The Common Good

Did Anyone Freak Out in '91 When George H.W. Bush Asked School Children to 'Help Us Achieve Our Goals'?

I blame the media for much of this manufactured controversy. Just because a conservative fringe now feels entitled to a major meltdown every time Obama makes a public statement doesn't mean it's a news story. I was at least encouraged over the weekend to see some coverage of the remarks of former President George H.W. Bush in 1991, making a statement to America's children that sounded nearly identical to what has made so many wingnuts loosen their hold on reality another quarter-turn:

Let me know how you're doing. Write me a letter -- and I'm serious about this one -- write me a letter about ways you can help us achieve our goals.

"Let me know what you're DOING"? Help the president with his AGENDA?! Hello Big Brother -- 1984 came seven years late!

That, my friends is sarcasm -- as distinct from the hysteria displayed by paranoid parents across the nation. Sigh. Well, I guess 1991 was a simpler time, since apparently other than some Hill Dems accusing George H.W. of electioneering, most folks saw the event for what it was -- an encouragement of our nation's children to take their education seriously. And yet, in 2009, the Obama White House is forced to backpedal on the exact same request:

The Department of Education sent out a list of suggested classroom activities that teachers could use to accompany the speech. One among dozens suggested that teachers could have students "write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president."

Some conservatives focused on the letter-writing activity as an effort by the administration to use classrooms to build political support for the president. Department officials on Wednesday replaced that initial suggested activity with one in which students would "write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short-term and long-term educational goals."

The original activity, Mr. Duncan said Sunday, "wasn't worded quite correctly."

Among those criticizing plans for the speech was the chairman of the Florida Republican Party, who accused Mr. Obama of seeking to spread what he called "socialist ideology."

If anything, this episode reminds me why I don't watch cable news. (Except through the satirical lens of Stewart and Colbert -- come back from vacation, America needs you!) Over the holiday weekend while visiting family, I saw knuckleheads with no sense of history accuse Obama of being "Orwellian" for doing exactly what past Republican presidents had done without controversy. And it is the fringe. Even arch-conservatives such as Newt Gingerich were quoted in the Times article cited above as being supportive of the event. And yet "controversy" reigns supreme.

Media, White House, everybody -- please do not let this thug fringe hold the rest of us hostage to their paranoid dystopian fantasies.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler is the Web Editor for Sojourners.

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