October 21, 2017

Preach it, Michelle!

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Commencement speeches are usually fairly banal and unmemorable, but people are buzzing about one First Lady Michelle Obama gave at Tuskegee University last Saturday.  After reviewing the history of the Tuskegee Airmen and the university for which “Booker T. Washington pawned his pocket watch to buy a kiln, and students used their bare hands to make bricks to build,” she turned to her own story of some of the perceptions about her as a black First Lady, and then challenged the students to follow the example of those who have walked a difficult road to build up their lives and their communities.

This is for all the folks who face “the little indignities” every day as well as those who continually experience discrimination and roadblocks so severe they feel they can never do enough.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice.

• • •

-visit_to_Tuskegee_Univers-20000000005278865-500x375From Remarks by the First Lady at Tuskegee University Commencement Address
May 9, 2015

…the defining story of Tuskegee is the story of rising hopes and fortunes for all African Americans.

And now, graduates, it’s your turn to take up that cause.  And let me tell you, you should feel so proud of making it to this day.  And I hope that you’re excited to get started on that next chapter.  But I also imagine that you might think about all that history, all those heroes who came before you — you might also feel a little pressure, you know — pressure to live up to the legacy of those who came before you; pressure to meet the expectations of others.

And believe me, I understand that kind of pressure.  (Applause.)  I’ve experienced a little bit of it myself.  You see, graduates, I didn’t start out as the fully-formed First Lady who stands before you today.  No, no, I had my share of bumps along the way.

Back when my husband first started campaigning for President, folks had all sorts of questions of me:  What kind of First Lady would I be?  What kinds of issues would I take on?  Would I be more like Laura Bush, or Hillary Clinton, or Nancy Reagan?  And the truth is, those same questions would have been posed to any candidate’s spouse.  That’s just the way the process works.  But, as potentially the first African American First Lady, I was also the focus of another set of questions and speculations; conversations sometimes rooted in the fears and misperceptions of others.  Was I too loud, or too angry, or too emasculating?  (Applause.) Or was I too soft, too much of a mom, not enough of a career woman?

Then there was the first time I was on a magazine cover — it was a cartoon drawing of me with a huge afro and machine gun. Now, yeah, it was satire, but if I’m really being honest, it knocked me back a bit.  It made me wonder, just how are people seeing me.

Or you might remember the on-stage celebratory fist bump between me and my husband after a primary win that was referred to as a “terrorist fist jab.”  And over the years, folks have used plenty of interesting words to describe me.  One said I exhibited “a little bit of uppity-ism.“  Another noted that I was one of my husband’s “cronies of color.”  Cable news once charmingly referred to me as “Obama’s Baby Mama.”

And of course, Barack has endured his fair share of insults and slights.  Even today, there are still folks questioning his citizenship.

And all of this used to really get to me.  Back in those days, I had a lot of sleepless nights, worrying about what people thought of me, wondering if I might be hurting my husband’s chances of winning his election, fearing how my girls would feel if they found out what some people were saying about their mom.

But eventually, I realized that if I wanted to keep my sanity and not let others define me, there was only one thing I could do, and that was to have faith in God’s plan for me.  (Applause.)  I had to ignore all of the noise and be true to myself — and the rest would work itself out.  (Applause.)

So throughout this journey, I have learned to block everything out and focus on my truth.  I had to answer some basic questions for myself:  Who am I?  No, really, who am I?  What do I care about?

Michelle Obama at her home in Hyde Park. Her children are Malia, 6, right, and Sasha,3. Chicago. August 21 ,2004. Photo by Zbigniew Bzdak ..OUTSIDE TRIBUNE CO.- NO MAGS,  NO SALES, NO INTERNET, NO TV.. 00232057A Wom ObamaAnd the answers to those questions have resulted in the woman who stands before you today.  (Applause.)  A woman who is, first and foremost, a mom.  (Applause.)  Look, I love our daughters more than anything in the world, more than life itself. And while that may not be the first thing that some folks want to hear from an Ivy-league educated lawyer, it is truly who I am.  (Applause.)  So for me, being Mom-in-Chief is, and always will be, job number one.

