Obama’s Address to Students and Role as Head of State

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September 8, 2009 by D Stack

So after all the fear of the indoctrination from the Obama address to school students… How was it?

I read the transcript during lunch today and after dinner my 2nd grader and I watched the speech together. Need to indoctrinate them early after all. In all seriousness, my eldest daughter has an unusually intense interest in politics and history. When I was picked for a jury she wanted to hear every detail of it. So she was pretty happy that the president had a message for kids.

I thought the message was a good one. Nothing earth-shattering, but this wasn’t really such an occasion. It was a message of personal responsibility, that you are responsible for doing the best you can. For trying again after you fail. But the president is excellent at delivery and it seemed that it meant something to my daughter.

To be honest, this is the sort of role that presidents have that should ideally go beyond political party affiliation. Unlike a parliamentary system like the United Kingdom, the head of the government is also the head of state – the face of the nation. When you hear people say things like “he’s the president, you should respect him” they are referring to his role as head of state. Now admittedly as head of the executive branch and the most powerful single individual in the government, he’s certain to take positions that drive the opposition bonkers. And the opposition is under no obligation to defer to the president’s positions. But as head of state, the president is entitled to a certain amount of respect. It’s a difficult balance. After all, during a campaign for re-election the opposition has to run against the president.  But I would submit that comparing the president to a dictator for giving a speech to schoolkids is crossing that line.

Thankfully in this case it seems the majority of the furor was generated by “talking heads” – commentators, bloggers, etc. For the most part the Republican party did not dive into the fray – indeed Newt Gingrich, a man with whom I am rarely in agreement with, had praise for the speech. But as citizens we do have a responsibility to engage in a civil debate – stoking fires over nothing is not doing that. During the George W. Bush administration, I seem to recall a liberal commentator saying something along the lines of “some things are true even if George Bush believes them”. The point being disagreeing just for the sake of disagreeing gets us nowhere. If Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush were able to find some common cause in policy then it would be nice if commentators could hold their fire on nonpolitical events.

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