The Campaign Spot

Assessing Obama’s Deeply Conservative Speech to Students

I was among those putting the spotlight on the Department of Education’s preparatory materials, including the creepy and disappearing proposal that students write letters to themselves about how they can help the president.
It may surprise some folks that now, having read the president’s speech, not only do I not find it controversial, I think it’s the best of his presidency so far.
I know a few people are hitting the president for referring to himself too much, but the speech aims, it seems, to demonstrate an example. Obama wants to say, “I went through tough times when I was your age, too, and I came through okay. So can you.” Obama cites a few other success stories as well, but it’s hard to tell a personal story of overcoming adversity without using personal pronouns.
I think my favorite part is this important (and I would argue deeply conservative) refutation of our culture’s ever-growing obsession with instant gratification and a shallow, often vulgar, and empty pursuit of fame, a phenomenon that Drew Pinsky calls “celebrity narcissism.”

I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work — that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.

But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.

Put aside everything else you think about Obama; recognize that a lot of young ears need to hear this message. Sure, a lot of kids will ignore it, throw paper airplanes, yawn, etc. But maybe there are some kids out there – possibly a number of African-American children? — who will hear it, digest it, and be influenced by it.

There will be plenty of time to denounce or worry about what Obama is doing with the rest of his day. But for 20 minutes or so, I’ll be saying, “Bravo, Mr. President.”

One of the toughest critics of the president’s address to schoolchildren, Florida GOP chair Jim Greer, likes the speech, too.

UPDATE: I’ll be talking about Obama’s speech to the kids on XM’s POTUS channel sometime shortly after it concludes.

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