Efficacy of Nuttiness

In the late 1970s, Illinois Nazis attempted a rally in Skokie, Illinois. Given the presence of Holocaust survivors living there, the local government denied them the right to march. The debate at the time was whether the hateful speech of the Nazis was protected under the free speech and assembly clauses of the First Amendment. The argument against allowing the march was that the presence of the Nazis would foment violence. My thoughts as a high school kid at the time is the same as it is now. Let them try to make their point and refute their ideas on their lack of merit.

Sadly, political discourse these days isn’t quite as intelligent as evidenced by the Facebook poll I received, “Should the United States President be allowed to do a nationwide address to our children at school, without prior parental consent?” (My friend voted no).

It wasn’t controversial when Ronald Reagan addressed school children on November 14, 1988. [2] When George H.W. Bush addressed school children on October 1, 1991,[3] Democrats pushed back, claiming that it was taxpayer-paid political advertising[4], but the speech was just a motherhood and apple pie speech about staying in school and staying off drugs and the Democrats were misguided in their criticism.

Now that President Obama plans to address school children on September 8th, the conservative pundits are all up in arms. The Republican Party of Florida took the rhetoric to the next level. Chairman Jim Greer issued a press release [5], stating “As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology… while bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power.” That’s pretty strong language.

There are a couple of problems with Jim Greer’s assertions. The first problem is that I suspect Obama’s speech is going to be a motherhood and apple-pie speech much like the one the George H.W. Bush gave in 1991, not about political ideology. In Reagan’s 1988 speech, he did advocate a political ideology for tax cuts. If Obama strays into political territory as Reagan did, parents have the opportunity to talk with their kids about political beliefs. It’s an opportunity to have a discussion and to make a case. Conservatives would have a tough time of that, though. Based on what I am seeing in the world of political discourse, those like Jim Greer haven’t bothered to look up the definition of socialism.

Instead of having that discussion with their kids, some conservative parents are over-reacting by keeping their kids out of school. Other parents are approaching the school administration. Given that school administrators are perhaps the only demographic group of people more cowardly than Democratic congressmen, they are having some success at keeping Obama’s speech away from children.

It seems that conservatives are having some success at these manufactured issues and at media manipulation. The teabagger rallys this summer seemed to reveal themselves as mostly hype, but they got national coverage. This Obama “indoctrinating the children” angst is hitting the blogosphere and the mainstream press and getting more credibility than it deserves. The town hall disruptions over health care also got national coverage and successfully created an illusion in the sphere of media that Americans don’t want health care reform. (So where’s that “liberal media” we keep hearing about?) In spite of the thrashing the Democrats got over health care reform over the congressional recess, 69% of Americans still think that health reform is somewhat or very important.[6].

We know that the Republicans will always have the true-believers that comprise the Fox News audience. The reality is that about half of Americans are neither self-identified Republicans or Democrats. The real test of the efficacy of this conservative nuttiness is the effect on the Independents.

References:

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skokie,_Illinois

[2] http://mediamatters.org/blog/200909030020

[3] http://bushlibrary.tamu.edu/research/public_papers.php?id=3450&year=1991&month=10

[4] http://tinyurl.com/nyvxdn

[5] http://www.rpof.org/article.php?id=754

[6] http://www.time.com/time/politics/article/0,8599,1913426,00.html

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