“President Obama Goes To School”
October 02, 2009, 7:00am

Conservatives Claim Obama Pushing Socialist Agenda
Helen Thomas, Hearst White House columnist

WASHINGTON — What have we come to when conservative politicians and parents tell their children not to listen to President Barack Obama?

It turned out that his message in his back-to-school address to students was good old-fashioned advice: Stay in school and study hard.

The right wingers had claimed the president wanted to promote his “socialist agenda” and involve the federal government in educating their children because of his speech, timed to coincide with the start of the school year.

Would they really eliminate Uncle Sam’s financial support of public schools? Of course not. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush — who liked to bill himself as the “Education President” — was criticized by Democrats for speaking to the nation’s school children. They accused Republican leaders of using the students as political pawns and rebuked them for using taxpayer money to stage the events.

Those claims were silly then and they are silly now.

In his nationwide address, Obama spoke of improving schools, the responsibilities of teachers and parents and of the need for students “to put in the hard work it takes to succeed.”

Obama recalled that when he was growing up in Indonesia his mother could not afford to send him where “all the American kids went to school” so she took it on herself to teach him extra lessons, starting at 4:30 a.m.

He said he was always sleepy at that hour and when he complained, “My mother would just give me one of those looks and say, ‘This is no picnic for me either, Buster.'”

Not every Republican repudiated Obama’s planned speech.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a one-time teacher, said on Fox News Sunday that it was “good to have the president of the United States say to young people across America, ‘Stay in school, study hard and do your homework.”’

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a former secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, said on the same program: “Of course the president of the United States should be able to address students. If I were a teacher, I’d take advantage of it.”

Obama needs to use a sense of humor against his deadly serious obtuse opponents. He could tear a page out of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s book.

When Roosevelt was falsely accused by Republican antagonists during World War II of sending a Navy destroyer back to the Aleutian Islands to fetch his Scottish terrier Fala at a cost of millions of dollars, the president put them down with a laugh.

“These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on my sons, me or my wife,” Roosevelt said. “No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala.”

He went on to say that his family did not resent the attacks on themselves but when his Fala had learned about the “malicious falsehoods” that he had cost the taxpayers millions of dollars, “his Scotch soul was furious.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson, who taught school on the Texas-Mexican border, used to say that education “was a passport to a better life.” His Great Society promoted Head Start and federal aid to higher education.

President Thomas Jefferson had it right when he said we cannot have a democracy without an informed people.