Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer
(September 2009)

One nice thing about ethics is that no matter how badly you louse things up, you always have another chance to be ethical coming around the bend. Sometimes, in fact, you can have a chance to be a Scoreboard Ethics Hero because you made a mistake. Like Jim Greer. He almost made it.

Even though many presidents have sought to include young Americans in the national dialogue by making speeches aimed at school children, President Obama’s plan to do the same was condemned by some of the more unhinged, paranoid and vindictive (yes, the Democrats protested when President Bush made his speech to the kids in 2001) Republicans. Their argument was that Obama’s scheme was to indoctrinate their children with socialist propaganda, a contention weakly bolstered by some typical Obama administration overkill, an advance lesson plan distributed to schools that would have been a sinister tool if the president indeed decided to make a pitch for the creation of the “Obama Youth,” but that was really just a helpful gesture of support for teachers. Some schools, bowing to protests, decided not to show the speech in class; others gave parents the option of keeping their children home. On the other side, the school superintendent of Broward County, Florida declared that watching the speech would be mandatory and that any child kept out of school by a fearful parent would be punished—exactly the kind of edict one would expect from a school system in cahoots with a diabolical authoritarian leader to brainwash young minds. Jim Greer, the Florida Republican Chairman, certainly saw the speech that way. He issued a statement saying he was “absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology,” and accused the president of “bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power.”

This was, of course, nutsy-cuckoo. Even accepting the most far-out contentions about the president’s motives, giving a politically charged speech to children, even something as bland as a general exhortation to be kind to the poor and protect the environment, would be foolhardy and the political equivalent of the President kicking himself in the head. Returning to Earth from the Paranoid Planet, there is nothing wrong, and a lot right, about a presidential speech to kids. Even Newt Gingrich, who has not always been rational where Obama was concerned, said on Sunday morning TV that the speech was benign.

And sure enough, it was. The White House released the text of the speech, and it was a speech that any American President might have given, and in fact should give. This gave Jim Greer a chance to do the right thing, a variety called “eating crow.” It required giving credit where credit was due; it involved admitting that he was wrong.

“It’s a good speech,” he said. “It encourages kids to stay in school and the importance of education.”

Goood…good! Now Jim…what else? Come on…the part where you say everyone was jumping to conclusions…you know…the part where you say, “We were wrong. We should have had more trust in the President.” Come on, it won’t hurt much. Just say it..

"The objections from me, the statement from me, and the objections from many other parents was warranted."

Arrrgh! So close! We’ll give Jim a one-half Ethics Hero for having the honesty to admit the obvious, that the speech was fine, as the rest of us knew it would be. The completely ethical conduct, however, would include an acknowledgement that assuming the worst without legitimate provocation, and creating a controversy where none should have existed, was both unfair and unwise.

Next time, Jim. Better yet, make sure there isn’t a next time, by giving our president respect, fairness and the benefit of the doubt.

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