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Editorial:

A speech by any other president

October 13, 2009

OK. We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on this one.

Amid the nationwide furor over President Obama’s back-to-school speech to America’s students, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District announced that it would not be showing the speech live in classrooms on Tuesday.

Spokeswoman Laura Boss noted that a number of parents had called to complain about their kids being “exposed to” the 15-minute pep talk, but the district’s official reasons for opting out, according to Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard, were merely limitations on classroom technology and the huge number of things that needed to be accomplished the first day. Individual schools, he said, can show the speech at their convenience.

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Fair enough. The first day of school is always hectic, and technical problems would only make it worse. But now that we’ve all heard Obama’s speech and know that it has nothing to do with enticing kids into gulags, we encourage every school to make the president’s message available to students.

The simple reason for that is that it’s a great speech — and it would be a great speech coming from George W. Bush, John McCain or any Republican politician. During the address, Obama uses his best down-to-earth tone to urge kids to strive for success, even admitting to some of his own foibles as a student. And there’s decidedly nothing partisan about it.

The announcement that Obama was planning to address America’s kids on the first day of school riled a number of conservatives, to say the least. Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer accused the president of spreading “socialist ideology” to kids, while Steve Russell, an Oklahoma state senator, compared the school speech to “something you’d expect to see in North Korea or in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.” One Newport-Mesa grandparent, picking up her child Tuesday, said the address had “shades of Big Brother.”

Saints preserve us.

Reading over Obama’s speech, it’s hard not to puzzle over what the fuss was about. True, at one point, Obama told the wee ones, “Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer,” a statement that Karl Marx no doubt would have approved. But later on, the president encouraged the kids to become entrepreneurs and launch their own companies, which doesn’t tend to be the way it goes in Stalinist regimes.

Furthermore, Obama admitted early in the speech that he hadn’t always been the hardest-working or best-behaved student during his tumultuous youth. Would the Dear Leader ever make a confession like that?

In short, the nationwide frenzy over Obama’s speech was a display of pure, unfounded paranoia. And if anyone should be taking a stand against wild accusations and encouraging kids to respect those with different political views, it’s a school district. So now that Newport-Mesa’s principals have gotten the green light to show the president’s address, we hope each of them will take the opportunity.


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