Obama's Real Test: Calming the Crazies

Can the center hold?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
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    On September 9, President Barack Obama will address a joint session of Congress in the U.S. Capitol -- just as he did last February 24. The topic is health care; he might be better off trying to calm the overheated emotions in the country.

    President Obama wants to use his prime-time address to a joint-session of Congress next Wednesday as a way to jump-start the health-care debate. He would be better off trying to restore civic order that has become dangerously frayed over the last few months. 

    The liberal interest group MoveOn organized a rally Wednesday evenings in Thousand Oaks, California, to show support for Obama's health care reform. Yet, demonstrating how snake-bitten the effort has become, a pro-reform participant bit off the finger of 65-year-old William Rice, a member of a counter-rally. Even though the incident began with Rice throwing the first punch, it's ending with him losing a finger -- and the biter running off -- makes the whole situation a disaster for supporters of Obama and health reform. After all, it's been Democrats portraying the anti-reform movement as the ones prone to intolerance, unrest and potential violence. Rice may have started the fight, but, as the cops at the scene said, his mutilation now makes him the victim.  

    Meanwhile, conservatives have decided that President Obama's start-of-the-school year message to students is nefarious enough that many are organizing to keep their kids out of class next Tuesday:  

    The uproar over the speech, in which Mr. Obama intends to urge students to work hard and stay in school, has been particularly acute in Texas, where several major school districts, under pressure from parents, have laid plans to let children opt out of lending the president an ear.

    Some parents said they were concerned because the speech had not been screened for political content. Nor, they said, had it been reviewed by the State Board of Education and local school boards, which, under state law, must approve the curriculum.

    “The thing that concerned me most about it was it seemed like a direct channel from the president of the United States into the classroom, to my child,” said Brett Curtiss, an engineer from Pearland, Tex., who said he would keep his three children home.

    “I don’t want our schools turned over to some socialist movement.”

    The sheer violence of the finger-biting is more serious because it involves physical injury. Even so, it is ultimately an individual act that got out of hand at a political rally. But urging or threatening a boycott of a presidential address is truly disturbing.

    If parents are afraid about what their children might be told or encouraged by the president, there is a simple solution:  Ask that question that parents have been putting to their kids for decades: "What did you learn in school today, dear? What did the president talk about?" 

    If the answer is, simply: "He told us to study hard, do our homework and not watch as much TV or play as much video games," Great!  If it's something like, "We need to buy a smaller, more gas-efficient car," well, then, that's an opportunity to explain to the child why either the president is wrong -- or why such things can't be right away. 

    But, keeping a child from school because the president will be speaking!?!? That is absurd.

    Why not use the president's talk as a -- to use an Obama phrase -- "teachable moment?"  That way parents could show how it is possible to disagree with someone politically without either being disagreeable or running away. 

    The president of the United States -- whomever the person is -- holds an office that should be respected. It's an office to which children should aspire. If a president wants to urge children to work hard, so they can have an opportunity to excel and place themselves on a track for the presidency, why should that be denied to the kids? 

    If the gentleman in Texas thinks his three children could be so easily corrupted by listening to the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES for a few minutes, then he should just permanently yank his kids out of the school.   

    Barack Obama ran a presidential campaign hoping to quell the raging political passions of the last few years. Yet the last few weeks, with an increasingly contentious health care debate that has culminated in a lost finger, demonstrate that like an out-of-control forest fire the political wars rage as hot as ever. That the hostility many have for the president has reached such a level that parents don't want their kids to hear him speak is even greater evidence. The so-called sensible center risks being squeezed out by the consuming flames of the ideological extremes.

    Rather than health-care "reform," it would seem that the mental, spiritual and emotional health of the nation might be a more appropriate topic for Obama's Wednesday's address.

    And, yeah, the kids should stay up to hear that one too. 

    New York writer Robert A. George blogs at Ragged Thots. Follow him on Twitter.