Why am I not opposed to kids in school seeing the president's message on Tuesday? Because, parents, in the long-term, you control whether or not the address to kids has an influence on your kids, not the president.
In the summer of 1975, my dad took us on a tour of the east via Niagara Falls, NYC and then down to DC. After touring the White House, that's when we ate at a cafeteria down the street. By the time we got to the Smithsonian, this kid was sick as a dog with food poisoning. But that's another story for later.
I remember telling my dad as President Richard Nixon was leaving office and boarding Marine One, that I thought Henry Kissinger should become the next president after him. He curtly told me that wouldn't be a good idea.
When we did the tour of the White House that summer day in 1975, I wanted with all my being to meet President Gerald Ford. Of course, that didn't happen.
I remember walking home the day of the 1976 election and going back and forth with my friend Scott that I wanted Ford to beat the pants of Jimmy Carter. Of course, that didn't happen. I remember staying up a little later than normal that night waiting for the returns to come in, (I was 10) and kept asking my mom when the numbers were going to go well for President Ford. Well, that didn't happen either. And the next morning my parents both were incredulously telling me things would work out.
At one point in 1976, dad and I were driving from Northern Michigan to do something in Wisconsin and a great debate was going on in Congress over the B-1 bomber. As a B-52 pilot, dad had great interest in this as well. Carter killed the B-1 program, but that day on the radio, one member of Congress was quoted as saying that President Carter, "probably didn't know which end of the plane would go down the runway first." Dad laughed. I laughed because he did. And because I understood the hilarity of the point. Nonetheless, that moment solidified any opposition I had toward Carter.
On July 4th, 1979 in Merced, CA, I was among 2,000 people selected to get into Merced Community College's Coliseum to see President Jimmy Carter. (I was now 13) No one else from my family got in, and I remember dad dropping me off to get in and us making arrangements on where they would find me after the program. (There were no cell phones for kids then, remember?)
That day I got to meet President Carter and his wife as they worked a rope line without a rope, right out into the crowd. I shook both of their hands and even though Mr. Carter was a Democrat, to me, he was still the president. And even though my dad was a Republican, he was in the air force and no matter Mr. Carter's party affiliation, he was still the Commander in Chief.
That year, my eighth grade year, there was also a lot of talk of the late U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy getting into the race for president. I thought it was a grand idea. He could run just like his brothers did and how cool it would be for two brothers from the same family to be president. Well, my dad promptly squashed that notion in my head, calling him one of the most liberal guys in Washington. I had no idea about the Kennedy curse at that point in my life.
In 1984, I met a slew of presidential candidates. I got former astronaut and Ohio U.S. Sen. John Glenn's autograph at an Auburn basketball game. I interviewed and photographed Gary Hart the day he left Eclectic, Alabama to head to his ill-fated weekend on Monkey Business. I met Jesse Jackson and still use the phrase, "Keep Hope Alive," as an overworked cliche, and I met Walter Mondale, who upon seeing me in my Jefferson Davis High School Senior Class Shirt, still asked, "Are you a senior?"
Later that year I drove from Auburn over to Tuscaloosa to see President Ronald Reagan. I saw him again a couple years later at Tuskegee University, and then one last time at a rally at The Galleria in Birmingham after he'd left office.
I photographed George H. W. Bush on a vice presidential visit to a high school in Birmingham in 1984 also. I got about five feet from Bush in the middle of a gymnasium floor to photograph him.
And then I saw Bill Clinton and Hillary and Chelsea when they were at the 1990 National Governor's Association meeting in Mobile. While at the U.S.S. Alabama for a concert with Alabama and then a fireworks show, I got to watch CNN videotape Mr. Clinton as he got on that NASA gizmo where they swirl one around every which direction. Then the Gov. of Arkansas, was as red as a beat when he got off that thing. (That was also the time when my friend from the New York Times Regional Newspapers asked Clinton if Arkansas was going to join the SEC and when Clinton said he thought so, it became the biggest story to come out of the meeting.)
In 1992, working in the governor's office of Alabama, I earned my first "S-pin" which in Secret Service terms is a pin one wears that allows you to go, well, anywhere. That day I watched President Bush (41) do his speech from behind and off to the side and was amused about how relaxed he was up there speaking. He stood behind the podium, but instead of having both feet flat on the ground, he had the right toe of his shoe behind him and pointing at the ground and he would swing his leg back and forth as he talked.
February of 1995, I went to DC with my second governor, Gov. Fob James, Jr. for the winter meeting of the National Governor's Association. It was on this visit that I went back to the White House to await Fob coming out with the other governors from a breakfast with the president, only to find that Fob never showed at the White House and instead had wound up on The Hill with Dole and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who at the time, he mispronounced as "Gintrich."
In 1995-6 I worked on Bob Dole's Presidential Campaign largely out of Florida, but we did make a fun one-day up and back trip to New Hampshire to go to various neighborhoods handing out Florida oranges and asking people to vote for Dole. I also worked on the Florida Nov. 17, 1995 Presidential Straw Poll and got to meet then Gov. Lamar Alexander, then Sen. Phil Graham, and Alan Keyes.
Back in the governor's office in October of 1996, I worked with the Dole organization, (on leave of course) to help arrange visits by Dole in Birmingham, and once again at the Capitol in Montgomery. I even got to drive on of the cars in "the secure package" in Birmingham, now that's fun.
In 1999, I helped put together a straw poll in Birmingham, Alabama where George W. Bush boycotted the event, there were others who did come, including Keyes, who actually won the event because Alabama Republicans thought it appropriate to say they didn't like being taken for granted and the front runner not coming to rally with them.
Then in Feb of 2006, as the communications director for the Dallas Independent School District, I helped arrange a visit of President Bush to the Yvonne E. Ewell Townview Magnet Center. While in the classroom and heading out the door
, I got to meet President Bush, shake his hand, and welcome him back to Dallas.
I say all of this to make a point. On the one hand, I have met my share of presidents in my day out of my own personal desire to do so. When I was six or seven, I remember asking my dad what the TelePrompTer glass was for and him telling me it was "bullet proof glass." But I always have had a curiosity and respect for the office, no matter who was in it. I never cared for Carter, Clinton or Obama, but they were and are occupants of the office, just like Ford, Reagan, Bush and Bush.
So maybe President Obama on Tuesday will dabble on the fringe of trying to sway public opinion about health care through our kids in schools. Personally, I don't think that's appropriate, but I don't think it will happen, either. But my larger point is, I want our kids to have a sense of patriotism, a pride that their nation has free elections and that they live in a Democracy. My parents both are Republicans. I knew that from a very young age and even though I went to see Mr. Carter, met Mr. Clinton, etc. those brushes with history didn't swing me into the Blue State column.
My late Grandpa Andy Sheptak, an immigrant and steel worker from Lake County, IN, was a life-long Dem. He's influenced my life in so many ways, but my mom and dad helped keep me in the GOP fold as a kid.
My guess is, President Obama is not going to sway your kids, either. If he does, all it takes is one pithy comment to them about how you disagree with the point, and most likely, that will take care of things. If your kids already know you're not an Obama fan, are against government controlled health care, etc. maybe you talk about that some this weekend with them, and then revisit the topic Tuesday evening. Regardless, talking with your kids is something that very much should happen.