As it happened I had two brief if revealing conversations with fellow parishioners of my church this morning concerning President Obama‘s words on education in his State of the Union address.
The two men who approached me are fathers of young NYC public school children with whom I have had many conversations about what is pleasantly referred to as “education reform.” Both men are intelligent, educated professionals, decent men deeply concerned and engaged with the upbringing of their children. From prior conversations both men know exactly where I stand on said “reform” and both men assumed I would be as happy as they were with what the president had to say this time around. After all, how could I not be? Here was the president speaking scornfully of an education based on “bubble tests.” Here was the president wisely embracing the wisdom of universal pre-k education for our kids. Wasn’t Obama addressing precisely the kind of things I had found so awful and destructive or absent in the “reforms?” Wasn’t pre-K this exactly the kind of program I had said was needed to begin to adequately deal with the horrific effects of poverty? Wasn’t the president getting this mess straightened out?
Well…no, I had to tell them, the president was not. In fact, contrary to what the man was telling the nation, those working in schools knew that he was having his people doubling down on what they have been doing since the man foisted Race To the Top on our bankrupt nation. And a Race to the Top for Pre –K , as Obama put it, was nothing short of obscene. The president, by far the most radically corporate executive we’ve ever had in terms of education, has been saying similar sounding things every time he speaks on the subject.
Are you saying Obama is lying?
Yes, I am saying Obama is lying.
But I sense my words are not allowed full entry into the minds of these men. Something inside them is refusing them. These guys do not want to hear it. Like many decent people, they want to believe our handsome, eloquent and elegant young president has their backs and the backs of their children. I understand this desire. I too want to believe it. But I cannot. I see that it is a lie every hour of every day of my professional life. I see it in the hollow eyes of my students and the fearful eyes of my colleagues.
And so the conversations re-confirmed to me something of the dark genius of our president’s rhetoric; that is, of Obama’s method of spouting lofty lies that are discernable as lies only to the relative few who directly deal with them, but are like music to the ears of the vast majority who do not. Speaking like this is not a strategy that Obama invented — many presidents have employed it — – but it takes a figure as attractive as Obama to pull it off to the extent that he does. And it is precisely that ability – an ability that a George W. Bush or Mitt Romney mouthing the same words could never muster — which makes Obama so dangerous. It is precisely that ability that made Obama the perfect Manchurian Candidate and then the perfect Manchurian president for the radical corporatists he so diligently and shamelessly represents.
I walked home with my daughter dealing the best I could with the uncomfortable sensation that the two fathers I spoke with were far more comfortable with the lies of the president than with the daily experiences of teachers such as myself from coast to coast.
I walked home with my daughter trying to accept the idea that from the standpoint of our childrens’ education Obama’s speech spelled out a continuing catastrophe, while from the stand point of the politics of deceit, the same speech was a ringing success. Obama, I fear, has done it again.
It was a long walk home.