Re: Obama in the Classroom

by John J. Pitney, Jr.

A reader writes of my observation that the president seems to be disrespecting senior citizens who dropped out of school: 

Regarding your Corner post on Obama’s speech, I think your interpretation of the president’s remark about quitting is remarkably ungenerous. He’s talking to kids today, not ones who went to school 50 or more years ago. A child who drops out today is making a vastly different decision than one who did in the ’40s or ’50s. The world has changed, and educational expectations have risen.

The distinction is valid — but the president fails to make it explicit in his speech. And his intended listeners surely will not make such a distinction on their own. Very few kids in elementary and secondary school have a firm grasp of economic and technological history. Those with dropout grandparents or great-grandparents may well conclude that Obama is saying that they quit on their country.

For a leader who speaks so eloquently and who proclaims his commitment to diversity, President Obama is remarkably insensitive to senior citizens. That weakness, of course, helps explain his political problems.

It is unsurprising that nobody in the White House scrubbed this gaffe. The president’s chief speechwriter is 28 years old. One of the few senior citizens in a top spot is Vice President Biden, who is not exactly famous for his ability to catch verbal errors.

— John J. Pitney Jr. is the Roy P. Crocker professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. With James Ceaser and Andrew Busch, he is co-author of Epic Journey: The 2008 Elections and American Politics.

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