Saturday, September 12, 2009

All The President's Children

So Obama's speech to the schoolkids has come and gone, and turned out to be the anodyne "Work hard, stay in school and eat your vegetables" message its apologists said it would be. The objectionable "To Serve Obama All My Days" lesson plans were withdrawn before the event, and so nothing very bad happened.

So, with other conservatives, I guess I'm supposed to be having an Aren't You ASHAMED Of Yourself? moment, for making such a fuss over what was really an innocent little pep talk to the kids.

Forgive me for not obliging.

I don't feel at all ashamed or embarrassed over the uproar caused by conservatives. For one thing, it's what caused the DOE to backtrack on their fawningly sycophantic brainwashing plan for the kiddies. If everyone had just hit the snooze button when this story first arose, the kids would even now be working on their "How Can I Help The President?" essays and projects. So that's one evil that was removed by loud objection.

The other reason I STILL think it would have been better if Obama had been forced to cancel his speech is the matter of setting precedent. As our lives have been unnaturally warped and strangled by a sort of Law-tyranny, we find ourselves adopting legal traditions and methods in areas where they never used to intrude. One of these is the importance given to Precedent.

The rules of the law game are built around precedent. If a thing is done once with a court's stamp of approval, it makes it easier to do it again. Legal arguments always draw on precedent if they can: "This happened in such-and-such a case..." with the implication that since it happened there, it should be allowed again in THIS situation. It doesn't ALWAYS work, but it's considered a strong point in one's favour. And the more often it works, the stronger the argument is for next time, until you end up with an unbreakable habit.

The first thing Obama's defenders did when they came under attack was to look for precedents. "Reagan did the same thing in 1988"; "Bush did the same thing in 1991." You see the instinctive reaching for something that a lawyer would regard as a strong argument. That's why it made no difference to retort, "But Democrats objected back then!" A defense lawyer isn't going to abandon an argument just because you can show him that the prosecutor made use of the same reasoning in a different trial. Who cares? Tools are there to be used.

In normal life, which doesn't have to follow these rules, precedent should have much less influence. "But you let me do it last time!" crumbles before a determined parent who'll reply, "Well, I've changed my mind. It was a bad idea, and you're not doing it again." But nobody in public life has the confidence to say, "Even if Reagan and Bush did it, it's a bad idea now, and we want to stop you."

Because what this little nothingburger of a speech has done is create a Precedent. We implicitly conceded that point when we didn't brazenly reject the appeal to the example of the earlier presidents. We should have said, "So what? Who cares what they did? This isn't a courtroom, and we're not bound by what someone else did. These are our kids and we make the rules."

So in September 2010, what will happen if Obama wants to make another start-of-the-school-year to the kids? Nothing. The precedent has been set. Then there will be another one, and before you know it, the Annual Presidential Address to the Children will be a normal part of life. It will be accepted as normal for a politician to have direct access to America's children; the classroom will have become his turf for one day of the year. And why should it stop at one address per year? Why not annual Holiday addresses? Important Issue addresses?

This time there wasn't anything dangerous in the speech; the dangerous thing is that a firewall was breached, and eventually that means that one is going to end up fighting a defensive battle and trying to contain damage inside.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you American? You live in Ottawa and your husband works for the Canadian federal government. Who is "We"?

1:09 am  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

It's the royal "We".

12:20 pm  

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