Next, I’ve always felt a deep sense of obligation to make the biggest impact possible with this incredible platform.  So I took on issues that were personal to me — issues like helping families raise healthier kids, honoring the incredible military families I’d met on the campaign trail, inspiring our young people to value their education and finish college.  (Applause.)

Now, some folks criticized my choices for not being bold enough.  But these were my choices, my issues.  And I decided to tackle them in the way that felt most authentic to me — in a way that was both substantive and strategic, but also fun and, hopefully, inspiring.

So I immersed myself in the policy details.  I worked with Congress on legislation, gave speeches to CEOs, military generals and Hollywood executives.  But I also worked to ensure that my efforts would resonate with kids and families — and that meant doing things in a creative and unconventional way.  So, yeah, I planted a garden, and hula-hooped on the White House Lawn with kids.  I did some Mom Dancing on TV.  I celebrated military kids with Kermit the Frog.  I asked folks across the country to wear their alma mater’s T-shirts for College Signing Day.

And at the end of the day, by staying true to the me I’ve always known, I found that this journey has been incredibly freeing.  Because no matter what happened, I had the peace of mind of knowing that all of the chatter, the name calling, the doubting — all of it was just noise.  (Applause.)  It did not define me.  It didn’t change who I was.  And most importantly, it couldn’t hold me back.  I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values — and follow my own moral compass — then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own.

So, graduates, that’s what I want for all of you.  I want you all to stay true to the most real, most sincere, most authentic parts of yourselves.  I want you to ask those basic questions:  Who do you want to be?  What inspires you?  How do you want to give back?  And then I want you to take a deep breath and trust yourselves to chart your own course and make your mark on the world.

Maybe it feels like you’re supposed to go to law school — but what you really want to do is to teach little kids.  Maybe your parents are expecting you to come back home after you graduate — but you’re feeling a pull to travel the world.  I want you to listen to those thoughts.  I want you to act with both your mind, but also your heart.  And no matter what path you choose, I want you to make sure it’s you choosing it, and not someone else.  (Applause.)

Because here’s the thing — the road ahead is not going to be easy.  It never is, especially for folks like you and me.  Because while we’ve come so far, the truth is that those age-old problems are stubborn and they haven’t fully gone away.  So there will be times, just like for those Airmen, when you feel like folks look right past you, or they see just a fraction of who you really are.

The world won’t always see you in those caps and gowns.  They won’t know how hard you worked and how much you sacrificed to make it to this day — the countless hours you spent studying to get this diploma, the multiple jobs you worked to pay for school, the times you had to drive home and take care of your grandma, the evenings you gave up to volunteer at a food bank or organize a campus fundraiser.  They don’t know that part of you.

Instead they will make assumptions about who they think you are based on their limited notion of the world.  And my husband and I know how frustrating that experience can be.  We’ve both felt the sting of those daily slights throughout our entire lives — the folks who crossed the street in fear of their safety; the clerks who kept a close eye on us in all those department stores; the people at formal events who assumed we were the “help” — and those who have questioned our intelligence, our honesty, even our love of this country.

And I know that these little indignities are obviously nothing compared to what folks across the country are dealing with every single day — those nagging worries that you’re going to get stopped or pulled over for absolutely no reason; the fear that your job application will be overlooked because of the way your name sounds; the agony of sending your kids to schools that may no longer be separate, but are far from equal; the realization that no matter how far you rise in life, how hard you work to be a good person, a good parent, a good citizen — for some folks, it will never be enough.  (Applause.)

And all of that is going to be a heavy burden to carry.  It can feel isolating.  It can make you feel like your life somehow doesn’t matter — that you’re like the invisible man that Tuskegee grad Ralph Ellison wrote about all those years ago.  And as we’ve seen over the past few years, those feelings are real.  They’re rooted in decades of structural challenges that have made too many folks feel frustrated and invisible.  And those feelings are playing out in communities like Baltimore and Ferguson and so many others across this country.  (Applause.)

