OK, President Barack Obama (D) delivered his back to school pep talk, sticking to his prepared script , not adding any unexpected surprises.
Filled with the usual bromides of stay in school and do your homework so you can get a good job; if at first you don't succeed, try again; and you're unique so do your best that most have heard thousands of times. Will the speech, which was full of me, me, me, I, I, I (nearly 60 times by my count) inspire students to change? Probably not. After all, how many students have changed their behavior when hearing similar platitudes from parents, school personnel or public service announcements voiced by stars of the moment? Oh maybe students will change for a few days but then they usually slip slide to their old behaviors.
For about a half an hour prior to the public talk Obama spoke to and took questions from
the 9th grade students at the school. There was some more self aggrandizement.
Arne (Duncan, Education Secretary) is working really hard to make sure that your schools are well equipped; we're trying to get more money in the budget for things like computers, and we want to make sure that we're getting the very best teachers and that they're getting all the training they need
Actually most of the work, the money, the teacher selection, the standards comes from the local school district; stating this so baldly confirms the worst fears of many that they're losing control of their local schools, of their children.
Inevitably politics crept in when a student asked him about government health care. Because this high achieving school is in the politically aware Washington DC area, the questioner was probably not a plant.
STUDENT: Hi, my name is Sean. And my question is, currently 36 countries have universal health coverage, including Iraq and Afghanistan, which have it paid for by the United States. Why can't the United States have universal health coverage?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that's the question I've been asking Congress, because I think we need it. I think we can do it. And I'm going to be making a speech tomorrow night talking about my plan to make sure that everybody has access to affordable health care.
Part of what happened is that back in the 1940s and '50s a lot of -- most of the wealthy countries around the world decided to set up health care systems that covered everybody. The United States -- for a number of different reasons -- organized their health care around employer-based health insurance. So what happened was, is that you basically got your health insurance through your job. And you can see some problems with that. Number one is if you lose your job, then you don't have health insurance. The other thing is some employers may not want to do right by their employees by giving them health insurance, and then they're kind of out of luck.
And so what happened was, is that the majority of Americans still have health insurance through their job and most of them are happy with it, but a lot of people fall through the cracks. If you're self-employed, if you start your own business, if you are working in a job that doesn't offer health insurance, then you're -- you have real problems.So what we're trying to do is set up a system where people who have health insurance on the job, they can keep it, but if you don't have health insurance for the job, if you're self-employed, if you're unemployed, that you're able to get health insurance through another way. And we can afford to do it and it will actually, I think, over time save us money if we set that up. All right?
Poignantly a student asked Obama a personal question that affected both of them--and sadly many others--how lack of a father affected him. Once again, Obama did not mention the influence of his grandfather who was there for him. But perhaps, as much as he tried, he was not his father.
STUDENT: Hi, my name is Brandon. I was wondering, you said that your father wasn't really in your life. That's kind of like me -- my parents were divorced. But how do you think your life would have been different if he would have been there for you? Like, if -- how would your education have been and would you still be President?
THE PRESIDENT: It's an interesting question. You know, you never know exactly how your life would turn out if there was a change in circumstances as big as your dad being around. I think that -- I actually wrote a book about this, called "Dreams For My Father," where I tried to figure out what was he like, who was he. He was a very, very smart man, but he was sort of arrogant and kind of overbearing, and he had his own problems and his own issues. So my mother always used to say that if he had been around, I probably would have been having a lot of arguments with him all the time.
I think that I was lucky, though, that my mother always -- she never spoke badly about him, which I think since I was a boy, knowing that even if your dad wasn't around, that you still were hearing good things about him I think probably improved my own self-confidence.
When I look back on my life, I think that -- Michelle's dad was around, and Arne I think knew him. Just a great guy. Wonderful, wonderful man. And he actually had multiple sclerosis, so he had to walk with canes, but went to every basketball game that my brother-in-law played in, was there for every dance recital Michelle was in, was just a great family man. And when I look at her dad, I say to myself, boy, that would be nice to have somebody like that that you could count on who was always there for you.On the other hand, I think that not having a dad in some ways forced me to grow up faster. It meant that I made more mistakes because I didn't have somebody to tell me, here's how you do this or here's how you do that. But on the other hand, I had to, I think, raise myself a little bit more. I had to be more supportive of my mother because I knew how hard she was working. And so, in some ways, maybe it made me stronger over time, just like it may be making you stronger over time.
Now everyone go wash your hands so you don't catch swine flu or something else. Good, neutral, advice.