Barack Obama’s Education Speech: The Not-At-All Socialist Indoctrination

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At this point, most of the noise about Barack Obama wanting to indoctrinate school children in a back-to-school speech has mostly faded from view. Newt Gingrich has repudiated it. Historians (and White House aides) have pointed out that past Republican presidents–George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan–delivered the same sorts of messages. Some of those Republican leaders who made a stink over the President’s plan–like Florida GOP chair Jim Greer–are getting a Labor Day grilling from their local press. [UPDATE: Greer now says, “It’s a good speech.”]

But now that the speech has been released–see the full text here–there is a greater irony at play. Rather than any lefty, neo-socialist, communitarian brainwashing, President Obama’s speech to your kids reads like a paean to individual striving and free market capitalism, the sort of thing that Ayn Rand and Barry Goldwater might have signed onto. At root, Obama’s message is one of individual responsibility, a disquisition on the freedom of American youth to fail or succeed on their own tenacity and merits:

[N]o matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it. . . .

But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying. . . .
I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work — that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things. But the truth is, being successful is hard.
True enough, at a couple of points the President mentions service to country–a principle that some in the Talk Radio/Fox News orbit now associate with a clandestine radical Marxist revolution. But the message about serving country is hidden deep beneath another one: Each child has an individual responsibility to succeed, to accomplish something, even to make lots of money, by working hard at school. Not quite Vladamir Lenin. More like Glenn Beck, from this 2008 interview with then Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
BECK: It’s time for some personal responsibility. It is time for people to take on the responsibility that they have for themselves. Why don’t we talk about personal responsibility anymore? Why don’t we reach out to the American people and say, “Hey, government is not the answer. Nine out of ten times government’s the problem.”

GOVERNOR PALIN: I know. Let us preach, reaching people when they know there is a candidate willing to talk about this.