I have little to add to the controversy over Obama’s school speech, other than noting something you already knew:
The controversy over President Obama’s speech to the nation’s schoolchildren will likely be over shortly after Obama speaks today at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. But when President George H.W. Bush delivered a similar speech on October 1, 1991, from Alice Deal Junior High School in Washington DC, the controversy was just beginning. Democrats, then the majority party in Congress, not only denounced Bush’s speech — they also ordered the General Accounting Office to investigate its production and later summoned top Bush administration officials to Capitol Hill for an extensive hearing on the issue.
Unlike the Obama speech, in 1991 most of the controversy came after, not before, the president’s school appearance. The day after Bush spoke, the Washington Post published a front-page story suggesting the speech was carefully staged for the president’s political benefit. “The White House turned a Northwest Washington junior high classroom into a television studio and its students into props,” the Post reported.
In the GOP’s and others defense, what they objected to wasn’t so much the speech but the creepifying instructions from the Administration for kids to figure out how they could support the President. I thought the reaction was overblown. But I also thought — for the political pundits, at least — it was cynical.
I don’t like the “Cult of the Presidency” aspects of the speech. I have, for some time, been concerned about the image of the President as the Great Moral Leader Of The Nation. But even before I saw the fairly innocuous speech, I thought wasn’t worth the fury it engendered.
So why did it become a big deal? Mainly because of people like Michele Malkin and Rush Limbaugh, who seem to thrive on stoking hysteria. I can’t even listen to Rush Limbaugh anymore, he has become such a caricature of himself. He has fallen from the towering figure of he 90’s, who responded to Clinton and the Democrats with reason, logic and fact — to a right-wing parody who peddles in paranoia and hysterical over-reaction. It’s not enough to oppose Obama, anymore. You have to think he’s evil. And that attitude has trickled down to more and more of conservative base.
It’s enough to make me want to stop blogging. I tire of getting flamed anytime I say anything remotely nice about Obama or obliquely critical of the Right.
I think Friedersdorf says it best:
Unlike some in the media, I don’t regard the grassroots on the right as uniquely insane. I’ve done enough reporting at that level to know that most Americans on the right and left are reasonable people acting in good faith. The right’s fringe problem at this moment in time is one that elites have created as much as any crazy fringe righty. Outfits like Fox News, people like Glenn Beck, talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh — these outfits deliberately play on the worst impulses of the conservative base, stoking their paranoia and misleading them about reality, all for the sake of bigger audiences and greater revenues. That ought to outrage anyone who actually respects the grassroots, and has their best interests at heart.
I am growing increasingly tired of smug lefties informing me that crazy racist hysteria has always been the heart of conservatism — it’s just coming out now. This is just false. I know these people; I’ve lived with these people; I’ve worked with these people; I’ve campaigned with these people. They are not racists or lunatics or hysterics. But they are being fed a constant stream of paranoia-stoking bullshit from a relentless and cynical Right Wing Echosphere.
The good news is that this too will pass. The problem with the fear-stoking rants of Glenn Beck et al. is that it will exhaust itself. Anger and fear are not sustainable and never have been. Eventually, people will tire of having their emotions toyed with. And when that happens, the rating/pageviews of the RWE will collapse and the reasonable Right will re-emerge.