Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Public Discourse and Obama's School Speech


I need some help from any readers I may have left after a summer of sporadic blogging.

I enjoy following American politics, but I am not in America.

So the venomous nature of the current political discourse snuck up on me. At first I thought the public's intense emotions were a reaction to the size of the challenges we face with health care reform. Then I read about the resistance to Obama's speech to school children.

I read the views of those who feel the speech is too political. I read the views of people who think the President is intruding into the sphere of state and local school districts. My reactions to these points are,
A) The speech doesn't read as overtly or covertly political.
B) I don't think such a speech exerts nearly as much Federal influence as the No Child Left Behind program.

People can argue with me about those points. That's fine, but I'm worried about the way our political dialogue is being shaped. When I look at the tone and content of this 'school speech' debate through the lens of my current research, I'm left wondering this: What is the aim of such a discussion?

The President wants to give a "Stay-in-School" speech today, and people are acting very upset. Which struck me as odd until I posed this theory: People aren't really that upset about the speech. The objections are actually an attempt to hijack the process of public political discourse by objecting to any-and-everything the President does.

I wouldn't say this about the health care town halls. That is a deeply divisive issue, and while I think some people are out of line, I understand the passion behind the debate.

But parents have threatened to keep their kids out of school because the President wants to encourage children to do their best and set some goals. Really? What do those parents hope to achieve... other than truancy?

The school speech uproar casts a light on the strategy being used by some members of the opposition: "Raise hell every time Obama tries to do anything, and eventually we'll paralyze the Administration." It's straight out of the Rush Limbaugh "I hope he fails" playbook.

Added 9-9-09: In his article at Forbes.com, Tunku Varadarajan expresses a view close to my own, and he and I are not on the same side of the political spectrum. & Here's the WSJ's reaction to the speech objections. End of added material.

I think the flood of objections is ridiculous, and I'm upset such a strategy has been effective in any way.

My concern about these theories is this: I like Obama.

I've agreed with much of his policy thus far. So it is hard, if not impossible for me to be objective. And with that in mind, I forced myself to remember how often and how vehemently I opposed the policies of Bush 43. Is it possible that my ilk and I employed a similar strategy?

This is where I need some help. I'd like my readers to use the comments section to build a list of the topics/issues that non-extremists have objected to under the Bush and Obama administrations.

My goal is to evaluate those lists and see if the tactics have changed since Obama took the Oath. It isn't fair to evaluate the volume of dissent - Bush had more time in office.

I'll start things off:

Large-scale public objections the left had/has about Bush's policies:
* The rush to war in Iraq
* The detention of terror suspects
* The warrantless wiretapping
* The "over-politicization" of the Federal Courts
* The supervision at military prisons in Iraq
* The support of waterboarding as a legitimate interrogation method

Large-scale public objections the right had/has about Obama's policies:
* The auto company bailout
* The stimulus package
* The closing of Gitmo
* The push to reform health care (specifically with a public option)
* The speech to school children

If we get a good list together, I'll compile the comments in a new post and we can all evaluate it.

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