Newt Gingrich and former First Lady Laura Bush bolstered President Obama on Tuesday, saying a president should be able to make a back-to-school speech to the nation's students without critics kicking up a fuss.Gingrich, on NBC's "Today Show," and Bush, on CNN with Zain Verjee, were asked about the controversy surrounding the Obama speech, which he delivered as planned at noon Eastern time at a high school in northern Virginia.
"I think that President Reagan did it. President George H.W. Bush did it. I read the speech yesterday when it was posted," Gingrich told Matt Lauer.
The White House posted the speech on Monday so parents could read it for themselves and decide if it was, as critics charged, leftist propaganda.
"I think the White House was smart to post it. If he could give a speech tomorrow night in the tone of his speech today to the students, this country would be much better off. It's a good speech. I recommend it to everybody if you have any doubts. I would love to have every child in America read it, think about it, and learn that they should stay in school and they should study," Gingrich said.
The Obama White House opened the door to critics when, as part of a related lesson plan, students were urged to "write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals."
That language was later changed, as Bush noted with approval. In her interview, she also said Obama was right not to back off teacher-accountability provisions in the No Child Left Behind Act that President Bush signed into law.
Asked if the Obama speech was a good idea, Bush said, "I think that there is a place for the president of the United States to talk to schoolchildren and encourage schoolchildren.
"And I think there are a lot of people that should do the same, and that is encourage their own children to stay in school and to study hard and to try to achieve the dreams that they have.
"I also am happy that it seems like they have not, the Obama administration has not backed off the accountability part of the No Child Left Behind Act that President Bush worked with Ted Kennedy on to pass. And I think that's really important. We want every American child to have the very best education possible. And I think that's what that legislation really demands," Bush said.
But Bush did not criticize conservatives who bashed Obama's school speech, or parents who had their kids opt out of listening. The speech was live on cable outlets and live-streamed at www.whitehouse.gov
"That's their right; you know, that certainly is the right of parents to choose what they want their children to hear in school. But I think, really, what people were unhappy about were the guidelines that went out before the speech went out, and I think those have been changed. And I think it's also really important for everyone to respect the president of the United States."
Asked if "you think that it's fair that Obama is criticized as a socialist," Bush answered, "I have no idea whether it's fair. Do you think I thought it was fair when President Bush was criticized? Not really. So I guess not."
After it was over, Obama's speech won an ally in Pat Toomey, a conservative who is running in the GOP Senate primary in Pennsylvania. He called Obama's talk "an inspiring and moving speech for students across America."
"Education is the cornerstone of our country's future," Toomey said, "and it is important that we relay that message to our young students. The president's emphasis on responsibility and the personal stories about his own education are exactly the kind of inspiring messages our children need to hear from our country's leaders."