Barack Obama's Speech to Students Revs Up the Wingnuts

The president wants to talk to school kids. The only possible explanation? Evil plot.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

There's an outbreak sweeping parts of the country, threatening to become a pandemic. H1N1? No, it's Political Derangement Syndrome (PDS). Its main symptom is believing everything the leader of the opposing party does is part of a nefarious, calculated, insidious, far-reaching conspiracy.

So take this story, from the front page of today's New York Times:

President Obama’s plan to deliver a speech to public school students on Tuesday has set off a revolt among conservative parents, who have accused the president of trying to indoctrinate their children with socialist ideas and are asking school officials to excuse the children from listening.

The President of the United States wants to give a "don't do drugs ... stay in school"-type address to the nation's school kids. ("This isn't a policy speech," an Education Department spokeswoman told the Times.) But of course in the world of the politically deranged, there are no innocent speeches and that is doubly true when the most innocent among us are involved.

So of course it must be part of a larger plot to inculcate socialist ideas into our students, because ... 2 + 2 = crazy. (Pity the poor parents who will be helpless to explain to their children the virtues of the free market system after they've been exposed to the  silver-tongued POTUS.)

The antidote to PDS should be Occam's Razor: That the simplest explanation is the correct one. So between the competing theories of Someone in the White House thought it might be a nice idea for Obama to speak to the nation's school kids versus The liberty-hating socialist conspirators in the White House took time out from plotting the socialization of healthcare, the surrender in Iraq, the debt-slavery of future generations, murder of the elderly and extinction of free markets to plot to indoctrinate school kids, the simple, rational one should triumph.

But Occam's Razor assumes a degree of rationality that is trumped by PDS. There's this, from the Times:

And Chris Stigall, a Kansas City talk show host, said, “I wouldn’t let my next-door neighbor talk to my kid alone; I’m sure as hell not letting Barack Obama talk to him alone.”

Well yes, it would be somewhat creepy if the president wanted to speak to every school kid in America, individually, alone. Except that he wants to speak to them as a group in a publicly broadcast speech. (And I'm sorry to hear that Mr. Stigall has such poor relations with his next door neighbors.)

Conservatives have particularly picked up on a lesson plan accompanying the speech that called for students to "write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president." This is about as political as every Catholic wedding I've been to when the priest implores the good lord to help our political leaders. Arguably someone at the White House should have guessed what kind of reaction it would get, but that failure bespeaks political innocence more than political conniving. Again, I give you Occam's Razor: Is it more likely that this was, as a White House staffer told the AP, an "inartfully worded mistake" or that it provides a rare glimpse into the nefarious etc. etc.

One other point worth making here. Back in 1991, George H. W. Bush made a similar address to students, also nationally broadcast. Democrats got up in arms, accusing him of using taxpayer money on what they called "paid political advertising." Their reproaches merited eye-rolling, but did not amount to a full-fledged outbreak of PDS.

The key difference is that in the modern media echo chamber—with the Internet, talk radio, 24 hour "news" channels, Facebook, etc. such derangement is much more communicable.