Olathe, you always come through for me.
Writing a column on suburban living has its challenges, believe it or not. Coming up with a topic each week is one of them. This week was looking pretty grim, topic-wise, until the Olathe School District got a phone call from a fruitcake and then added its own bit of nuttiness.
It turns out that Presidents Day is coming up. Hard to believe, I know! Seems like we just got finished with last year’s Presidents Day festivities, doesn’t it? You remember, when we all … wondered what to do with the kids while we worked. Because normal human beings don’t get Presidents Day off. Only kids and government employees do.
That’s why the government employees responsible for this year’s elementary school lunch calendars at the Olathe School District found themselves with space to fill on the spot for next Monday. So, blissfully oblivious to the offense they were creating, they popped a photo of Barack Obama in that spot and went about their day.
At least, I think they put the photo in that spot. I can’t say for sure, because that version of the lunch calendar has now vanished from the website, and the printed menus have been reprinted without the photo.
Why? Because someone called and complained. The specifics of the complaint aren’t clear, but a district spokeswoman said it involved the issue of whom Presidents Day is supposed to honor.
If you believe that’s the caller’s real motive, I have all kinds of stuff to sell you.
No rational person sits around contemplating the True Meaning of Presidents Day or demanding that schools take photos off lunch menus. Imagine it: There you are, trying to explain to a district staffer why you are offended that Presidents Day is illustrated with a photo of a man who’s a … well, a … how do you put it delicately?
The irrationality doesn’t end there. What sensible, cost-conscious school district would even dream of reprinting a bunch of menus to placate such a person? In this case, the cost wasn’t extreme — a bit under $100, since the printing was done in-house — but caving in to the ridiculous objections of a single caller sets a disturbing precedent. With slashed funding, constant pressure to raise test scores and a long list of federal mandates to follow, the last thing any school district needs is to feed the loons. It only encourages them to flock.
This isn’t about maintaining the integrity of a holiday that, according to the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress, doesn’t even have an official federal description. It’s about disparaging Barack Obama — a pastime that many people will seize any opportunity to participate in.
It all brings to mind the uproar of September 2009, when parents across the country pitched fits about an address by Obama to the nation’s schoolchildren. Cries of “socialism indoctrination” went up throughout the land, even though Obama was far from the first president to speak to kids in school, and his message consisted mainly of “indoctrinating” students with the notion that they should work hard and stay in school.
I used to think the claims that Obama was the target of more vitriol than any previous president were a bit overblown. Surely Richard Nixon got his share, and I don’t recall public opinion of Bill Clinton during the Lewinsky affair as being particularly kind.
Then came the Internet, where malice breeds. Even in the unlikeliest corners of the social media world, you’ll find an unbelievable amount of hatred spewed about Obama.
The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection’s Facebook page is a prime example. That’s where the church posted a photo of an apparently handwritten note from Obama, thanking pastor Adam Hamilton for his message delivered at the National Cathedral as part of this year’s inauguration events. It’s short, kind, nonpolitical and has every appearance of being sincere.
If you’re a fan of civility, do yourself a favor and don’t read the comments. They start out fine, but then word apparently got around that people were saying nice things about the democratically elected leader of our country, and the haters came running. I’d give you a synopsis, but the conversation devolved so quickly into theology and accusations involving evil supernatural entities that I couldn’t take any of it seriously. It’s as if the Church Lady from “Saturday Night Live” suddenly got multiple Facebook accounts.
I’m sure a fair number of people reading this will accuse me of defending Obama because I’m a liberal. Fine. But guess what? I’d defend George Bush against this level of maliciousness, too. Regardless of your political leanings, if you can’t discuss issues calmly and rationally, nothing you say has merit. Nothing.
If you don’t have anything better to do than rant about political leaders or take offense at Presidents Day illustrations, do yourself a favor and get busy. Find a hobby, get a job, read a book, be a volunteer. Do something productive rather than making phone calls that end up costing schools money.
While you’re at it, please don’t look at any calendars. St. Patrick’s Day is coming soon.
Sarah Smith Nessel, a 913 freelance columnist, writes The Bubble each week.