schooled her kids because she doesn't believe in public education), school administrators throughout most of the state have been conditioned to back down anytime they they get a phone call from an irate parent. It's a sad, sorry state of affairs.

Posted by: Andy on September 3, 2009 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

"FDR, Truman, Kennedy, Eisenhower and Reagan would never stoop to such cheap tricks."

Actually both Reagan and G.H.W. Bush did, but that's a minor detail. Let's not let that get in the way of such delicious paranoia.

Posted by: Skepticat on September 3, 2009 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

As with the Kansas item where the band was forced to remove t-shirts using an evolution motif, troglodite parents are going to learn the hard way that their children are smarter than they.

Posted by: Bob Johnson on September 3, 2009 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

The wingnut position makes perfect sense if you assume that when a Democrat is elected, the president of the United States is somehow a dangerous infiltrator rather than the legitimately elected leader of the country, and that by believing so you're a patriotic supporter of democracy and not a treasonous fifth columnist working to undermine our system of government.

Unfortunately, claiming to simultaneously believe both those things does put you into the category of liar or crazy person.

Posted by: Redshift on September 3, 2009 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

Next, the right-wing will complain that Obama's speech before a joint session of Congress will be an attempt to "indoctrinate America's children, I mean Congress, to his socialist angenda and to spread his liberal lies."

Posted by: qwerty on September 3, 2009 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

Forget to mention field trips to art museums where students may encounter nude statuary. Those are opt-out trips, too. There was actually a teacher here in Texas got fired a couple of years ago for allowing her kids to be exposed to such shameful nekkidity.

Posted by: Andy on September 3, 2009 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

Need better trolls. If you all are going to come in here and poop on our lawn, at least come up with something new. Jeez..."guns and religion"? That's so last year.

Posted by: jeff on September 3, 2009 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

Bush did ask students to write letters to him. Do a Lexis-Nexis search to find the article written on October 2, 1991. According to the article:

"Bush closed his address by saying, ''Let me leave you with a simple message: Every time you walk through that door, make it your mission to get a good education.''

He also asked students ''let me know how you are doing. Write me a letter about ways you can help us achieve our goals.''"

Posted by: Wendy on September 3, 2009 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK
Bush did ask students to write letters to him.

Ah, but Bush wasn't a Kenyan-born, Islamic Marxist who wanted to euthanize grandma and redistribute her wealth to ACORN. That makes a difference, doesn't it?

Posted by: Andy on September 3, 2009 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

Nevertheless, the wording was really poor. It sounds like someone is trying to build a cult of personality. And, regardless of their age, it is condescending to the kids. It's nitpicking, I know, but a nit is still a nit.

Posted by: Michael7843853 on September 3, 2009 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

Joanne also wrote:

Particularly, since it is my experience that kids just naturally like the President.

That, I think is what many of these parents fear, consciously or otherwise. If they allow their kids unfiltered exposure to the president, they might question why he doesn't a little mustache like he does on the signs Daddy keeps in the back of the truck.

It's not about parents being afraid of what Obama will say; it's about parents losing control of the message their kids get about the president.

Posted by: Andy on September 3, 2009 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

I live in Central Florida and I assure you that the Mugwumps in this part of the state think exactly like that . They still went 60% for McCain
and still remember the civil war and the confederacy like it was yesterday. They don't want no negros telling them anything because Jebus wouldn't want it that way.

Posted by: John R on September 3, 2009 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

As with the Kansas item where the band was forced to remove t-shirts using an evolution motif

It's Missouri, not Kansas. Getting hard to tell the difference, I know.

Just what the children of America's least intellectually and emotionally able need: another hour out of school.

Posted by: shortstop on September 3, 2009 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

And, regardless of their age, it is condescending to the kids

Are you freaking serious? That's the most inadvertently hilarious thing I've read all week. Try harder.

Posted by: shortstop on September 3, 2009 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

Not that an outpouring of anecdotes proves anything, but this does seem to be a 5-alarm fire for the GOP: The newspaper in a relatively liberal college town in Missouri (one that solidly supported Obama) yesterday said that schools there would not be showing Obama's speech to students because they could not show live satellite programs, only prerecorded ones (really?), but that they hadn't had any contact from parents about the speech. In response to the article, here are a few of the comments:

One parent demands that the White House "submit a copy of what's on his teleprompter to the parents before hand [sic] to make sure the content is suitable for young, impressionable minds."

