As predicted, President Obama’s second annual back to school address – yes, the address is now “annual” – was relatively uncontroversial. It did give the President a caring, motivator-in-chief photo-op, which is certainly to his politicial benefit, but this time around there were no inappropriate study guides to go with the speech, nor did the president belittle profit-making endeavors. It was pretty much just trite, “work hard and be nice” fluff.
Unfortunately, the address has given some members of the media the chance to whitewash last year’s speech controversy, again working in the political favor of the President. Noting the absence of rancor this time around, some reporters portrayed last year’s brouhaha as if it were just the result of petty Republican partisanship, not mentioning at all the U.S. Department of Education lesson plans that kicked the whole thing off. It’s been a bit like reporting on World War I without mentioning the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.
More disheartening is the “annual” part of all this, because it seems the nation has quietly resigned itself to yet another chip being taken out of federalism. It doesn’t matter that the president has no constitutional authority to kick off each new school year with an address to the nation’s kids, or that it opens up the very real possibility of serious politicization as the address becomes increasingly ensconsed. Right now the speech seems to do no harm, so no one wants to fight it.
There is one final reason this is discouraging. As a writer over at Pileus Blog laments, the speech is yet further evidence of “the way in which politics creeps into every nook and cranny of our world, leaving little space for us to breathe the fresh air of private life.” Indeed, now not even our children are able to breathe free.