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Monday, September 7, 2009
Memo to Fellow Conservatives: Grow Up Already!

On virtue and innocence, and why I prefer that my children watch President Obama's speech.


Brace yourself. I'm going to do it again. I'm going to scandalize my fellow conservatives. Some of them, anyway.

It's getting to be a habit, they might think. First, I periodically say nice things about Senator Orrin Hatch. Then I verbally defend and finally vote with Satan at the Utah County Republican Convention, a sin so grievous that KSL's Doug Wright -- also regarded as an enemy by some Utah conservatives -- applauds it on the radio. Then I write nice things about the late Senator Edward Kennedy, without so much as mentioning Chappaquiddick or his despicable treatment of Robert Bork.

Here's today's offense: I'm now saying to fellow conservatives who can't stand the thought of the President of the United States speaking to their schoolchildren, Grow up already!

(Go ahead, it's okay. I don't mind at all. I'll wait for a few moments, while you initiate the paperwork to have my conservative credentials revoked. But it's not going to work. As long as my fellow Cornellians think I'm practically a fascist, there's really nothing any more-conservative-than-thou right-winger can do to tarnish my conservative creds -- not after some Ivy Leaguers once heard me thinking aloud that abortion really isn't extremely cool and wondering if the death penalty might be a good idea in some cases, and suggesting that a famous 20th century Russian homoerotic novel is really more like very artful pornography than literature . . . Oh, are you finished? Glad you're back. Let's continue.)

Yes, I know the lefties threw a little fit, investigated, and held hearings a generation ago when President George H. W. Bush spoke to schoolchildren. I know that the US Department of Education has devised fun little homework assignments based on the speech, where they ask children how the President inspires them, or some such thing, and I don't particularly trust that department, either. I am well aware that Barack Obama is turning out to be the leftist some of us warned he was during the election campaign. (Speaking of which, if he nationalizes our health care system, where will Canadians go for quality care? But I digress.)

"We Are Smart"

Until MFCC and I went to The Scarlet Pimpernel at the Hale Center Theater in West Valley Saturday afternoon, the best laugh of my day was from reading what CNBC and New York Times commentator John Harwood said. Get this: "The biggest danger to kids in this whole thing is that a lot of the parents complaining [about the speech] aren't smart enough to raise [their children] very effectively."

It was a good laugh. Every so often, reality reduces liberals to mumbling -- sometimes yelling -- into a microphone that only stupid people are conservative, only morons and terrorists oppose President Obama, or whatever. When they're feeling charitable, it comes out more gently, as a belief that conservatives are not stupid, but simply ignorant, and there is a starry-eyed hope that, if liberals can just explain themselves to clearly enough, conservatives will see reason and happily change sides. On the other hand, when they get really feisty, they start writing studies that say conservatism is a form of insanity.

Whatever their mood on a given day, their logic is irresistible, at least to themselves. They're smart, and they're lefties. How much simpler could it be? Conservatives are not lefties -- we disagree with them -- therefore conservatives are not smart.

Most days, I find it amusing.

Here's the problem in this case: Harwood wildly overstates his case, but I think he's dancing in the general vicinity of a small but valid point.

Innocence or Virtue?

What sort of weak-minded parent can't bear the thought of Junior hearing the other side's opinions from time to time? If students never hear anything with which they don't already agree (or with which their parents don't already agree), how will they ever learn critical thinking skills? How will they ever be effective and wise citizens? This may or may not be metaphorical, and I don't want to go all Harold Hill and start singing, "An older but wiser girl for me" . . . but conviction untested is just innocence. Conviction tested is virtue -- and virtue trumps innocence every day of the week in the real world.

I realize that this reasoning could be twisted to suggest the desirability of teaching children not to do drugs by letting them do drugs, and teaching them not to treat their own and others' bodies as amusement parks by letting them do exactly that. But that extreme would be scarcely less ridiculous than my washing the dishes by hitting them with a three-pound hammer, just because it was useful earlier in the day for driving a stake. So I won't worry about it.

I respectfully suggest the wisdom and, yes, the virtue of preparing our children to live in a free society by allowing them to hear others' ideas. If parents watch or read the President's speech themselves, then discuss it with their children who watched it at school, it could be a positive experience for the adults and the offspring -- even if the speech is highly politicized, which it's not likely to be under the present circumstances.

