Juxtaposed in today’s Wall Street Journal were two articles; “Speech to Students Puts Politics Aside” and “Fighting Flu Without Big Gun“. Both articles were written about speeches given yesterday in public schools, the first by President Obama and the second by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
The question is, what constitutes appropriate use of the public airwaves for public messaging?
President Obama’s speech was directed at the importance of staying in school and studying hard. Ok. Why he felt compelled to give this speech in the first place is anybody’s guess. I think close to 100% of the parents of school-aged children in this country agreed with the message. Unfortunately the process under which this speech was delivered unnecessarily politicized education and polarized the schools.
The speech delivered by HHS Secretary Sebelius was about a clear and imminent danger, H1N1 swine flu. People are very concerned about the potential spread of swine flu now that school is back in session. People should be concerned when over a two-week period 2,500 students at Washington State University become ill. And when 159 million people are determined as needing the vaccine first and only 45-52 million doses will be available at the start of flu season. And when children pre-school through college are at highest risk of infection.
Far be it from me to figure out these policy decisions, but perhaps a Presidential TV tutorial on hygiene 101 would have been time better spent. You know, the importance of washing your hands and others like – why you don’t sneeze in someone’s face, wipe snot on someone’s sleeve, hawk a loogie through the air – all the things common on elementary school playgrounds. Inherently, schools are a living petri dish for the spread of bacterial and viral infections. Seriously though, as Jenny Backus, HHS spokeswoman stated, their goal is “to make everyone a messenger”. Why not start with kids?
Let’s keep public messaging to issues of national importance.