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My 16-year-old granddaughter was outraged and she gave me specific instructions.
"You must write about this asinine nonsense about the president speaking to us," she said. "How could anyone object to their sons or daughters being told by the president of the United States to stay in school? That’s incredible. Why would anyone take that position?"
I had no answer other than to explain that there are people who see ulterior motives in every action, who believe that no discourse that includes a politician can be honest and most likely hides a conspiracy. That is particularly true if the politician is not one they have supported.
"That’s silly and cynical," she said. "What he told us was what our parents — if they are paying attention to our welfare — repeat to us every day. There was nothing sinister in it, no hidden message."
I should mention here that this granddaughter is a superior student and one who needs no daily reminder of her obligations to herself. She is as competitive in the classroom as many youngsters are on the athletic field and of late she has become naturally more assertive as she has gained confidence and self-assurance. She is also socially and politically aware.
What I see in Nicole (and in all 9 grandchildren for that matter) is the kind of self-motivation and determination that leaves me encouraged about the future of this country. It is to these boys and girls, young men and women that every president should pay particular attention if this republic is to survive another 250 years and that is just that point that Obama was making.
A number of Obama’s predecessors have done that. Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and both Bushes made similar addresses. But they were spared the vitriolic denouncements stimulated by a blizzard of criticism that seems to be aimed at any Obama performance. Not all the criticism is undeserved but in this case it was mindless, brought on by a Department of Education suggestion — quickly abandoned — that teachers follow up the address by having their students write on how they could help the president.
Do I believe that this president is any less devious than most I have watched up close and personal in 46 years in this town? Of course not. It goes with the job. Even Abraham Lincoln was politically ruthless and devious when it was necessary. But to keep one’s children home from school as some parents did or to see a devilish scheme to brainwash them is not only ludicrous but disrespectful to the ideals we all hold dear, among them the high regard we have for the office of the presidency no matter who occupies it.
My grandmother was a Republican all her life, even in those years she couldn’t vote, and she had little use for Franklin Roosevelt, but she would have been thrilled to meet him and would have taken me by the hand to go see him if the opportunity had presented itself simply because he was the president. Years later when I met Harry Truman and shook his hand, I told him I wanted to do so especially to be able to tell my grandchildren.
Nicole’s mother accompanied us to the White House for a reception when she was four years old and was welcomed by first lady Pat Nixon, who ignored several truly important guests to spend time with her, asking about what books she liked and dragging the president out of the receiving line to meet her.
It is difficult to understand the kind of ignorance that sees an evil plot behind every presidential act, particularly for young people who have been raised on the nastiness of talk radio. Former first lady Laura Bush had it right when she said she applauded Obama’s effort to encourage the nation’s youngsters to do their best. We should all follow suit on a regular basis. Thanks, Nicole for reminding your grandfather how important that is.
(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)aol.com.)