My parents taught their children to think and discuss and evaluate and debate -- and, horror of horrors, we did these things at the dinner table. Disagreement was no sin, and dissent was not something to fear. Seeing multiple sides of an issue before choosing one (or crafting your own) was a good thing. Testing different arguments for the same position was valuable.

I think this rigorous upbringing had something to do with the fact that I have never lost my conservative political ideals, or for that matter my religious convictions, despite doing the following things:

  • reading Marx, Engels, Lenin, and others, as well as more Socialist Realism than any five communists should ever read;
  • studying under Soviet Communists and atheists on their home turf;
  • attending graduate school in the Ivy League (not the same as the previous item);
  • playing a lot of chess and eating a lot of pizza with a roommate from Brooklyn, whose father was a big wheel in the New York City porn film industry;
  • attending in person -- and behaving respectfully during -- a speech by President Clinton;
  • subscribing to the Salt Lake Tribune (I just threw that in for fun);
  • befriending and working closely for months with a foul-mouthed, spiked-haired, chain-smoking, liberally pierced writer from Arizona, who vigorously disliked Mormons (except me, for some reason);
  • mingling with Moscow policemen and KGB agents (not to mention rock musicians) on the Fourth of July, of all days;
  • frequently watching the evening news at one of the Big Media Acronyms or another; and
  • reading The New Republic online.

I think my own children will be far better equipped to be useful citizens and persuasive advocates of their views, among other things, if they are conversant and even comfortable with ideas which differ from their own. Admittedly, there's some risk that they might occasionally learn something useful and true from opponents along the way, but I really don't have a problem with that.

Not to Worry

Besides all that, I just don't see a new threat here, even if the President does go political. Allow me to explain.

There's nothing new about schoolchildren being fed leftist propaganda. Do math so it feels good, and never mind the right answer! Save the whales! Cancel the spelling bee, because it labels winners (and therefore losers)! Tell your parents vouchers are evil!

At least this presidential speech will be available on the Internet for parents to watch. This was not the case, for example, with the recurring blandishments of one of my oldest son's teachers here in the Happy Valley School District, who week after week filled a foreign language class with pro-Kerry, anti-Bush diatribe during the 2004 presidential campaign.

Moreover, by getting all uptight about this week's speech, we're missing out on the enjoyment of a delicious piece of timing. This speech comes right on the heels of that little flap about a video shown in some schools by that studiously apolitical organization, the PTA, in which Hollywood celebrities pledge their allegiance to the president, not to the flag and the republic for which it stands. They pledge themselves as servants of the president. There's actually nothing new there, either, but that's not my point.

Think about it: one little flap feeds the next, and suddenly -- so I hear -- the White House is going back and revising the school speech. They're probably sanitizing it to the limits of their ability, so they can show how it's really harmless after all, and those conservatives were upset over nothing.

So there's even less to worry about -- unless a benign speech lulls conservatives into complacency the left can exploit next time. But how likely is that, really?

For My Part . . .

I am no fan of President Obama; this you know, if you've read much here at the blog. But I would prefer that my children watch the speech. I'll read it or watch it myself. Then we'll talk.

My children will be fine.

Michelle Draper comments (9/8/09, via Facebook):

Heaven forbid that our children are actually allowed to think and make choices. I agree, they may even decide to make a difference and participate in their communities. And become educated members of society. It could be worse . . .

David Laraway comments (9/8/09, via Facebook):

I don't know, David . . . Seems to me like the wheels of your chariot are getting mighty close to the edge . . .

Ryan Hammond comments (9/8/09, via Facebook):

Admit it you kind of like us left-leaning Ivy league types. At least some of us are fun to talk to. :)

David Rodeback comments (9/8/09, via Facebook):

In truth, I am very fond of a host of "left-leaning Ivy League types," and not least because you're more fun to talk to than . . . some other folks. And with that the esteemed David L. will think I've driven off the edge altogether.

Carla Carpenter Elliott comments (9/8/09, via Facebook):

Too funny. I tend to agree it doesn't hurt to listen to all sides of any argument before you make a judgment. My kids and I will have to read the speech, as it will not be allowed in our school district.

Luis D. Garcia comments (9/8/09, via Facebook):

I refuse to grow up.  =)  Good point, Dave, but I still think there is nothing wrong with parents deciding who will teach our children. It's my only way to fight back a system which daily brainwashes our children. (The only other way, BTW, is homeschooling, which would probably drive my wife over the edge!)

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