Arnold Kling  

Obama Speaks

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[Update: My reactions to the President's health care speech are here.]

The folks at Cato think that President Obama's speech to school kids was creepy. I agree.

You know what it reminds me of? In 7th or 8th grade, during the Vietnam War, my junior high school brought in the "Up With People" singers. They sang upbeat, patriotic songs "Freedom isn't free; freedom isn't free; you've got to pay the price, you've got to sacrifice, for your liberty." Like we should not protest Vietnam, but do our duty. I resented the propaganda. Afterward, in the hallway, I made some negative remark. The most gorgeous girl in our class sneered, "Arnold, you have no soul." That was the part that made it traumatic.

My point is that it seems like I've always resented having schools be used to stir up patriotism and respect for political authority. What if I had been a kid during Obama's speech, and I made some sarcastic comment? Would I have been ostracized by fellow students? Criticized by the teacher? Sent to the principal?

I don't think I could rely on support for freedom of speech. There are a few 1st-amendment absolutists left, but not many. A friend of mine said he thinks that Whole Foods CEO John Mackey should "pay the price" for stating his pro-market views on health care. I can remember when the left felt sorry for people whose political beliefs caused them to suffer economic repercussions (I have in mind the Hollywood Ten). Of course, you have a right to boycott Whole Foods if the CEO's politics tick you off, but I don't think you should be so righteously proud of doing so.

So, tonight he speaks on health care. The way I look at it, our system is already mostly socialized. To me, HSA's count as market-oriented health care, but the usual employer health plans do not. So the way I look at it, if this were a football game, the other team already is in the red zone and they've got the ball. The fans are yelling loudly on both sides, but if the ball moves at all, it is only going to be a few yards closer to a socialist touchdown. The Democrats are arguing among themselves over what play to call, and Obama is going to give them a Knute Rockne speech to try and hold them together.

The big shock would be if he advocated something that rolls back some of the socialism in the existing system. But obviously he is not going to do that with respect to Medicare or Medicaid. The most he could do is advocate taxes on employer-provided health insurance. If he says we have to do that, then I will say that the speech exceeded my expectations.


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COMMENTS (21 to date)
Joe Marier writes:

RE: your Up With People experience: That's pretty much how I felt when I was 10 and at a "Just Say No" rally in 1991. At the Patriot Center.

MikeDC writes:

Goal line stand!

Steve writes:

yeah, Arnold... I don't expect anyone to pick it off and return it for a TD.

Yancey Ward writes:

I would have loved to hear the speech he originally intended to give to the students. I bet that one would have been truly creepy.

Mike Gibson writes:

Arnold, you say: "I made some negative remark. The most gorgeous girl in our class sneered, "Arnold, you have no soul." That was the part that made it traumatic."

Ha! If only you knew the concept of a "neg." That's when you turn to her friend and say, "Gosh does she act like this all the time? Did any body teach her manners?"


SydB writes:

"Obama's speech to school kids was creepy."

Strange response. But I expect as such from Cato.

Now let's talk about something creepy: Vice President George Bush and President Dick Cheney gave me the creeps--as did one libertarian economics blogger who will remain anonymous--when they lied or stumbled into an unnecessary war in Iraq--and then continued to argue for another war in Iran.

But it does show how low Cato has fallen given that this is how they spend their time--getting creeped out by a speech on education.

shecky writes:

My point is that it seems like I've always resented having schools be used to stir up patriotism and respect for political authority.

Why do you hate America, Arnold?

Edward writes:

I think it was innocuous. Indeed, it's perfectly consistent with American values for the speech stressed out that, regardless of adversities, students are ultimately responsible for their own success (boy, that would be badly received by many in Latin America for instance). To say it's creepy seems to me an overreaction.

Besides, whether this sort of speech imbues students with particular partisan viewpoints is an empirical question (just like "does playing games of violence make kids more violent?" is one). Arnold himself was apparently exposed to a lot of political propaganda; and his experience, for what it's worth, suggests that these speeches do little harm at the end of the day. Right, Arnold?


Liam writes:

I agree with your points Arnold, especially the "Up With People" which I found creepy but I disagree with the CATO points. The first day of school is about the kids?!?! Puh-lease! It's about musical chairs and making sure the kids know where they are supposed to go when the music stops and what will happen for the next school year. Throwing in an hour speach by the President is a no-Brainer. I couldn't even watch the entire clip you posted a link to.

Joshua Lyle writes:

SydB, you realize that the two sources of creepiness are correlated, right? Good little boys and girls stay in school to get socialized to trust the state and then become adults that blankly nod when the president tells them it's in the National Interest to go to war with the guy that had a spat with his pops.

SydB writes:

Joshua Lyle: I believe there is a real ever-present danger that the state indoctrinates its citizens. But I still think all institutions play a role in educating their members. Companies should educate employees. And democratic societies should educate the citizens in what was once referred to as civics.

So I find the creepy response to Obama's speech a bit creepy.

Also I find it very strange that Cato finds Obama's pull-oneself-up-by-bootstraps shtick creepy while they loved Ronald Reagans similar lifelong routine.

