The stay-in-school message

THE STAY-IN-SCHOOL MESSAGE…. There was a major-league freak-out yesterday when right-wing activists learned that President Obama was prepared to challenge America’s students to “work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning.” It’s a message the White House would broadcast live to schools that choose to air it.

It caused Jim Greer, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, to have something of a breakdown. He issued a statement condemning the president for, among other things, trying to “indoctrinate America’s children to his socialist agenda.” He added that Obama “has turned to American’s children to spread his liberal lies.”

Greer was hardly alone. Much of the right was simply apoplectic about this, and many, including Glenn Beck, began organizing a campaign to keep children from going to school the day of Obama’s speech. What got the crazies so worked up? Apparently, there’s a phrase in the Department of Education supplementary materials that, when taken out of context, becomes politically controversial. So, officials edited it.

In a set of bullet points listed under a heading, “Extension of the Speech,” one of the points used to say: “Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals.”

However, that bullet point now reads as follows: “Write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short-term and long-term education goals. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals.”

In context, “help the president” wasn’t about health care or economic growth, it was about the president encouraging young people to do well in school. The edited language makes this clear. As Alex Koppelman explained, “In context, it’s clear that was an attempt to get kids to think of working hard in school as something they were doing not just for themselves, but for the president — and not politically, either. But that’s not how Obama’s opponents saw it.”

Well, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Obama’s opponents understood it just fine, but are on hair-trigger alert to turn any opportunity into a hysterical temper tantrum.

Or as Matt Yglesias put it, “Probably the biggest moral of the story is that the contemporary conservative movement is run by crazy people with no scruples, who’ll turn anything into a pretext to level wild accusations.”

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.