"ALL schools should follow Columbia School's wise decision and parents/educators should be outraged at this propaganda laden 'Presidential Indoctrination' plan that is scheduled for schools nationwide. Obama now wants to be 'superintendent in chief' as if trying to be President isn't enough. This man has been setting a dangerous pattern for control of the country, now he is after control of our children and this is an attempt to indocrinate each and every one of them to support him politically. Most all Americans are finally seeing through this empty suit sitting in the White House - hopefully our children will also, but parents need to unite nationwide and tell their schools NOT to air this at their respective schools."

"I am not at all comfortable with Obama speaking directly to my child. I do not believe for a second that his message would be free of his radical anti-American beliefs! Let him go indoctrinate the kids in Russia or China where his message might fit the political climate a little better."

Posted by: Gaia on September 3, 2009 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, it OBVIOUSLY is socialist indoctrination.

After all, it says "These would be collected and redistributed..."

Making the words collection and redistribution sound so normal and using them in common sentences make them more acceptable and thus open young minds to socialist ideas.
Logical, right? ;-)

Posted by: Martin on September 3, 2009 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

Totally logical, but still batsh*t crazy.

Posted by: Gaia on September 3, 2009 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

An acquaintance of mine posted on her Facebook page this morning that she would be contacting her kids' schools to tell them not to expose her kids to Obama's Socialist propaganda. The delicious irony is that a couple of years ago she sought a job with the public school system here for the express purpose of - wait for it - securing health insurance for her family! So it's perfectly okay to practice socialism (getting your health care paid for on the public dime) if you're a conservative.

Her husband is self-employed and their premiums were eating them alive. Can't stand to talk politics with her, so I haven't asked, but I can assure you she also opposes health insurance reform.

Posted by: carolatl on September 3, 2009 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

Martin

Agreed.

Not to mention, it is a short ride on the slippery slope from "collection" to "collectivism."

Posted by: colonpowwow on September 3, 2009 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

So some parents are afraid that Obama's indoctrination will interfere with their own indoctrination?

Posted by: 2Manchu on September 3, 2009 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

You know, this is so incredibly crazy (I'm using that phrase a lot, lately.). Words fail to describe how insane this is. I mean, I'll have to resort to interpretive dance to even get close:

. . . .

. . . .


There! See that? I hope it doesn't get worse, because I'm at the end of my rope.

Posted by: Daniel Kim on September 3, 2009 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

My school district just sent out an email stating they would not be showing President Obama's speech because it was a "last minute" request and would interfere with the school day. Needless to say, my district is predominantly republican.

Posted by: kc on September 3, 2009 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

You know, the GOP has spent years celebrating willful ignorance and stupidity by choice (see: Palin, Sarah), so no shock here.

But the "indoctrination" thing is ... well, do these people not remember anything prior to Jan. 20, 2009?

You know, like when only people who signed "loyalty oaths" could attend Bush events ... or when DoJ attorneys were asked why they wanted to serve George Bush ... or when people were hired to rebuild Iraq based on their opposition to Roe v. Wade ... or when people wearing anti-Bush shirts were handcuffed and arrested ...

And yet Obama asking kids to work hard and stay in school is some sort of indoctrination?! Really? Seriously?

Seems to me what these folks don't want -- or rather, can't have -- is their children hearing a positive, enlightening message from a President Not Like Them. Ideologically, racially, intellectually ... whatever. Doesn't really matter.

They prefer their kids be driven by fear (of terrorism, teh gay, going to h-e-doublehockeysticks, of sex, of Others).

So the last thing they need is their children driven by a desire to affect positive change and progress in the world.

Posted by: Mark D on September 3, 2009 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

Like others say...
If bush had done this, I'd be quite critical.
It should have been obvious that this wording smacked off self-aggrandizement.

I'd actually like my kids to miss ALL messages from any elected official. The chances that they offer a superior learning opportunity over the regularly scheduled program strike me as vanishingly small.

The nut jobs are right for the wrong reason.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on September 3, 2009 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

Like others say...
If bush had done this, I'd be quite critical.
It should have been obvious that this wording smacked off self-aggrandizement.

I'd actually like my kids to miss ALL messages from any elected official. The chances that they offer a superior learning opportunity over the regularly scheduled program strike me as vanishingly small.

The nut jobs are right for the wrong reason.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on September 3, 2009 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe it's too obvious to mention, but the president has a number of roles, including Head of State. Every president that I have seen, even Bush, was non-partisan when fulfilling the duties associated with being Head of State. It can be difficult for partisans to see the president in a non-partisan role, and it is easy to project your own partisanship onto him, but that's not the president's problem.

I guess that there are at least some advantages to the systems of those countries which separate the roles of head of the executive branch (which is a partisan position) and head of state (which is not).

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