Other than color of skin and party, I see no difference between the routines. Now that I find creepy.

Joshua Lyle writes:

SydB, sure, the major parties are both creepy and especially so jointly, and I thought the Republican president that addressed when me I was in a public school was creepy at the time.

However, being as I'm not a democrat I still find civics education aimed at pumping for democracy to be generally creepy, and being as I'm opposed to state-controlled public schooling I find the presidents admonishments to stay in school and keep being indoctrinated to be pretty creepy too.

Joe writes:

Roll back Medicare Part D!!
Largest giveaway to an industry in US history.
Well, maybe farm subsidies are up there.

Philo writes:

If that's "soul," Arnold, you're better off without it!

libfree writes:

don't let it get you down, having a soul is overrated.

B.B. writes:

I went to a nice government-owned and operated high school in Los Angeles in the late-1960s.

I got to listen to (union) teachers sneer at Gov. Ronald Reagan, denounce the Vietnam War, blast presidential nominee Nixon, call for socialized medicine, and praise Jean Paul Sartre.

I'll take Up With People any day of the week over that.

I guess I attended the Public Option.

I have an idea. The Private Option. Let people opt out of Medicare into private savings and private insurance. Let people opt out of the public schools. Let people vote to have their neighborhoods opt out of incompetently managed cities and into private voluntary associations. Let people opt out of the income tax. Let people opt out of trade restrictions. Let people opt out of zoning requirements.

SydB writes:

I side with Thomas Jefferson on this matter:

Education is here placed among the articles of public care, not that it would be proposed to take its ordinary branches out of the hands of private enterprise, which manages so much better all the concerns to which it is equal; but a public institution can alone supply those sciences which, though rarely called for, are yet necessary to complete the circle, all the parts of which contribute to the improvement of the country, and some of them to its preservation.
--Thomas Jefferson: 6th Annual Message, 1806.

And "creepy" seems a word associated with serial killers and kidnappers, not a president asking children to study hard and stay in school, nor a president using his example to motivate children--many of whom find no hope in the inner cities--to apply themselves.

jenifer writes:

geeze----Up With People was nothing but propaganda in the 1960s, as was just about everything else. So what's new?! interesting take on it over 40 years in a new doc on the subject: www.smiletilithurts.com

Boonton writes:

I don't think I could rely on support for freedom of speech. There are a few 1st-amendment absolutists left, but not many. A friend of mine said he thinks that Whole Foods CEO John Mackey should "pay the price" for stating his pro-market views on health care.

And I know many right wingers who won't watch a George Clooney movie because they don't like his politics. Since when is refusing to buy something a violation of free speech? You at least can say the HOllywood Blacklist was less about consumer driven 'speech punishment' and more about the movie studios trying to pre-emptively punish speech to make the gov't happy.

Now I believe people are very diverse. A person might be a great cook but have stupid politics or vice versa. I'm not going to refuse to eat his food becuase I hate his politics anymore than I will seek out a horrible cook whose politics I love. But I don't begrudge other people that freedom.

The most gorgeous girl in our class sneered, "Arnold, you have no soul." That was the part that made it traumatic

1. It sounds like you seem to resent free speech by others.

2. I get what you're saying, the 'Up with People' thing created 'peer pressure'. BUT did you stop to consider that the girl simply liked the upbeat music. On that level she was able to reap a nice consumer surplus while the right-wing backers of Up were wasting their resources!

3. I see you didn't have much economic training. If you had you would have correctly evaluated your marginal benefit of each of your choices. Did you consider that maybe providing her with confirmation of her enjoyment of the music would have resulted in a rather pleasurable experience for you? Instead you asked her to confirm your dislike of the music and your desire to signal that you weren't going to by into 'the systems' attempt to manipulate you. Tsk tsk, live and learn.

My point is that it seems like I've always resented having schools be used to stir up patriotism and respect for political authority. What if I had been a kid during Obama's speech, and I made some sarcastic comment? Would I have been ostracized by fellow students? Criticized by the teacher? Sent to the principal?

Well I did notice that the speech seemed pretty light on 'patriotism and respect for authority'. Study, work hard, don't get discouraged, success is rarely easy...none of these seem to me like messages that are all that bad. Nor do they strike me as demanding the person doing the listening become a cog of the state. The worse I can say about them is that they are kind of banal but we aren't kids. They seem banal to us because (hopefully) we've already gone down that positive path a long time ago.

another bob writes:

Problem is, POTUS is head of state, head of government and head of a political party.

My kids went to school in London. If the Queen (head of state) had given such banal encouragements, most people would have smiled and nodded...no fuss. But, Blair (head of government) or worse yet, one of the party leaders...How about that BNP guy? No way.

This conflated role makes US politics harsher, more partisan, me thinks.

Bob Calder writes:

Arnold,

Up With People was a conservative religious outfit. Your school was hoodwinked into bringing a religious group on campus to recruit. Yes they did recruit on high school campuses. I was old enough for them to try to recruit me. One of my buddies went with them and told me how weird it was.

How is the President like that?

There wasn't anything in the speech that teachers don't say every day. You think it was creepy?

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