I am not entirely surprised at the Republican leaders’ reactions to the Presidents song. All politicians (R or D) are in a race (aka popularity contest) for votes more than anything else. American voters’ opinions are rarely summed up in the singular hard-line of party agenda. The first amendment right might be the right to free speech, but on a deeper level it is also the right to free thinking. Republicans and Democrats do agree on some issues, they are actually not very different in the big wide world of political ideology. But how can a voter pick one person over another if the candidates share the same beliefs and opinions? That’s ineffective campaigning and the only way for one candidate to stand out from another is for there to be specific differences that are the main topic of conversation. Sensibility is boring, political candidates put it aside to gain public support and polarize the population along party lines.
First it was the President’s speech to school kids telling them to stay in school. Republican leaders rallied before knowing the exact content of the speech, creating a public fever over “indoctrination”. When I saw schools banning the President’s speech addressing kids, I was shocked and amazed. Every President since the dawn of Presidents has addressed school kids; President Reagan had a huge contract-signing campaign in “Just Say NO”, on the morning of 9/11 we see President Bush in a classroom reading a book to children. There was no indoctrination outcry because that’s what Presidents do; the leadership position of President and Commander in Chief demands respect, you don’t have to agree with them but you have to listen. I was a Clinton supporter and thought had it been Hillary addressing our students, the Republican reaction would never have been as severe as to ban and censor the President. What Republican leaders are in effect saying by their radical opposition of the event is that “we don’t want our kids to see leadership from a black man”, because certainly the content of the event “we want our kids to stay in school” is supported by most Republicans. All Americans believe in the power of education to make lives better, but that is not a politically polarizing story.
Now it’s the songs. Have you actually read the lyrics? In them, the songs reflect what past Democratic leaders have said in much stronger terms. Kennedy said “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”. Martin Luther King said “I have a dream”. The rest of the lyrics mirror the Constitution, supporting equality and justice for all. These are American principles, not political ones. Any Presidents name could be insert into these lyrics (except maybe the part about being the first African American President). So the fever again is not about the content but about the man. It is a mistake for Republicans leaders to misrepresent the Presidents intent on a grand public scale like this. Most Americans do not believe the content of the message is “indoctrination” rather the core of our beliefs, basic American family values. If Republican leaders really do believe the content is indoctrination, they have yet to address exactly what President Obama is trying to indoctrinate our children into.
Winston Churchill said “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, it is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” He was right, no matter the politic. The Republican party took a beating this past presidential election, they are clearly grasping for straws (and voters). For Republicans to gain back the sensible majority they must respect Obama’s leadership role and engage in the great debates of our time. Fear is a temporary motivator, truth is an everlasting one.