POTUS Speaks to Kids, and to (Ahem) Adults

Wakefield High School students in Arlington, Va., sit attentively as President Obama spoke about education, Sept. 8, 2009. The following night, Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., walked out on the president as he spoke about health care. AP/Jacquelyn Martin, Susan Walsh

A certain public speaker has been much in the news these past few days, and much in the thoughts of our "Sunday Morning" contributor Nancy Giles:

This past week was Big Speech Week for President Obama. Two in particular stand out.

Tuesday was the "back-to-school" speech to America's students.

Would it be an innocent, "Be cool, stay in school" chat? Or an evil socialist indoctrination by some guy with a faulty birth certificate?

I watched the speech online and it seemed inspiring. But when I went back and read the text, the devil, as they say, was in the details:

"How is everybody doing today?"

Sounds like an innocent salutation, but that's none of the president's business. This is an invasion of the students' privacy - an almost Stalinesque question.

"You cannot drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You've got to train for it. And work for it. And learn for it."

Well, this is the president as dream killer. It's an attack on the young person who fantasies about winning the lottery, being Paris Hilton or America's next top model. You're not the boss of me, Mr. President!

"I hope all of you are washing your hands a lot."

Is he suggesting that our children are dirty? That their homes are unsanitary? Who does he think he is?

Well, he's the president! And I'll say this to the students of Arlington, Virginia: They were polite. They were raised well. They sat and listened. And they weren't indoctrinated (as far as I can tell).

Wednesday night was the adults' turn.

"It has now been nearly a century since Theodore Roosevelt first called for health care reform."

So there was the president in front of a joint session of Congress making his case for health care reform. It was political theater - half of the room applauding and the other half sitting on their hands. Some disgruntled muttering. Some texting. ("I am not listening! I am not listening!") Some sign waving and, you probably heard about it, heckling.

At a joint session of Congress!

"You lie!" yelled the Gentleman from South Carolina, to a cascade of boos.

That was Representative Joe Wilson, not some drunk at open mike night, calling the president a liar.

He later apologized, but still it was a frightening mix of disrespect and bad behavior, like this summer's town hall meeting craziness. We should be grateful that there weren't any "Show us your birth certificate" signs.

At least no one beat anyone with a cane . . . which actually happened in the old Senate chamber in 1856.

We don't have to agree. But you wish your elected officials would act like the classy students in Arlington, Va., and across the country, and at least listen to what the President of the United States has to say.
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