Not a Brick in Any Wall

by Don Boudreaux on September 9, 2009

in Current Affairs, Education, Man of System, Politics

Even many non-left-wingers miss the perfectly understandable — indeed, healthy — sentiments from which spring the opposition to a presidential address aimed at schoolchildren.  Here are two letters that I recently wrote on this matter.  The first was sent to the Los Angeles Times; the second was sent to the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Tim Rutten misses the point of the widespread opposition to President Obama’s planned speech to schoolchildren (“Calls to boycott Obama’s speech to kids offer a disturbing lesson in paranoia,” September 5).  While it’s true that many conservative pundits, such as Michelle Malkin, have overreacted to this upcoming speech, the legitimate reason for opposing it is that ours is not a country dependent upon any Great Leader.  Suggesting – as was initially the plan – that students be asked to ponder how they “can help President Obama” tells students that ‘leaders’ deserve help simply because they are ‘leaders.’  Even worse, it evokes the catastrophic collectivist notion that society’s progress depends upon the successful carrying out of a ‘leader’s’ program.

Like almost all parents, my wife and I are perfectly capable of imparting to our child an understanding of the importance of education.  We are offended that a political celebrity pretends that he possesses some unique wisdom or special authority on this front.  Our son is none of Mr. Obama’s business – and this fact would be no less true were Mr. Obama a member of some other political party.

Donald J. Boudreaux


Several – maybe most – of the objections to President Obama’s upcoming speech to schoolchildren are poorly expressed (“Some fear address will be lesson carrying a political message,” Sept. 4).  But perhaps they reflect the same sound instinct against top-down-engineered conformity that resonates throughout Pink Floyd’s 1979 mega-hit song.

Although some Americans are stirred by the (always gauzily vague) prospect of ‘uniting together’ for this or that ‘national’ achievement, many of us are mightily put off by anything that smacks of treating each of us individuals as being just “another brick in the wall” of an edifice erected to promote our collective ‘advance’ or salvation.

Donald J. Boudreaux

As for Kathleen Parker’s point that similar objections weren’t raised to similiar speeches delivered earlier by GOP pols, I think that she answers her own question: the recent explosion in social networking and in communications technology make news of such events more widespread.  (I confess that I, for example, didn’t know that Reagan made such speeches, although I’m not surprised that he did.)

For the record, I oppose all such “Great Leader” poses, regardless of the party affiliation of the Great Leader du jour.  The idea that we should be ‘inspired’ by winners of political elections — the notion that successful politicians have some special wisdom to impart — the stupid consensus that high political office renders its holders unusually trustworthy when delivering clusters of cliches — is intolerable to men and women who value freedom and individuality.


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