Obama, Penguins, school kids and the right

WASHINGTON — News release from the White House: President Barack Obama has invited the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins for a visit on Thursday.

Florida Republican Chairman Jim Greer denounced the move as an obvious attempt by Obama to indoctrinate flightless waterfowl with his socialist propaganda and to force this country into a Canadian-style health care system. Republicans everywhere, including former Pittsburgh-area disc jockey Rush Limbaugh, echoed Greer’s outrage and urged parents not to take their kids to any hockey games involving the Stanley Cup champions.

“Our children should be reading Michelle Malkin, not watching Evgeni Malkin,” Limbaugh told his national radio audience from studios in his Palm Beach residence. The first reference was to the conservative blogger, and the second to Russian-born Penguins center, who won both the regular season scoring title and playoffs Most Valuable Player last year.

Limbaugh, who said he holds season tickets to the Florida Panthers (the $7-a-game variety at the top level of BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise) vowed to burn the stubs for the two Penguins games at a public rally on Nov. 23 in front of the Nieman Marcus on Worth Avenue. The Penguins make the first of two visits to South Florida that evening.

Glen Beck, who hosts a show on the Fox News Network, condemned the move and called it “another example of how Obama hates white people.” He did not elaborate.

The first sentence is part of our little dispatch is absolutely true. The Pittsburgh Penguins will march to Washington this Thursday, taking part in a tradition of sports champions meeting with the president that dates at least as far back as the Nixon administration.

What follows, we made up, obviously. Well maybe not so obviously, given the silly reaction by many conservatives, including Greer, to the idea of Obama speaking to the nation’s school kids. If you heard it or read it, Obama asked kids to be responsible, study hard and get a good education for the good of themselves and the good of the country. It was a terrific speech, totally nonpartisan. There is no one better qualified to deliver such a message than Obama himself.

Only the right, with its overly exuberant embrace of lunacy and penchant for viewing everything through a bizarre political prism, could object to something as mainstream and nonpartisan as working hard in school. It’s as silly as reading political calculations into the visit by the Penguins later in the week. 

Yes, the president is a political figure. He is also the head of state and the embodiment of our collective values. He is the figure we must rally around in times of crisis, whether the name is Bush, Obama, Roosevelt or Reagan, no matter the political affiliation or position on the right-left political spectrum. If we lose that, we’re lost as a country. We will become ungovernable. And the right’s reaction over Tuesday’s speech moves us in that direction.

It would be one thing if the protests came from the whack-job fringe, but they’re coming from mainstream political leaders, such as Greer, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. Greer last issued a statement to "condemn President Obama's use of taxpayer dollars to indoctrinate America's children to his socialist agenda."

Greer’s words are asinine (we could go on and on the overuse and misuse of the word, "socialism"). He should know better. There have been a few Republican voices of reason on the subject, but too few.

Perhaps it’s a reaction to being out of power in Washington after holding Congress for the better part of 15 years and the White House for the last eight. Accepting the consequences that come with losing elections is difficult after so many years holding power. The urge is to do whatever it takes to win back power as quickly as possible no matter the consequences.

Perhaps it’s the times. Outrageous statements make headlines (see Sarah Palin and death panels) while the serious and thoughtful are ignored.

The outrageous might bring short-term political gains for the Republicans, the party that adopted “Country First” as its theme during last year’s presidential election. They may even succeed in crippling Obama’s presidency (“I hope this president fails,” Limbaugh said last winter). But what we have to ask at what cost to the country they say they love?

Inevitably, the Republicans will win back power, whether in 2012, 2016 or beyond, but what will they have left to govern?


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