But, graduates, today, I want to be very clear that those feelings are not an excuse to just throw up our hands and give up.  (Applause.)  Not an excuse.  They are not an excuse to lose hope.  To succumb to feelings of despair and anger only means that in the end, we lose.

But here’s the thing — our history provides us with a better story, a better blueprint for how we can win.  It teaches us that when we pull ourselves out of those lowest emotional depths, and we channel our frustrations into studying and organizing and banding together — then we can build ourselves and our communities up.  We can take on those deep-rooted problems, and together — together — we can overcome anything that stands in our way.

And the first thing we have to do is vote.  (Applause.)    Hey, no, not just once in a while.  Not just when my husband or somebody you like is on the ballot.  But in every election at every level, all of the time.  (Applause.)  Because here is the truth — if you want to have a say in your community, if you truly want the power to control your own destiny, then you’ve got to be involved.  You got to be at the table.  You’ve got to vote, vote, vote, vote.  That’s it; that’s the way we move forward. That’s how we make progress for ourselves and for our country.

Tuskegee_airman_posterThat’s what’s always happened here at Tuskegee.  Think about those students who made bricks with their bare hands.  They did it so that others could follow them and learn on this campus, too.  Think about that brilliant scientist who made his lab from a trash pile.  He did it because he ultimately wanted to help sharecroppers feed their families.  Those Airmen who rose above brutal discrimination — they did it so the whole world could see just how high black folks could soar.  That’s the spirit we’ve got to summon to take on the challenges we face today.  (Applause.)

And you don’t have to be President of the United States to start addressing things like poverty, and education, and lack of opportunity.  Graduates, today — today, you can mentor a young person and make sure he or she takes the right path.  Today, you can volunteer at an after-school program or food pantry.  Today, you can help your younger cousin fill out her college financial aid form so that she could be sitting in those chairs one day.  (Applause.)  But just like all those folks who came before us, you’ve got to do something to lay the groundwork for future generations.

That pilot I mentioned earlier — Charles DeBow — he didn’t rest on his laurels after making history.  Instead, after he left the Army, he finished his education.  He became a high school English teacher and a college lecturer.  He kept lifting other folks up through education.  He kept fulfilling his “double duty” long after he hung up his uniform.

And, graduates, that’s what we need from all of you.  We need you to channel the magic of Tuskegee toward the challenges of today.  And here’s what I really want you to know — you have got everything you need to do this.  You’ve got it in you. Because even if you’re nervous or unsure about what path to take in the years ahead, I want you to realize that you’ve got everything you need right now to succeed.  You’ve got it.

You’ve got the knowledge and the skills honed here on this hallowed campus.  You’ve got families up in the stands who will support you every step of the way.  And most of all, you’ve got yourselves — and all of the heart, and grit, and smarts that got you to this day.

And if you rise above the noise and the pressures that surround you, if you stay true to who you are and where you come from, if you have faith in God’s plan for you, then you will keep fulfilling your duty to people all across this country.  And as the years pass, you’ll feel the same freedom that Charles DeBow did when he was taking off in that airplane.  You will feel the bumps smooth off.  You’ll take part in that “never-failing miracle” of progress.  And you’ll be flying through the air, out of this world — free.

God bless you, graduates.  (Applause.)  I can’t wait to see how high you soar.  Love you all.  Very proud.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

In my opinion, Jesus who died and rose again to make us new, restore human dignity, and revitalize us in our vocation to live in the light of a new creation, extending God’s justice and peace throughout the world, would be pleased with these words of encouragement.

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and prosper for us the work of our hands—
O prosper the work of our hands!

• Psalm 90:17 (NRSV)

Comments

  1. Christiane says:

    Amen

  2. A litany of heroes as presented by one who is anything but.

    • Comment deleted.

