There’s been much fire and controversy brewing over President Obama’s address he will deliver tomorrow to America’s students. If you’re at all conscientious of the news, no doubt you’ve seen the pundits battle back and forth over whether or not its appropriate for the President to make his address. People fear an underhanded plot to indoctrinate students with his political agenda or that he’ll use the platform to advance his policies. Or perhaps some think the President is seeking to recruit the next generation of Democratic voters. Then we hear stories of parents pulling their children out of school tomorrow and entire schools and school systems turning off the television.
Is this right or even necessary? What’s a fair Christian response to all of this?
Let me begin by saying on a purely personal, individual note that I tend not to agree with portions of the President’s governing philosophies, foreign, and economic polices. I acknowledge places I agree with him. There are also many points with which I disagree, and I do so respectfully. (By the way, I will not publicly divulge any of the details. I’m perfectly willing to be open with people one-on-one, but on this or any other public forum, I’ve been learning to keep my political thoughts to myself.) The key here, however, is to disagree respectfully. Why? As an American and as a Christian I oblige myself to honor the office of the Presidency, no matter who occupies the office.
So let’s take a look at tomorrow’s presidential address to school students. I took a look at the White House’s page detailing tomorrow’s address. The President is going to encourage students to work hard, take advantage of their education, graduate, and to set goals and priorities for their future. That’s all! Yes, the U.S. Department of Education has created optional educational resources for teachers to utilize before and after the President’s address. As an educator, I looked at them. They’re grade level-appropriate discussion and exercises geared to help students receive the most from the address. It’s not Obama worship. There’s no discussion of any policies. (Yes, recently there was one discussion question recently modified to move it away from “supporting the President” to setting personal goals. That was a wise change. After all, the speech’s purpose is not supporting President’s goals. It’s about furthering the lives of students.) And any teacher knows that resources like these are a menu. Teachers pick and choose activities to match the needs and abilities of their students. Or, they may bypass all of it.
So what’s all the hubbub about? How can a President’s address to school students encouraging them to be their best cause so much turmoil? Sadly enough, it’s a sign of our times. Politics has turned from impersonal debate on the issues to a personal vitriol designed to destroy political opponents. We’re seeing this now with the Right’s relentless attacks on the Obama presidency. And we saw President Bush (43) weather the same kind of blistering, nasty attacks from the Left, ironically from the same people who have the gall to be deeply offended that Obama is taking so much heat! And I would have thought the Right would have been angered enough from the tactics of the Left during the Bush years to prove themselves to be different. But people are people. And right now, people are swept up in an ugly cycle of personal politics fanned into flame by a hardened political Left and Right who know nothing of cooperation or compromise.
President’s Bush and Obama, as vastly different as they are, had one thing in common upon assuming the presidency. They both had a passionate desire to change the tone of politics in Washington. Both have had their successes and their failures. In some instances, both Bush and Obama pushed back on the tugs from their base to reach compromises. At other times, they both had succumbed to petty partisanship. My prayer for our country’s sake is that President Obama will be successful in keeping his word to shape the different kind of politics he promised during his campaign.
As for myself and fellow disciples of Jesus, I think we would be very wise to adhere to Paul’s teachings on how to relate to governing authorities. He said,
…it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give of their time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Romans 13:5-7)
Is that to say that we should never be critical of our leaders? Absolutely not! Use your First Amendment rights. Vote. Stay informed, and get involved. The difference, however, is the tone and attitude we take and what battles we choose to fight.
I mean, c’mon now… Differ as vigorously as one might with President Obama on polices and philosophy, can we reasonably and rationally argue that he’s using tomorrow’s address to indoctrinate students into liberalism?? Where is the hard evidence? What grounds do we have to assume he would do such a thing? Yes, I’m sure people will vigorously argue that this is exactly what the President intends to do, but I’d also argue that these conspiratorial assumptions tend to be the kind of shrill, alarmist, unreasonable efforts that do virtually little to move our country forward. Depending on who is in power, these same, predictable tactics simply shift from one ideological base to the other. The Left used them during the Bush presidency. The Right is using them now.
After Obama’s address to students takes place tomorrow– and it will!– I’d love to see something different as Congress re-engages on health care reform. Can any of our elected leaders demonstrate the kind of statesmanship to argue their vision for reform, listen to other points of views, work together with leaders who differ, keep the good of the American people in mind, and create a bipartisan consensus that the majority of “we the people” can embrace? I hope and pray so… And I also pray for an end to the hard Left and hard Right venom that is destroying the kind of civil political discourse our founders hoped would last more than a mere 233 years.