Before President Obama delivered his speech to America’s schoolchildren today, emphasizing to them the value of “persisting and succeeding in school,” former Bush adviser Karl Rove fearmongered about the speech by making up provisions in the “classroom activities” that the Department of Education has suggested teachers could use to supplement the speech.
Last week, when conservatives first began freaking out about the speech, their main objection was to a line in the suggested classroom activities that said students could “write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president.” After receiving complaints, the Department of Education changed the section to read, “Write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short-term and long-term education goals,” saying that wanted to make sure “the intent is clear.”
But on Fox News today, Rove said the provision was still insidious:
ROVE: I mean, look, this, the White House was tone deaf. They clearly had a purpose here, which was let’s have the president speak to every student in the country, let’s have a study guide, let’s have them write the president, then president can them back. In fact, they still have that in there. The president’s — the students are now being encouraged to write the president about sort of their life experiences, so the White House can then, you know, using the Department of Education budget, send out God knows how many, hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of letters to students signed by the president, saying thank you for writing this. Clearly has a political import. It’s clearly using the government’s budget in a way to advance the president personally. It’s the kind of thing that makes all Americans uneasy about what the White House is doing.
Rove closed by saying that “the purpose” of the speech “was partly good, partly political. It’s now been turned a lot more good, less political, but there still is a political utility to this, which is have them write the president and then using the Department of Education budget have the president write them back.” Watch it:
Rove is lying when he says “students are now being encouraged to write the president.” In fact, the only letters mentioned in the suggested activities for either Grades preK-6 or Grades 7–12 would be addressed to the students “themselves.” “Teachers would collect and redistribute these letters at an appropriate later date to enable students to monitor their progress,” says the Grades preK-6 packet.
Additionally, it’s ironic that Karl Rove would complain about “using the government’s budget in a way to advance” partisan politics. The Bush White House inserted politics into federal agencies in an unprecedented manner, using “asset deployment” to have administration officials boost GOP candidates with photo-ops and grants. For instance, in March 2008, then-Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced a pilot program for the federal No Child Left Behind law, even though Minnesota didn’t have enough qualifying schools to participate in the program. Spellings announced the program during an appearance with then-Sen. Norm Coleman, who was in a tough race against Al Franken.