One of the more interesting subplots of this year’s election cycle is how it seems that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have been counterpunching each other everyday. One comes with a jab, the other comes with an attempted uppercut, etc.
Well these past few days were no exception as both candidates got to speak at the commencement ceremonies of the all-female Barnard College (Obama) and the evangelical powerhouse Liberty University (Romney).
I have one problem with relatively famous-to-super famous people doing commencement cermonies and that is it always becomes about the speaker instead of the students. Somehow you always get a bunch of self-indulgent anecdotes about the speaker’s personal life and how you should apply it to your life as you graduate. Then the ceremony gains a bit of awkwardness as they warn you of the obstacles facing your future and how you should be impressed that the speaker made it as far as they did.
So when a politician does a commencement address in the middle of a Presidential cycle, it always seems to have some underlying meaning. On the surface, that would appear to be true as President Obama tries to secure the women’s vote in November and how Mitt Romney is desperately trying to prove to everyone that he is a severe conservative.
Now, the ignorant political “centrist” always complains every four years that the candidates are “too similar” on policy and how they wish common sense would prevail. After you sedate this person, please direct them to YouTube clips of the two candidates to show that the difference between these two couldn’t be more pronounced.
Mitt Romney went to Liberty and even though he gave quality advice to the graduates like “even though job opportunities are scarce in this economy, it is not for nothing that you have spent this time preparing”, the speech’s theme seemed to be based on his future prospects and in general; a completely scripted tribute to Dr. Jerry Falwell.
Romney, as shown in this year’s primary season, has had trouble convincing evangelical voters that he is the one to coalesce behind. The tepid endorsements Mitt has received over the past few months from the party’s far-right base only highlights that fact.
So when the class of 2012 from Liberty University went to graduate, the moment they’ve all been waiting for, they get the following statement:
The American culture promotes personal responsibility, the dignity of work, the value of education, the merit of service, devotion to a purpose greater than self, and, at the foundation, the pre-eminence of family.
The power of these values is evidenced by a Brookings Institution study that Senator Rick Santorum brought to my attention. For those who graduate from high school, get a full-time job, and marry before they have their first child, the probability that they will be poor is 2%. But, if those things are absent, 76% will be poor. Culture matters.
As fundamental as these principles are, they may become topics of democratic debate. So it is today with the enduring institution of marriage. Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman.
No, that wasn’t a sample from a campaign ad, that is what the students of Liberty heard. Now while this is a prime example of red meat to throw in a pack of wolves, given Liberty’s evangelical roots, how repulsive is some of this? He name drops Rick Santorum, talks about family and for some reason the kids who are graduating will most remember the fact that they are preserving the sanctity of marriage. Ya know, from the guy who said he’d be more progressive than Ted Kennedy on gay rights.
I’m assuming from the text above that Romney only fires people who are single without children. That explains why Bain Capital took the businesses they did, because their were too many workers who weren’t married. But in Mitt Romney’s new world, he believes that the only way to success is the marry before having kids. If you don’t, then your life will be filled with defunded Planned Parenthood and poverty.
That speech was as Romney as you could possibly get. It was full of pandering to people who are never going to full love him and it was almost like he was trying to sell himself to the students as opposed to guiding them to future successes.
President Obama though spoke at Barnard College and it’s graduating all-female class. Now, obvious the reasoning behind Obama’s visit has some type of political connotations. Like Romney, he is preaching to a choir that will likely cheer on what he has to say. I’m not going to pretend that there was no political gain for him.
Obama’s speech was awesome for his supporters. It showed another reason why the base fell in love with him in 2008 and made him the 44th President of the United States. It also showed why Democrats can expect women to come home for them in November though some of the credit can go the Republicans ongoing attempt to prevent women from healthcare, contraception, etc.
President Obama had some humorous crowd interaction as one student urged him to do the moonwalk (sadly he declined, but Newt Gingrich might be willing to take up the offer) before getting on with his speech. Obama, after addressing the role of powerful women in recent times (such as Hillary Clinton), went on to give a full-blown women’s empowerment speech to the enthusiastic crowd of graduates. Obama stated:
After decades of slow, steady, extraordinary progress, you are now poised to make this the century where women shape not only their own destiny but the destiny of this nation and of this world.
But how far your leadership takes this country, how fair it takes this world—well, that will be up to you. You’ve got to want it. It will not be handed to you. And as someone who wants that future–that better future—for you, and for Malia and Sasha, as somebody who has had the good fortune of being the husband and the father and the son of some strong, remarkable women, allow me to offer just a few pieces of advice.
Obama would then tell women to fight for having their say and to settle for nothing but the best. He would also highlight Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) as great examples of women in Congress and then Title IX.
Now obviously it’s easy to pick out the best and worst of speeches and compare them, but notice the difference. When Obama inserts himself into a commencement speech, he seems to be a secondary character as opposed to the leading man that is Mitt Romney. He comes across as humble and intelligent, not condescending and patronizing.
He offers strong life advice as well as some chances to add in laughter, not applause lines. Romney on the other hand, tried to find a reason to make the students cheer as that would justify if his conservatism. Obama didn’t make this speech to make him sound like a progressive, but made it to show that he cares.
Whether it’s genuine or not isn’t the subject of debate. But it’s the context surrounding what he said that will resonate the most with the Barnard graduates. For a brief moment, the prospects of re-election wasn’t on my mind, but instead it was to show how inspiring a figure our President can become.