As I read the many editorial columns and articles in support of Obama’s speech, I can see that many writers are very upset and emotional over criticism of Obama’s action. They also are clueless concerning the reasons why his address is unwelcome. They are name-calling. They are not bothering to mention, much less rebut, the reasoned objections of people like me.
I can at least articulate my reasons for objecting.
Such a speech blurs or crosses several boundaries that I believe there are good reasons to have in place.
The President’s constitutional powers are explicit. They include the "executive Power." They include being "Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States" and a few more listed in the Constitution, including preserving and protecting the Constitution. They do not include addressing schoolchildren.
If the President were to live up to his oath to preserve and protect the Constitution, he would request that Congress repeal all its laws regarding education. Section 8 of Article I lists the powers of Congress. Education is not on that list. So when the President addresses schoolchildren, he breaks his oath in several ways. He does not have that power, and he affirms and solidifies a power assumed by Congress that Congress does not have. The President is failing in his sworn duty. Those who think that the President’s speech is helpfully teaching civics are mistaken. His speech is conveying and confirming anti-civics and anti-Constitutional lessons.
The President is a political leader. He is not in office to be an educator. His duties are clearly laid out, and they do not include educating children. By the same token, the President is not the parent of all these children. He is not their teacher. He is not their religious leader. The reason for these boundaries is so that political figures do not use their power and influence to dominate our social lives.
It is a special danger to liberty and society when national powers are developed. These are powers in which the national leadership directly controls or influences individual citizens, while bypassing or circumventing other local sources of governance and influence such as parents, families, churches, schools, and local governments.
An Obama address to schoolchildren is an instance of the further development of national power and influence. It breaks new ground in the influence of State over society. Public education already is under the influence of objectionable forces, but this establishes a new precedent that can be extended. If one political leader addresses youth, other leaders are more likely to address youth. The content of their speeches can be enlarged. Their influence can be enlarged. Government will be given more play and support than it already has. Such a speech is inescapably political. Such a precedent can eventually lead to further dangerous developments, such as a Presidential Youth or an Obama Youth.
The President is a politician. Any address he might make, no matter how nonpartisan it may seem, is bound to be political. It cannot be neutral. The very fact that he is President and making such a speech will be taken in by school children. He will be conveying his authority to these children, with the blessings of their parents and school teachers. They will be taught by the speech itself, regardless of its content, to look to the national government in matters relating to their lives. After all, is he not addressing them about very personal and civic matters? His speech is necessarily a political act.
The President is the leader of a particular political party, so that the very fact that he is a Democrat who is President and making such a speech influences his listeners. Children grow up to be voting adults.
In any speech, what the President says lies beyond the control of those who allow that speech to enter the classroom. The teachers have control over the subsequent discussion, if they choose to have it. But the President will already have made his impact. Children do not fully possess the capacities to judge political matters.
Will the opposition party demand equal time? Do we want politicians routinely competing with one another for the attention of and influence over children?
The President commands the airwaves. This is a dangerous and influential power when used with adults. Allowing this power to be extended to communication with every child in the country is even more dangerous.
School districts can opt out of the speech. In some districts, children may be allowed to opt out of the speech. These options are good ones. But they do not alter the reasons outlined above for objecting to a president making speeches in schools.
I’d like to add that I have seldom read stronger words in newspapers directed against those who object to Obama’s speechmaking to children. They are being called crackpots. They are being accused of demonizing the President. They are being accused of McCarthyism. They are being accused of being racist, completely insane, and members of the right-wing lunatic fringe.
These attacks are not called for. There are very good reasons to object to Obama’s speech. I’ll sum up the ones that bother me. There are no doubt others, but I have made no attempt to research them and find out what others are thinking on this matter.
- The speech is beyond the President’s constitutional powers.
- The President is supporting a national role in education, which also is unconstitutional.
- The President is not supporting his oath of office, so he is conveying an anti-constitutional message to children.
- The President is crossing a boundary between the political and social spheres. That boundary is in place in order to control government power and maintain a healthy free society.
- The President is augmenting national power and influence.
- The President is starting a new precedent that has dangerous implications.
- The President’s speech cannot possibly be non-political. The very act itself is politically in furtherance of government and an enhanced government role.
- The President also leads his party, and that fact may influence children.
- The President may have an undue influence over children due to his position and power.
- Will fairness considerations lead to equal time for opposition leaders?
- Presidential access to communications is dangerous enough without extending it to youth.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York.