White House Takes on Bullying, but Not in the Mideast

Upon hearing that there would be a conference on bullying prevention at the White House today, more than a few in the press corps were speechless. 

At a time when the President talks about “living within our means,” federal tax dollars are going to be spent on a conference that many believe is a matter for families and local schools.  At the very worst, it is an issue to be dealt with by local boards of education or municipalities.
“If I didn’t know it was for real, I would have thought this was part of a hoax,” someone e-mailed me in response to a clip of the President and First Lady Michelle Obama making remarks on bullying prevention.
But sure enough, the Obamas both deliver remarks to the conference in the East Room of the White House at 10:30 a.m.  Thirty minutes later, what the White House bills as “a conversation with experts on effective programs and policies to prevent bullying” follows—again in the East Room.

“The conference will bring together communities from across the nation who have been affected by bullying as well as those who are taking action to address it,” reads a statement from the office of the White House press secretary.  “Participants will speak about the effects of bullying and the work of students, parents, and teachers nationwide. Last fall, the President, vice president,  and several administration officials taped video messages for the It Gets Better campaign and discussed the need to dispel the myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage.

“Thursday’s conference will also include breakout sessions to discuss effective policies and programs to prevent bullying, followed by a wrap-up session in which [Education Secretary Arne] Duncan and [Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen] Sebelius, along with Domestic Policy Advisor Melody Barnes, will deliver remarks.”

The press release concludes by noting that “[i]n order to engage audiences across the country, two of the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention breakout sessions will be live chats with Facebook and iVillage.”

As to whether bullying prevention qualifies as a state issue is questionable.  As one Indiana Republican political consultant wrote me, “The White House doesn’t consider it a state issue because the only bullying going on there is that of Republican governors bullying public sector unions.”