"As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology. The idea that school children across our nation will be forced to watch the President justify his plans for government-run health care, banks, and automobile companies, increasing taxes on those who create jobs, and racking up more debt than any other President, is not only infuriating, but goes against beliefs of the majority of Americans, while bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power."
–Jim Greer, Florida Republican Committee Chairperson
Back in 1967, my parents were for anyone running for president who wasn’t Richard Nixon. They were of the generation who saw Nixon as the personification of a controlling way of life that they opposed in the middle of the free wheeling ‘60’s. And I, following my parent’s lead, supported Hubert Humphrey, only to be disappointed when he lost.
In that wake of that loss I, being an impressionable young tike who didn’t know any better, wrote a letter to the current vice president, telling him how sorry I was that he lost. A couple of weeks later I got a letter in the mail, written on creamy vice presidential stationary, thanking me for my condolences, but also encouraging me to support Mr. Nixon in his presidency, recognizing that our process requires a coming together after these battles for office.
So, on January 20, 1968, I made my way down to an office in the Justice Department building in Washington D.C. My uncle was a phone company executive in charge of the phone service for the Justice/FBI building, and he was able to get us a great vantage point from an office in the building to watch the inaugural parade of Richard Nixon. My family still wasn’t happy about his election. We didn’t fully trust him. But he WAS our president, elected by a majority of Americans, and so we stood at attention when his limousine came into view, and being a good cub scout, I place my hand over my heart as he drove by. Yes, we disagreed, but his office made him worthy of respect (that is until he abused it several years later).
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of American. And to the republic, for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
For many years I recited that pledge every morning. Most days it was just another exercise to go through before the teacher would order us to turn in our books to the latest lesson, but there were times when I would think about the meaning of the words and see them as America’s version of the Musketeer rally: “All for one and one for all!” Here was a pledge that called us to understand the flag as a symbol for a deeper reality, a unified republic in which we worked toward the day when all people would experience freedom and justice. This was a time when we could admit our differences politically, but still claim with pride that we were “one nation . . . indivisible,” something that God might actually be willing to associate God’s self with.
Being a man of the cloth (usually black knit and blue denim) I am often hesitant to wade in on political issues, knowing that there will be many who deem it inappropriate for me to mix faith and politics. And yet, I too am a citizen of this nation; I too have been willing to but into this great American experiment of freedom and justice; I too put my hand over my heart and make the pledge (even though I also recognize that my first allegiance is to the Kingdom of God). I have tried to be quiet, to sit and squirm and not say anything as people take us further and further away from being “one nation” toward being something far different, but I can’t any more. It comes from the quote at the top of this article. It comes from an unwillingness of some to believe that any person they oppose actually might have something worthwhile to say along the way.
Zoom forward a few years after the Nixon era. I had grown up and had daughters of my own. We found ourselves with a President, George W. Bush, who I disagreed with again and again. And, like most families, our children absorbed our political leanings and for the most part weren’t too impressed with the president. However, when President Bush came to Nashville and Air Force 1 was parked at the airport near our house, I made sure to drive by, for that plane was a symbol of something greater than a political philosophy. I may have disagreed with Mr. Bush, but it never would have occurred to me to forbid my daughters from listening to one of his speeches on television, regardless of what the topic was. Yes, it IS MY responsibility to raise my kids up in the world, but President Bush WAS our president, even though I didn’t like him nor voted for him. And simply because of the office given to him, he deserved respect while he was holding that office. If I disagreed with something he said in a speech to my kids, I could always deal with that in a conversation after the fact.
So when I heard that persons were complaining and asking schools to let their kids opt out of watching a speech by President Obama on the value of education and personal responsibility next week, I was floored. Does anyone think that a President REALLY has so much power that a single speech would indoctrinate kids into becoming socialists (whatever that means, as no one is fully willing to explain the fear and/or the term)? Knowing most classrooms, this speech will be a time for kids to daydream, sleep, or pass notes to one another in the darkness of the room while the teacher takes a break to catch up on grading or creating lesson plans. And, if the President were to actually say something doctrinaire and controversial, could not the parents talk about this with their kids after the fact – in fact, wouldn’t it be a great opportunity to talk with your kids about your beliefs and your disagreements with our current president.
This arises, I believe, in a belief that there is no need to listen to someone who doesn’t agree with you, that in fact, those who disagree with you are of such little worth that you can completely disregard them. I wonder at times if those who believe that a little TV address is a time of political indoctrination aren’t driven by their own belief that the only teaching or conversations worth having are those in which our beliefs are affirmed and imposed on others (what some might call indoctrination). Thus, we avoid challenging debate for in that debate we might be confronted with a human being who doesn’t match up to the demon we have made him out to be; a person who doesn’t conform to the stereotypes we make about him. On both the left and the right, we are rapidly becoming a large echo chamber in which we are only willing to listen to those who are on “our side,” and in doing so, the call to be one nation, indivisible is completely lost.
Jim, I get it completely that you disagree with the path that President Obama is taking. I do have to disagree that his approach goes against the “majority of Americans” since the polls, including the big one in November said that a majority of Americans is willing to follow his approach. Of course, that probably isn’t obvious to you, for the majority of the folks you talk to most likely think Obama is Benedict Arnold returned from the grave. You and I disagree. I understand where you are coming from and understand your worries, but I come to a different place.
Understand however that President Obama really hasn’t done anything different than what he said he would do in the election. He said he would close Guantanamo, and he’s working on it. He said he would look at a stimulus, and did so. He said he would try to reform health care, and he’s trying that as well. If anyone should be angry at Obama is should be the folks on the far left, for the places where he has wavered has been in his move to the middle, not his move to the far left.
Based on this, and based on respect for the Office of the President, can’t we assume that when he says he is going to talk to our kids about staying in school and taking responsibility for their work, that he is going to stay on message? He hasn’t, to my knowledge, drifted off in mid speech to readings from Chairman Mao. He pretty much stays on the task at hand, and this speech is part of a larger effort to encourage kids to stay in school. It doesn’t sound like much political indoctrination to me.
The bigger problem for me is that this move, like so many in recent weeks, is simply another step against being one nation, indivisible. I don’t care whether you are conservative or liberal, right or left, we can’t make this liberty and justice for all thing work if we decide to take our toys and run off on our own if we don’t get our way. Yes, we disagree, and I will never convince you to see the role of government in the way that I see it. But, if we can’t come together about anything– things like the value of education, things like the need for all of us to take responsibility for ourselves—then frankly, this American experiment is doomed.
For it is in disunity that we are weak. It is in disunity that we place ourselves at risk. It is in disunity that everything we have worked for falls into ruin, and we lose our standing in the world.
Don’t you think that we can find at least one moment when we can rally behind our President for our common good. I remember that happening for a day or two in September of 2001. I would wish that could happen again in September of 2009 as we encourage our kids to learn, learn, learn.
For if they don’t learn, what hope is there for us anyway?