At the end of a brutal month of August, marked by tumultuous town hall meetings, citizens packing heat at presidential events, and virtually no progress on health care, Democrats have understandably become frustrated and cynical. After spending much of my summer in 2008 working to help get then-Senator Obama elected president, be it by registering voters in St. Louis or traveling to Pennsylvania encouraging people to head to the polls, I can't help but be disappointed with the progress the administration has made after more than seven months in office. The health care battle looks like it may be lost, "don't ask, don't tell" is still in place, and the people responsible for our policy of illegal torture will most likely not be held accountable.
No matter how many times I tell myself "it's still early" in his presidency, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep hope alive.
But today was a day to forget all that.
President Obama's speech about education reminded me what is best about this president, and offered yet another glimmer of hope as to what he can still accomplish. Much like his 2008 speech on Father's Day, today's address advocated personal responsibility as he spoke to kids from different backgrounds, financial situations, and regions of America. Once again, he dished out some tough love to students coming form less privileged backgrounds, telling them not to make excuses or use their less-than-ideal personal circumstances as a reason for complacency.
The positive effect on children hearing this message from a man so many of them look up to is difficult to quantify but wrong to ignore. If he can inspire just a handful of kids to work harder in school, pick up a book at home, or volunteer in their community, then every second of his airtime this afternoon will have been well spent.
His speech even had a little bit of good old-fashioned, American idealism woven into it. To quote:
Where you are right now doesn't have to determine where you'll end up. No one's written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.
Those words so capture America as a land of opportunity, a shining city on a hill, that I could easily imagine them coming from Ronald Reagan.
And, unlike the speech Reagan gave to schoolchildren during his presidency, Obama's contained nothing about taxation or any other economic or political policies. In the end, it really just boiled down to telling kids to study hard, stay in school, and take responsibility for their own actions. That message, whoever delivers it, should be welcomed by all parents, no matter their political affiliations. No excuses.
In the end, it's a shame that this bright, optimistic message has to be darkened by a cloud of right-wing fear and hysteria. But this phony outrage may have had a positive, unintended consequence: it has encouraged more people to pay to attention to an important speech that every kid in America needs to hear.