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Presidential reality check

Before I ask and state what I have to ask and state, let me remind a few of you who are prone to bulging neck veins and high blood pressure and bleats of "Ah haaaaa!" that I don't care who you voted to move into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. last November.

As "parties" go, I'd just as soon voluntarily give up my (self-appointed, but accurate) label of being "Miami's Coolest Guy" to knock back a fruit-flavored umbrella drink with and dance with the dorks who hang out at places like Have a Nice Day Cafe and Bar (Your City Here), than throw my full support behind either the Democrats or Republicans.

And any of you bulging-neck-veiners who try to say otherwise are either willfully ignorant, or unfamiliar with my body of work.

That being said, here's a pop quiz. Who said tthe following to a group of Washington, D.C.school children, in a nationally-televised broadcast to public schools across the great US of A:

"I ask every student watching today: Look around you. Count four students. Start with yourself. No one dreams of becoming a dropout, but far too many do. Which one of you won't make it through school?

The fact is, every one of you can. Let's make a pact then right here. Let's work to see that 5 years from now, you and your friends will be more than sad statistics. Give yourself a decent shot at your dreams. Stay in school. Get that diploma.....

"I'm asking you to put two and two together: Make the connection between the homework you do tonight, the test you take tomorrow, and where you'll be 5, 15, even 50 years from now. You see, the real world doesn't begin somewhere else, some time way down there in the distant future. The real world starts right here. What you do here will have consequences for your whole lives.

When it comes to your own education, what I'm saying is take control. Don't say school is boring and blame it on your teachers. Make your teachers work hard. Tell them you want a first-class education. Tell them that you're here to learn.

Block out the kids who think it's not cool to be smart. I can't understand for the life of me what's so great about being stupid. If someone goofs off today, are they cool? Are they still cool years from now when they're stuck in a dead-end job? Don't let peer pressure stand between you and your dreams.....

Take control -- challenge yourself. Only you know how hard you work. Maybe you can fake, maybe, just maybe you can fake your way into a job, but you won't keep it for long if you don't have the know-how to get the job done. Maybe you can cram the week before that marking period ends, and turn that C into a B. But you can't con your way past the SAT and into college. If you don't work hard, who gets hurt? If you cheat, who pays the price? If you cut corners, if you hunt for the easy A, who comes up short? Easy answer to that one: You do."

Answer? United States Pres. George H.W. Bush, on Oct. 1, 1991, at Alice Deal Junior High School.

Not a whole lot different from what Pres. Obama had to say in his speech this morning at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va.

There are two shames here: That back in '91 Democratic Party leaders - elected and otherwise - called Bush's speech political opportunism and a paid political ad, and even launched a formal investigation into the funding for Bush's speech; and that in the weeks leading up to Obama's speech GOP leaders - elected and otherwise - suggested his was part of a devious plot to indoctrinate school children into socialist and communist lifestyles.

I even had a co-worker violate Godwin's Law and pull out that tired Hitler comparison, suggesting that like the late Führer, Obama's speech would be a brainwashing tool.

His evidence? Not just that Obama insisted on exhorting school children, but that as part of his post-speech lesson plan he wanted kids to write him letters on how they could help him be (presumably, a better) president. Yeah, the lesson plan idea was bad, no question. Still, I hate to break it to my colleague and others who were on that train of thought, but former Pres. Bush (41) made a similar request to his young, mush-minded audience. I study voting patterns and polling religiously. I haven't seen one study that suggests the GOP scored more young voters in the years immediately following Bush's speech. That won't happen for Obama either, as a result of today's speech.

My colleague also insisted that the job of exhorting school kids with inspirational speeches should be for parents only, because "we the people" didn't elect the president to do such things.

We didn't elect U.S. presidents to hold turkey-pardoning ceremonies on the White House lawn. But they do that too, every year at Thanksgiving.

Sure, both men were trying to score political points with their speeches. Why the shock?

