School Detention Then and Now: Bush 41 vs. Obama

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," September 8, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, the best schools in the world, and none of it will make a difference, none of it will matter, unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities, unless you show up to those schools, unless you pay attention to those teachers, unless you listen to your parents and grandparents and other adults, and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN FOX NEWS HOST: OK, here's a showstopper. There is hypocrisy in Washington, and yes, it goes both ways. What's the latest? Well, controversy exploded around the speech President Obama just gave to public school students. Many conservatives were outraged about the speech. And Democrats? They were outraged that the Republicans were outraged. But here's what's interesting. President Bush 41 gave a similar speech back in 1991.


GEORGE H.W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And by the year 2000, at least 9 in every 10 students should graduate from high school. We should be first in the world in math and science. We need to regularly test students' abilities. Every American child should start school ready to learn. Every American adult should be literate. And every American school should be safe and drug-free.


VAN SUSTEREN: Uh-oh! Well, so did Democrats feel the same way about President Bush 41 talking to the students that they feel today about President Obama talking to them? Joining us live is Byron York, chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.

Well, your article...


VAN SUSTEREN: It's sort of, Oops!

BYRON YORK, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: It was a very different story.

VAN SUSTEREN: So what did the -- what did the Democrats do back in 1991 when President Bush gave that terribly, I don't know what, "offensive" speech...

YORK: I know.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... at least according to the Democrats back then?

YORK: You know, first of all, I mean, if a president wants to give a speech to students and tell them to work hard, do their homework, brush their teeth...

VAN SUSTEREN: We should be...


YORK: ... that's OK.

VAN SUSTEREN: Either party.

YORK: Nothing wrong with that. But Bush I did it in 1991, and there wasn't a lot of controversy beforehand. So he goes to a junior high school in Washington, D.C., gives the speech that you just saw. The next day, The Washington Post does a front page story saying -- suggesting this was all a bit political event to polish the president's presidential...

VAN SUSTEREN: And let me just read...

YORK: ... image.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... from your article. This -- from your article, which -- "The day after Bush spoke, The Washington Post published a front page story suggesting the speech was carefully staged for the president's political benefit. The White House turned a northwest Washington junior high classroom into a television studio and its students into props." Front page!

YORK: Well, that's...

VAN SUSTEREN: And that was the beginning!

YORK: ... almost the definition -- that's the definition of a presidential event. They could have said the same thing about Obama's. What happened was Democrats were in control of Congress, and Democrats in the House became especially angry about this. Not only did they denounce Bush's speech, but they actually started an investigation by the General Accounting Office, and they held hearings on it, as well.

VAN SUSTEREN: On President Bush's speech?

YORK: Yes. It cost about $26,000 to stage the whole Bush speech. We don't know what the Obama speech cost. It certainly cost something. And a representative named William Ford, head of the Education and Labor Committee in the House, held this long hearing, summoned Lamar Alexander, who was the education secretary back then, called him up to explain what the president was doing spending all this money. Basically, Richard Gephardt, who was the top Democrat in the House, said this was a paid political event for President Bush and they had no business doing it in an era of scarce resources.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, I -- I don't feel -- I mean, as appalling as it is when -- you know, when both parties show their hypocrisy, whether it's Republicans going after Democrats or Democrats going after Republicans, in reading your article, the thing that I found the most offensive about it -- because I guess I expect it from the parties to go after each other like that -- unfairly, I might add, both ways -- is The Washington Post putting it on the front page. I'm dying to see The Washington Post front page article tomorrow to see if they do the same thing to President Obama that they did to Bush 41. And both speeches, I think, were quite inspiring to students.

YORK: I don't think we'll be seeing that tomorrow! And the part that you read, saying that Bush had used the students as props, I'm not suggesting that wasn't true, but I think perhaps this president did the same thing. All presidents have done things like that. But it was -- clearly was -- as a matter of fact, at the hearings, Representative Ford and hearings into this hearing, said -- into this speech, said -- held up The Washington Post article and said, After I see this, I have serious questions about it. So we'll look for tomorrow's paper.

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes, but you know, it's, like, saying these two presidents are using it as props is the half-empty, or you're just being nasty. You know, the truth is, is that, you know, what President Bush 41 said in 1991 was important for students. I heard President Obama today talk about how Michael Jordan got cut from the high school team, and look - - you know, look at what he accomplished. I mean, both -- both were something that could be inspiring -- inspiring to students. And instead, you see this sort of political back and forth.

YORK: Well, a lot of the conservatives who had reservations about this Obama speech, after they read it, when it was released yesterday, and after they saw it, when it was delivered today, they didn't have any objections. I mean, there was -- the objection, actually, to the Obama speech had been the lesson materials that the Education Department suggested, asking students to write an essay about what they can do to help the president.

VAN SUSTEREN: And of course, as you point out, that came before the speech. Once they read it, they backed off. In 1991, after President Bush gave his speech, The Washington Post the next day whacks him, and then they started an investigation, the Democrats on the Hill. So it's a little different sort of timeline.

YORK: It became kind of a federal spending story instead of a -- you know, the president and his agenda story.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I know all the viewers are going to rush to -- after midnight tonight and see if The Washington Post online -- whether they're hypocrites or not, or whether they give this president the same treatment they gave President Bush 41 for talking to students. Byron, thank you.

YORK: Don't look for it.

VAN SUSTEREN: It's a great -- it's unbelievable. It's a great story. Thank you.

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