9.05.2009

Fire and Smoke - The Response to the Obama School Children Lesson Plan

My friend and co-blogger Steve S has done a great job lately of pointing out the dangerous excesses of the grassroots response to the Obamacare plan...and now the speech to school children, something Jared has touched on as well.  The adamant response, Steve points out sharply, risks delegitimizing the complaints.

While I agree with Steve's general theme, I wonder if it isn't more worthwhile to study the objects of the engaged citizens' ire (sort of outside the confines or lenses of the debate as it's been cast) to determine substantively whether the proposed government actions they oppose are actually pernicious in light of our history as a nation and our conception of a government of limited powers.

In other words, let's ignore the smoke for a moment, stop presuming everyone who vehemently opposes Barack Obama's policies is a birther, and concentrate on the underlying fire.  Because if the fire is in fact dangerous enough, it's no wonder there's smoke.  Sure, smoke of any kind - supporters who represent the excessive zeal of any cause - can seem acrid, inherently annoying and unhealthy.

But the firestarters, too, in their "Who me?  You're just crazy." smugness, must be assessed and critiqued.  They are potentially much more worrisome, if you ask me.

Let's take the speech to school children issue.  How inimical to liberty is an attempt by the President to talk to all young public school children over a television screen...with a followup questions from the teacher, provided in a standard lesson plan, asking pre-K-6th graders to write themselves letters on how they can help the president and asking “Why is it important that we listen to the President and other elected officials…”  It might seem innocuous - especially to all of us over 18 who see President Obama in the news and on television constantly.  And it probably is.

However, scraping away whatever Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and the Heritage Foundation have said about Obama and the school children, does the lesson plan and setup still sound rather odious to me as an individual?  Yes, they do.  They seem to run against the fundamental premise of American government - that sovereignty rests with the people.  The bullet point should have read:  "Why is it important that our President and other elected officials listen to us?"

Even if Obama was planning to encourage students to do positive things, even if there was a precedent (Obama wants to rest - again - on W?), a mass communication (prepared by a government agency) by the president to impressionable minds that our society has determined are not yet capable to share in the burden of self-government is a risky thing.

I think the ire of parents out there, even if exaggerated and heated, comes from the fact that our system of government has morphed so far from the original restrained conception we began with that it has come to parallel, all too closely, the overbearing government we set ourselves apart from - and against - when we created ourselves.  

Yes, we have a democratically elected government, for the most part.  But the proliferation of agencies, like the Department of Education, the expanded number of unelected czars, and the increased federal encroachment on traditionally state education prerogatives through legislative and funding mechanisms ultimately make some aspects of a parent's control over a child's education so attenuated that it approaches the realms of taxation without representation.  Admittedly, in this situation, the agency's lesson plan is a "menu" of possibilities, not a mandate, to my knowledge.

Still, too many commentators, rather than looking at the fire, focus in on the smoke, the grassroots anger.  They argue guilt by association and demean incrementalist arguments rather than defeating the basic arguments opposed to President Obama's policies and the actions of his administration.  

I understand how deep the opposition runs.  And I think I know why.  It's largely the audacity of a federal government and a president who tend to believe that so long as governmental action is well-intentioned it should be condoned.  The smoke is the problem here, they say.  It's obstructionist.

I'm not so concerned about the smoke.  It's the fire - even a small one - that worries me.