Roundtable on Obama's Speech to Students

Roundtable on Obama's Speech to Students

By Special Report With Bret Baier - September 3, 2009


JIM GREER, FLORIDA REPUBLICAN PARTY CHAIRMAN: Until he revised the lesson plans late last night, I was even more concerned that his agenda was going to be pushed and facilitated by potentially people around this country that would have encouraged our kids to think the government is the answer to every problem.

ANDREW ROTHERHAM, FORMER CLINTON AIDE: This is really innocuous stuff. It was ideas for ways to engage the kids with the president's speech. There wasn't anything that was political or indoctrination. It was: What did you think about this? What does it mean? What is something you could do?


BAIER: Well, there are the two sides.

The Department of Education did adjust the lesson plan that was accompanying the president's speech Tuesday to the nation's schoolchildren. They took out the part where the kids were supposed to write essays about how they can help President Obama.

So what about this? Let's bring in our panel: Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard; Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Mara, let's start you with.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I think they did the right thing by taking that sentence out. There is nothing wrong with the president giving a speech on back-to-school day, inspiring students and telling them to work hard and achieve their goals.

But there is something wrong about telling students that they should write essays about how they can help the president of the United States. That's just wrong, and it was some boneheaded bureaucrat in the Department of Education cooked that up and they were right to take it down.

BAIER: But to see the backsplash, if you will, from all these folks, if you will, saying how wrong it is to raise the question that the president would try to indoctrinate students to his political agenda, and all this talk.

You know, you see the left talkers out there saying how wrong it was to bring this up. Steve, the administration said, obviously we were wrong to put this in there in the first place.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I think this is a case - look, I'm like Mara. I'm not particularly troubled at the idea that President Obama would give a speech to the nation's schoolchildren.

I don't agree with him on a lot. That's clear. I think he is a good role model. We could do a lot worse than have our kids look up to someone like President Obama.

That said, there is something creepy about how the Department of Education handled this. It wasn't just that question about how can you help the president and what has he inspired you to do? And their revision of that question is not what has he inspired you to do? It is has he inspired you to do anything? It is sort of a silly revision.

So you can see, given the amount of politicization I think we have seen from this administration broadly, you can see why people's concerns have been raised. But I do think some of the conservative talkers on this have gone overboard, making accusations that I think aren't supportable.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Look, this is never about content. We were not going to have the president urging 8-year-olds to come out in favor of high taxes as patriotic. And anything he said would be perfectly OK; it will tie your shoelaces and be nice to your neighbor.

BAIER: And study hard.


What is odd and creepy is the conception of government that underlay whoever it was in the Education Department, and it could have been a plural, to have a question, how can you help your president?

That is not innocuous. Look, it is not going to do any real damage. We're not going to have people chanting poems about their dear leader.

The question is that that kind of thing about a relationship between the child and the president is extremely odd. A child has a relationship with a parent or with a teacher, later a mentor or a coach, but not a president.

A child swears allegiance to the flag and the republic for which it stands, but not the man who happens to be sitting in the White House. That's the difference between a popular democracy - which is really a dictatorship - and a constitutional democracy. And the idea that you would want a child to have any relationship with a president is odd. He shouldn't have any at all. He should have relationships with parents and teachers and friends, but not the president.

BAIER: We should point out that first President Bush gave a speech in 1991 that was carried coast-to-coast, as did President Reagan to schoolchildren across the nation.

It was the lesson plan that accompanied this particular one that caused the problem.

I do want to turn the topic to health care reform and what the House speaker said today. Mara, she said in this press conference that she may be OK with the public option not being in the bill, the Senate bill, and going along with whatever the trigger is. She says the trigger will bring on a robust public option, though.

She is essentially backing away?

LIASSON: I think she just read the stage directions a little too early.

I think what she said sounds a lot like what I think the final result will be, but she wasn't supposed to say this at this moment. In other words, the House was supposed to pass a bill with the public option, which it will. Then the Senate was supposed to pass a bill without it, and then they were going to conference.

And guess what? Because you don't have 60 votes in the Senate for a public option, in the end there wouldn't be the Medicare-style, robust public option that House liberals want.

BAIER: Public option - the government run...

LIASSON: Yes, the government-run alternatives to the private insurers. She just wasn't supposed to give it all up now, because every time the president does something like this, like says how the public option isn't essential or it's just one element, the left gets upset and nervous and feels that that he is bailing out too early, and then he has to scuttle back and reassure them that he is not.

BAIER: Which is exactly what the House speaker's office did today by putting out a paper statement saying we have to have the government run option in whatever bill in order to pass. Charles, what is this messaging that is going on that's getting lost?

KRAUTHAMMER: In the army, it would be called a premature tactical retreat. Obviously there is not going to be a public option. And she is redefining as if it's a trigger, it is a public option.

To it is going to be a redefinition. The liberals will pretend it is not a retreat, but obviously it is.

BAIER: Because that was the interesting part of that quote, is that "Be sure that the trigger will bring on a very robust public option."

That's not the message they want out there, that they're going to compromise to a trigger.

HAYES: Remember, we have spent the last several weeks listening to liberals sort of beat their chest and puff up their chests and threaten to actually fight the president of their own party on his signature policy agenda if there is not a public option.

And basically what she said was just kidding, not really. We are not really going to do that.

LIASSON: We have experience with a triggered public option.

BAIER: Should we say, government option, by the way?

LIASSON: Government option, OK. It's in Medicare Part D, the prescription benefit passed by George W. Bush. There is a trigger in there. It has never been pulled, but if drug prices get too high, the trigger can be pulled and the government can come in and negotiate drug prices for seniors. But it's never happened. It's out there, though. There is a trigger in the law.

BAIER: Quickly, that's where it is headed, though, right?

KRAUTHAMMER: That's the end game and the liberals will have a fig leaf, one that will be acquired purely by a new definition, not by a change in reality.


BAIER: What is, is.

KRAUTHAMMER: What is, is. A trigger will be sold as a real public option. But of course, it will depend on how high or low that trigger is. And that is what it will all be.

LIASSON: And one other important thing: Olympia Snowe wants a trigger, and she is the single most important Republican on health care in the U.S. Senate.

Early Forecast: More Gridlock
Ruth Marcus · November 9, 2014
Progressives Don't Need Washington All That Much
Froma Harrop · November 6, 2014

Special Report With Bret Baier

Author Archive

Follow Real Clear Politics

Latest On Twitter