Politicians love kids — hug a baby on the campaign trail and you can boost your popularity with the click of a shutter.

But working with children can backfire. President George W Bush’s decision to keep reading to school students as the Twin Towers fell was not one of his better PR moments.

Barack Obama’s also learning that children and politics aren’t always an easy combination — especially if you annoy the parents. His speech to school children in Virginia yesterday about the benefits of hard work was the culmination of a long week of debate, concern, fear, outrage — simply, what was this man going to say to American children? Read them Marx?

Last Tuesday, Jim Greer, Chairman of the Florida Republican Party, warned Obama was “indoctrinating American’s youngest children before they have a chance to decide for themselves.”  At this stage, Obama was not due to speak for another week and the public had not yet had a chance to read the text of the speech.

When the White House did release the text of the speech to quell growing alarm, Greer said it was most likely not what the White House had originally planned.

So, what did Obama actually say? Watch here:


Responses to the speech were varied. Some observers deconstructed the President’s speech as containing subliminal messages; other bloggers compared him to Adolf Hitler:

FEARLESS LEADER has proven to be an excellent orator. He reminds us of Adolf Hitler, for he was an excellent orator. Satan gave him the gifted orating abilities and he has given Obama the same gift.

CBS’s Charles Cooper translated the text of Obama’s speech for us to “uncover the socialist subtext hidden within”:

The President “I’m here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I’m here because I want to talk with you about your education and what’s expected of all of you in this new school year.”

Translation What’s “expected of you?” No dice. Encouraging kids to accept top-down directives – that’s a prescription for trouble, if ever I heard one. Not to push it too far, but the Soviets used to sell a similar line of mumbo jumbo. Remember all that claptrap about the dictatorship of the proletariat? We should steer clear. Let’s uphold Jeffersonian principles and leave local communities to decide.

Some were critical of Obama’s penchant for giving historical speeches so often. Others weren’t going so far as to lavish even that much praise upon Obama’s rhetoric. The Christian Science Monitor had this to say:

It’s bland, neutral, and mind-numbingly obvious. You can’t even imagine a cogent objection to it.

Others, however, were quick to point out that Presidential speeches to students about education were not an uncommon event. Ronald Reagan was criticised for the political and moral overtones of his speech to students to mark the beginning of ‘American Education Week’ in 1989.

In 1991, George Bush Snr gave an “unremarkable” speech at Alice Deal Junior High School in Washington DC that sparked Democrats to call for — and get — Capitol Hill inquiries into why the President was able to use taxpayers’ money to — as the Washington Post put it — turn a “junior high classroom into a television studio and its students into props.”

In the lead-up to Obama’s speech there were concerns surrounding a package that the Department of Education had sent out to schools, recommending activities for teachers to get their students to participate in. Text of one such class activity can be found here.

Other activities included asking students to “write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president.” After hearing the speech, students were to be asked to discuss among themselves what “the president wants us to do.”

Radio host Dana Loesch had the following advice for parents of school children whose teachers were planning to play the Obama speech during class:

So yes, keep your kids home on September 8th and teach them that the power of America rests in the hands of its people, no one else.

While retracting the classroom activities package, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor emphasised that the President’s speech was:

About the value of education and the importance of staying in school as part of his effort to dramatically cut the dropout rate. It’s not a policy speech.

So, who is missing from this whole debate? Ah yes, the children. How were they affected?

Let’s leave the last word to school children who watched the President’s speech. Asked by a journalist what she wanted to contribute to the country after watching President Obama speak, West Muskingum Falls Elementary fifth-grader Sarah Keys said:

I kind of want to make a cure for diabetes for people who have diabetes. (I want) to make foods that taste the same but just don’t have sugar.

Obama would be heartened to know that his speech has inspired the re-invention of artificial sweetener.