But generally speaking the criticisms of both men over a speech telling kids to study, work hard, etc., etc., were just dumb.

If you didn't like Bush, hopefully your dislike was due to his policies and not because his gang wore different colors than yours. And if you don't like Obama, I can only hope you're using the same standard of policy and not team colors. Somehow though the fringe element of his critics is increasingly suggesting that while they don't like his policies, if there isn't a "fresh" policy to legitimately challenge they'll gladly take a swipe at a more superficial characterisitic.

So, neck-vein-poppers, take a deep breath, count backward from 10, breath slowly into a paper bag if you have to. And when you've calmed down, step gingerly off your soap box and acknowledge in a grown-up way that sometimes a pep talk is just that, no matter the six-degrees-of-separation sinister connections you think you can make between that talk and a broader agenda.

Relax. By week's end if your distaste for Pres. Obama is "pure," there'll be a legitimate issue, a policy issue for you to challenge and debate. And if your distaste is rooted in something more superficial...like team colors, well, hang on till tomorrow evening. And no doubt a TV or radio chat show host will give you plenty of toothless fodder.

Now, I'm going to get back to my Gurkha Beauty and await the inevitable and inaccurate onslaught of anonymous email comments from people who will have missed the point of this post, and will accuse me of one or more of the following: pushing Obama's hidden "black nationalist" agenda, pushing Obama's hidden "socialist" agenda, hiding Obama's original birth certificate in the safe under my floorboards, hating white people, pretentiously eating chicken nuggets with a fork instead of my bare hands, and wanting to open the U.S. borders to aliens - not from Mexico, but from Outer Space.

PS. Follow me: http://twitter.com/jamesburnett.


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i'd be happy for either speech to be read to my children. any position of authority/role model advocating staying at school as long as you can and working hard would be worth listening to regardless of their politics.
if the bulging neck vein set could just pull their heads out of their arse for long enough to actually listen to the message they might learn something.
if you're already the coolest guy in miami just wait until you have teenagers; your coolness will skyrocket like mine has


How dare any president try to tell my children what do do? If my child wants to be a drop out coked up Satan worshiper, maybe that's what he/she is meant to be. Ever think of that?

Not everybody can be a Harvard man, someone has to serve me my fries for a slave wage.

"Think of the children, think of the children", that cry is getting pretty old. Won't someone please start thinking of the sarcastic bastards out here? I'm not going to get my own fries, and I do want fries with that.

James B.

Insomniac, I am indeed cooler than the other side of the pillow. So when I have teenagers they'll just have to learn to deal with it ;-)

And Wavemancali, I'd like fries with that too. And I want mine supersized.


we went to a corn roast and it was out in the middle of a huge wheat field... and a guy behind me kept smoking his old stogie. I got sick and had to leave.
Funny how cigars make me sick and pipes don't. Not that I want to sit downwind from either.

I wish the wind had been blowing the other way.


I am appalled at the uproar preceeding President Obabma's speech to school children and cannot fathom why anyone would object to the President addressing such an audience. It has been stated time and again that having a black man elected President should act as an incentive to poor black children to stay in school and better themselves -- why wouldn't the same message also serve to energize ALL children? Is this possibly a racist reaction to the idea of a black man addressing black AND WHITE CHILDREN? Somehow it's okay for President HW Bush to address all children, but not for President Obama to do so... this makes no sense whatsoever.

And teachers are always on the lookout to turn everything into a lesson. Children do have to be taught how to write a proper letter and this is a perfect way to also incorporate the childrens' imagination in suggesting ways that school children can help their country.

I would think that the adults who protested and refused to let their children watch/listen to the speech would be embarrassed and shame-faced that they made such a fuss about such a miniscule issue.

Amy Rogers

Well, I really was enjoying that speech, even before I knew it was Bush's. Whenever I read something like that coming from a president, I always wonder who wrote it! I hope Obama's touched on the same themes, because I admit that his image might carry more weight with schoolchildren than his predecessors'.

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