There is nothing inherently wrong in the president of the United States addressing schoolchildren. The worry was whether this would be a political enlistment speech or a message to our nation’s youth. Obviously, the president wears several hats, among which are “leader of the free world” and “leader of the Democratic party.” Delivering a speech wearing the former hat is not objectionable. Schoolchildren usually esteem and are taught to esteem their president — this was, indeed, one of the crises of the Bill Clinton presidency (just what and who were they going to esteem?). Any number of presidents have been seen in classrooms, and one of the more famous pictures of Pres. George W. Bush shows him reading a book to a classroom in Florida about this time of year.
As for President Obama’s speech, thankfully the text is written for him as the leader of the nation and not of the Democratic party. That said, there are about five good paragraphs in it, along with a fair amount of insipidness, and nothing about some of the most serious challenges facing our youth: the temptations and problems associated with drug and alcohol abuse and teen sex, which I really hoped he’d use this speech to address. President Obama could be a very good role model and spokesman on those things (and, yes, and I can see dangers in talking sex here). But on the issues of club drugs, marijuana use, prescription-drug abuse, teen alcohol use, and drugged and impaired driving, he could really make an impact on our youth — and he doesn’t and never really has. I keep waiting for that message from him to our nation’s children. He has a rare megaphone, and so far as I can tell, he has squandered every opportunity to use it on those most challenging of issues.
As far as the message he’s imparting goes, it is not an objectionable speech, but there’s a lot of me asking, “What is the point of this rare opportunity?” End of day, kids will take home the message not to quit, and to work hard and not justify excuses. Fine. He gets a B- from me. But many challenges still obtain for our nation’s schoolchildren. And he could have united a lot of interests and interested parties — irrespective of partisan affiliation (indeed, even doing something truly bipartisan) — by taking them on and using this rare teachable moment. Mostly he did not.
— Seth Leibsohn is a fellow of the Claremont Institute.