A less noteworthy back-to-school message

A LESS NOTEWORTHY BACK-TO-SCHOOL MESSAGE…. About a year ago, we got our first unmistakable sign that the political discourse would border on farcical for much of the Obama era. The White House had announced the president would deliver a speech to children, broadcast nationwide, encouraging them to do well in school. It was the start of a new school year, and it seemed like a reasonable thing for a president to do. (In fact, other presidents had done the same thing without controversy.)

The chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, in a striking tantrum, lashed out at Obama for trying to “indoctrinate America’s children to his socialist agenda.” Much of the right became apoplectic about the president’s message, and many, including Glenn Beck, began organizing a campaign to keep children from going to school the day of Obama’s speech.

Conservatives, in all seriousness, equated a presidential message of responsibility and hard work with Communist China and Hitler Youth. The uproar, based on nothing but hysterical stupidity, literally became front-page news.

Yesterday, Obama gave it another shot, and thankfully, the right didn’t bother to throw a fit.

With an acknowledgment that he had slacked off in school himself on occasion, President Obama exhorted the nation’s students Tuesday to show “discipline and drive” to help their country compete in the global economy. […]

The address, described as a nonpolitical event, was shown on the White House Web site and on C-SPAN. The president urged students at Philadelphia’s Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School, as well as his national audience, to study and stay out of trouble. […]

Carlton Mosley, 17, a 12th-grader at Masterman who was in the audience in the school’s ornate two-story auditorium, said Obama’s message resonated with students. “Who could disagree with following your dreams and working hard?” he said.

The kicker of all this was a Washington Times suggesting last year’s right-wing freak-out was the president’s fault: “This time around, the White House appeared to have learned its lesson and avoided a similar media frenzy by issuing Mr. Obama’s straightforward and — judging by the lack of conservative backlash — uncontroversial address ahead of time.”

But that doesn’t make sense. Last year’s address was straightforward and uncontroversial, too, and it was issued in advance. The only difference is that, a year ago, the right felt like throwing a tantrum, and major media outlets felt like treating their faux outrage as a serious story.

Had conservatives felt a little more bored over the last few weeks, and felt like stirring up trouble all over again, we would have seen a replay. Fortunately, the right has had other things — like converting clothing stores into community centers — on its mind.