Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Obama's 2009 School Speech - and Ayn Rand

Barack Obama's Education Speech: The Not-At-All Socialist Indoctrination, by Michael Scherer, Time

"At this point, most of the noise about Barack Obama wanting to indoctrinate school children in a back-to-school speech has mostly faded from view. Newt Gingrich has repudiated it. Historians (and White House aides) have pointed out that past Republican presidents--George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan--delivered the same sorts of messages. Some of those Republican leaders who made a stink over the President's plan--like Florida GOP chair Jim Greer--are getting a Labor Day grilling from their local press. [UPDATE: Greer now says, "It's a good speech."]

"Rather than any lefty, neo-socialist, communitarian brainwashing, President Obama's speech to your kids reads like a paean to individual striving and free market capitalism, the sort of thing that Ayn Rand and Barry Goldwater might have signed onto. At root, Obama's message is one of individual responsibility, a disquisition on the freedom of American youth to fail or succeed on their own tenacity and merits."

It looks like some conservatives have been snookered by this philosophically astute president. For my complete take on Obama's speech, click here

My Commentary:

President Obama gives some good practical advice. The problem is not in the “what”, but in the “what for?” Buried in the platitudes is the real message:

“And this isn't just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you're learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.

“You'll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You'll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You'll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.

“We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don't do that – if you quit on school – you're not just quitting on yourself, you're quitting on your country.”

There isn't a dictator that ever walked the face of the earth that wouldn't laud those words. The collectivist overtones are unmistakable. The president's message is fundamentally anti-American, running completely contrary to the individualist premise that this country was founded upon, and that unleashed the reason-driven, entrepreneurial energy of free people pursuing their own goals for the sake of their own happiness and their own lives as an end in themselves ... the energy that resulted in the astounding general rise in the standard and quality of living.

The president's purpose is not to advance his political agenda, per se. It is to establish the necessary prerequisite ideas for his (and any future socialist's) agenda, the servile population. Any leader attempting to inculcate in the young the sense of duty and service is a leader who wants and intends to rule their lives. The danger in Obama's message is clear to anyone who understands the power of ideas. Individualism leads to the United States of America. Collectivism leads to Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia or any number of stagnant, poverty-ridden tribal societies – or to a socialist America.

As for who on the Right would applaud this speech, I don't know about Goldwater. Many conservatives uphold the altruist/service-to-the-country doctrine. But Ayn Rand championed the supreme value and rights of the individual to the pursuit of his own happiness, and a government as protector of those rights, not government as master. She would not have approved of Obama's message.

Other's comments:

As we all know, President Reagan also gave a speech to students in 1988. The full text can be found on this link:


At one point, referring to a painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, he mentions how there are some figures whose faces have not been filled in, they are only outlines. He goes on to say: "America is not yet complete, and it's up to each one of us to help complete it. And each one of you can place yourself in that painting. You can become one of the those immortal figures by helping to build and renew America."

Isn't this the same overall idea of helping our country as used by Obama in his speech? Mike, you need to use the same rod to measure both Obama's and Reagan's words in order to be fair. If you do, then both Reagan and Obama are anti-American and socialists by your standards. As I see it, their words reflect men concerned with encouraging children to grow as useful citizens, instead of being burdens to society. You dig into Obama's words, unearthing what is not there, to fit your pre-determined agenda.

In 1991, President George HW Bush addressed students at Alice Deal Jr High School. Towards the end he said: "Let me know how you're doing. Write me a letter — and I'm serious about this one — write me a letter about ways you can help us achieve our goals. I think you know the address." Obama tried the same thing this time, ahead of time, and was accused of being manipulative and engaging in government intrusion. (The link below will take you to the full text of President George HW Bush's address.)


Both speeches, Reagan's and Bush's brought controversy, especially President Bush's. The difference is that Bush's controversy, although hysterical at times, happened AFTER the speech. The hysteria over Obama's speech was an orchestrated, planned opposition for the sake of it.

I think that with Obama, a novel is being written where the title was written first, i.e., "Obama: a Socialist, Marxist, Communist, Not to Be Trusted Good-For-Nothing Dictator That Has Ruined Our Nation". The text is being written to fit the title with every word, every gesture, every move Obama makes or does not make. Believe me, the right wing will make sure the text fits that title, even if they have to make up the events, or stretch the truth until it is no longer recognizable. But, if it fits, it will go in. Sad, sad, sad.

My commentary:



“You dig into Obama's words, unearthing what is not there, to fit your pre-determined agenda.”

I don't know what you think my “agenda” is, but let me say this. I give him more respect than you do. I take him at his word. President Obama and I have something important in common – philosophical astuteness. We are, however, on the opposite ends of the basic philosophical battleground – collectivism vs, individualism. Let me put it another way.

He speaks of “the country” and “the economy” as though they are mystical entities separate and distinct from the individual human beings that make it up. This is classic. They are to be the purpose and the focus to which the president urges the young “to set your own goals for your education”. But what are the “country” or the “economy” except the sum of the individual interests and efforts of its individual members? A pro-American message would be that the children's' own individual good, and only their own individual good, is the purpose of their education. When you focus on your own life as the purpose and end of your own actions – to make your own life the best and most fulfilling it can be by your own efforts for your own sake – it is the betterment of the country and the economy that you accomplish. That is because you are the country. You are the economy, just as is every other individual that comprises it.

Yet, in true collectivist form, the President attempts to inculcate in the young the sense of duty and service and a sense of smallness next to a cause larger than oneself – in this case, the “country” and the “economy”. (In fairness, so did McCain, whom I didn't vote for either.) Just for the record, I do not say he is a Nazi or a Communist. He is, however, a socialist. His operation tactic is to bring socialism through the back door of fascism. This is a decades long trend, which follows the bipartisan path from Wilson to FDR to Kennedy to Nixon to GW Bush. America is being pushed toward its own brand of national socialism, a “soft” tyranny without the brutality of the German Nazis.

Obama is not unique. Collectivism permeates both major parties to varying degrees. The collectivist mindset has been seeping into American culture for the past century or so, gradually supplanting the revolutionary individualist enlightenment premise of the Founding. It seeps into your own comments, with phrases like “overall idea of helping our country” and “encouraging children to grow as useful citizens” (“useful”, to whom?). It even creeps into Reagan's rhetoric. This is a very dangerous development, in my view. Ideas move history. Pretending that Obama didn't say what he said, or that he doesn't know what he is saying, does not change the facts of reality. He delivered a collectivist message. Collectivism is the philosophical root of all variants of socialism.

“The text”, you say, “is being written to fit the title with every word, every gesture, every move Obama makes or does not make.” Yes, the text is being written - by Obama himself. Collectivism threads through all of his rhetoric … and his policies. The president knows precisely what he is saying, and into what he wants to “re-make” the country. So do I.

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