So yesterday was the first day back to school for many young people across the country. President Barack Obama decided he wanted to give a kind of pep talk to kids as they went back into their classrooms. He wanted to talk about the responsibility they had to themselves with regards to their own education. In my mind, when I heard this I thought to myself, you can’t get anymore non-partisan than that. I mean we as Americans want all kids to do well in school, right? I could not have been more wrong. I honestly thought this would take the “heat” off of the health care debate but instead it was nothing more than a bit of gasoline for some in the Republican Party. Right wing talk show hosts urged parents to take their children out of school. Folks on the far right said it was a speech of indoctrination. Many suggested that the President was going to turn the nation’s youth into socialists’ and communists. Does anyone else by the way find the interchangeable use of these two political ideologies as funny as I do? I digress; the bottom line is, not even a speech/pep-talk designed to simply motive students could be seen by some on the right as just an innocent gesture by our President. It was turned into a political food fight of sorts in an effort to once again play the blame game. As a tax paying citizen of our country and as an educator I am here to say I have had enough. Just as President Obama challenged our youth I am going to challenge the leaders of the Republican Party. President Obama challenged the youth of the nation to take responsibility for their actions when it comes to their education and I want to challenge the rank and file leadership of the Republican Party. I want to challenge you to take responsibility for the country you represent as so called leaders in our democracy.
In a democracy there must be room for disagreement and debate. That is the very spirit of a democracy but since the election there has been a fringe element that has been growing in this country and that element, seems incapable of having any kind of civil discourse. The debate over health care has degenerated into shouting matches across the county. We really have not seen or heard a specific plan for health care yet, but already folks don’t like it. Or in some cases folks really do like it but can’t tell you what they like about it or what it even is. Sarah Palin resigned as Governor of Alaska to become a blogger and chat online about how Obama’s health care plan was going to be setting up death panels. I am not sure what this even means but a “death panel” would seem to be the opposite of “health care”. It also seemed, to be a very irresponsible thing to say from a woman who was once running for the vice-presidency of these United States. Thankfully your plumber named “Joe” is slowly but surely entering the “where are they now” files but your prime time radio host with the most, Rush Limbaugh can’t seem to separate fact from fiction. Even when your Republican chair Michael Steele tried to explain, that Rush was merely an entertainer of sorts, as a radio personality (he was right by the way) he had to apologize the day after and had to claim that yes, Rush is indeed a tried and true political figure to be taken seriously. A group of folks calling themselves “The Birthers” have claimed that Obama is not even an American citizen. They have been shown his birth certificate but it does not make any difference to these folks. Add to all of this, the rhetoric of “I want my country back”, and you have the makings of an unstable element that is not being reigned in by more responsible voices. I am not sure where some people feel the country has gone but let me assure everyone it is indeed still here and it is in need of help.
Because the political discourse has broken down, I will ask or rather demand that the members of the Republican Party start taking responsibility for some within their party. I am not asking for folks to hold hands and sing Kumbaya. I am not naive enough to believe that Republicans and Democrats can agree on everything, but the issues we are facing are ones where we can have a civil debate, which can hopefully lead us to solutions. Questioning whether or not our president is a citizen, saying he will be setting up death panels and calling him a socialist, a communist and comparing him to Hitler does not move the country forward. By not reigning in your “entertainers”, (yes your Glen Beck’s and your Limbaugh’s are entertainers, nothing more, and nothing less), you keep us from moving forward. You are keeping us frozen in a state of polarization at best. At it’s worst, this type of rhetoric can be divisive and dangerous. I will also say that it was wrong when folks on the left did it. It was wrong when the fringe element of the left portrayed George Bush as Hitler and it is wrong when the fringe element of the right does it now with Obama. I know for a fact that there are many reasonable leaders within the Republican Party who want to see the discourse taken to a higher level, yet they refuse to chastise their own. Again I say, Obama wants our youth to show some responsibility and I want our adults to set the example. To be fair, I have concerns and criticisms for our President. I want to see some light at the end of the tunnel with regards to this economic crisis and I am also hoping he spells out his health care plan to the American public in chapter and verse but I am not asking to see his birth certificate nor do I think he has kidnapped the country. I mean really, when you shout “I want my country back” are you talking about health care or are you talking about the fact that America has been and continues to move forward and change with regards to shifting attitudes towards race, class and difference? Change can be tough to handle but it is also what makes this country great. You can be a team player and help shape the present and future or you can dwell in the past. And again, I firmly believe that being a team player does not mean we agree on everything but when we disagree we must make sense! That is all I ask. We must have reasons for our disagreements and they must be grounded in a sense of reality .
I enjoyed watching Obama’s speech to our nation’s youth. I have a stirring feeling that Obama and his secretary of education Arne Duncan want to really turn this nation’s concern about public education into real, tangible commitment. I truly liked his message of taking responsibility. It’s a message I have often tried to instill in the students I have taught. It is that message of responsibility that needs to be taken seriously by our politicians on both sides of the aisle. In the coming weeks my hope; nay my demand is that the rhetoric of birth certificates and panels of doom give way to calm, cool, reasonable discourse. If our kids can do it, I know we as adults can do it. Our President expects our young people to do the right thing when it comes to representing themselves with regards, to their education. I expect the same thing from my political leaders be they Republican or Democrat when it comes to moving the country forward. Now is the time, for the adults, to set the example.