Praise for President Obama’s Recent Civics Lessons 

Frank Bruni, a New York Times columnist, has high praise for President Obama’s commencement address at Howard University that was covered in a prior post. Bruni sees the speech as “a pointed, powerful civics lesson” for all of us to consider because Obama was “issuing challenges to groups—African-Americans, college students—from whom he has drawn strong support and with whom he has real credibility “ and because he speaks with “accuracy and eloquence . . . [in] diagnosing current ills.”[1]

Bruni also has high marks for similar words this year from Obama in his final State of the Union Address,[2] his speech to the Illinois General Assembly[3] and his remarks at a town hall session in London.[4] Another Obama speech that touched on these subjects came just last Sunday at Rutgers University.[5]

Emphasizing that Obama in the Howard University commencement address was giving a “pointed, powerful civics lesson . . . to all of us—to America,” Bruni says Obama was chiding some young people “for demonizing enemies and silencing opponents. He cautioned them against a sense of grievance too exaggerated and an outrage bereft of perspective.” In Obama’s words, “If you had to choose a time to be, in the words of Lorraine Hansberry, ‘young, gifted and black’ in America, you would choose right now. To deny how far we’ve come would do a disservice to the cause of justice.’”

“Enough,” Obama was saying, “with a kind of identity politics that can shove aside common purpose. Enough with a partisanship so caustic that it bleeds into hatred Enough with such deafening sound and blinding fury in our public debate.”

Here Bruni referenced Obama’s “wise and glorious” February 2016 speech to the Illinois General Assembly. There Obama said, “We’ve got to build a better politics — one that’s less of a spectacle and more of a battle of ideas.” Otherwise, he warned, “Extreme voices fill the void.”

In the Illinois speech Obama also diagnosed current ills with “accuracy and eloquence,” when he noted that “while ugly partisanship has always existed, it’s fed in our digital era by voters’ ability to curate information from only those news sources and social-media feeds that echo and amplify their prejudices. We can choose our own facts,” he lamented. “We don’t have a common basis for what’s true and what’s not.” Advocacy groups often make matters worse, he added, by “keeping their members agitated as much as possible, assured of the righteousness of their cause.”

“We must expand our moral imaginations,” Obama told the predominantly African-American audience at Howard, imploring them to recognize “the middle-aged white guy who you may think has all the advantages, but over the last several decades has seen his world upended by economic and cultural and technological change, and feels powerless to stop it. You got to get in his head, too.” This thought was also mentioned by Obama in late April at a town-hall-style meeting in London, when he said that once “elected officials or people who are in a position to start bringing about change are ready to sit down with you, then you can’t just keep on yelling at them.”

At Howard, Obama insisted that change “requires listening to those with whom you disagree, and being prepared to compromise. If you think that the only way forward is to be as uncompromising as possible, you will feel good about yourself, you will enjoy a certain moral purity, but you’re not going to get what you want,” he continued. “So don’t try to shut folks out. Don’t try to shut them down, no matter how much you might disagree with them.”

These recent speeches, Bruni concludes, bring Obama “full circle, from the audacity to the tenacity of hope.”

================================

[1] Bruni, Obama’s Gorgeous Goodbye, N.Y. Times (May 11, 2016).

[2] A Civics Lesson in President Obama’s Final State of the Union Address, dwkcommentaries.com (May 12, 2016).

[3] Another Civics Lesson from President Obama at the Illinois General Assembly, dwkcommentaries.com (May 13, 2016).

[4] President Obama’s Civics Lesson at Town Hall Meeting in London, dwkcommentaries.com (May 14, 2016).

[5] Political and Civics Lessons from President Obama at Rutgers University, dwkcommentaries.com (May 16, 2016).

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

One thought on “Praise for President Obama’s Recent Civics Lessons ”

  1. Comment: Adam Gopnik’s Reactions to President Obama’s Recent Speeches

    Calling Obama the “Liberal-in-Chief, Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker says the President has been saying theat “liberalism isn’t centrism..” Instead his liberalism “is the most truly radical of ideologies, inasmuch as it proposes a change, makes it happen, and then makes it last” or “a belief in radical change made through practical measures.” According to Obama, “big democratic societies” are like “ocean liners: you turn the wheel slowly, and the big ship pivots.” In other words, “”their very bigness is what makes them turn slowly, but their bigness is also what makes them worth turning.” Underlying this view is “a deeper understanding that humanity is various, the the changes we work for will never be universally accepted, and the test of our politics is extending sympathy to those who seem to stand in our way.”

    Gopnik, Liberal-in-Chief, New Yorker at 23 (May 23, 2016).

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