    • Pattie, with all due respect for your political views, this is the kind of swift dismissal that sounds just plain mean-spirited and makes one wonder what kind of prejudice might lie behind it.

      • Rick Ro. says:

        Yep.

      • A serious lack of regard for anyone who considers a pregnancy a “punishment” and abortion its solution.

        • …and seems like you missed part one of the statement as well…..

        • You are twisting a single remark she made many years ago to mean something else, as well as ascribing beliefs to her that I don’t think accurately represent how she feels.

          • Chris – yes.

            CM, I’ll admit to feeling discouraged right now about commenting here, due to some of the hostility in comments on this post as well as same on Sat. re. Baltimore, black folks, poverty, and all the rest. On that thread, conversation deteriorated quickly, and it’s happening here, again.

            I agree that the Obamas have bern subjected to much that is both ovettly and covettly driven by racism – much more than any other pres/spouse/kids in my lifetime. Further, I’m certain that what little we have seen and heard is just the tip of the iceberg re. threats and worse. The Secret Service keeps all of those things out of public view (though their appalling slips re.gate crashers isn’t exactly encouraging).

            I just don’t get the reasons for hate, but i know it is very, very real. I wish it wasn’t.

            • I take comfort in the fact that we have, by and large, been able to keep today’s conversation moving in a mostly positive, constructive direction.

  3. Robert F says:

    I think her repeated them of being true to oneself, and setting aside what others have to say about and to us, runs afoul of her desire also to talk about how one may strengthen and help the community. Sometimes truth about ourselves comes from outside of ourselves; I daresay, this is part of what the concept of revelation means. We can no more know the truth about ourselves without carefully and judiciously listening to the voices of those around us, even our most strident critics, than we can rightly interpret the Bible all by ourselves and apart from the give-and-take of community, especially when that community includes voices strongly, and intelligently, opposed to how we would on our own interpret it.

    Somehow, as difficult as this may be, listening to and heeding oneself and listening to and heeding the community must be integrated and found in each other. This requires understanding and wisdom far beyond me, and also far beyond that of every commencement speaker I’ve ever heard or read, since they all inevitably focus on one of these things, while neglecting the other. In recent times, they mostly focus on “Follow your bliss”, as does this one, in my opinion.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      You’re drifting toward curmudgeon there, Robert, and I don’t see how “Be true to who you are” and “You have it in you to succeed” is anywhere near “Follow your bliss.”

      • Robert F says:

        Curmudgeon? No doubt. So I’ll take my own advice and listen to the community’s opinion.

        I think that as I read it I found that it didn’t inspire me, and I also felt that it wouldn’t have inspired me when I graduated college, so I was hunting for a reason for that. The fault, I’m sure, is with me. I’ve been a curmudgeon since waaaaay back.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          Robert, note I said “drifting toward curmudgeon.” I didn’t call you a curmudgeon. 😉

          • Robert F says:

            I’m not just drifting toward; I’ve pretty much washed up on the shoals of curmudgeonism.

    • Christiane says:

      perhaps she was referring to not letting others put you down
      . . . that they might try, but you don’t need to be affected by them . . .

      I think she was telling the graduates “just go on with your life, moving forward and in a positive direction”
      especially because they had overcome so much of difficulties already to achieve their educations and they had it within themselves to be strong in that positive way that will benefit not just themselves but all of our country into the bargain

      I think she got it right

  4. Burro [Mule] says:

    Drudge was calling that speech “incendiary”?

    Sheesh. She was more diplomatic than Jean-Luc Picard.

    There have always been two semi-contradictory currents in the great river of American thought. The first one is “I am my own man. Neither king nor bishop chooses my way for me. I can take care of myself.” The second one, the one Michelle O, and to a lesser extent her husband, represent is “This is a tough place. We need to look out for each other. We can all prosper if we all pull together.”

    For most of the history of our Republic, it seems that each strand emerged when it was most needed. Now that we have hardened into Oligarchy, the two seem to have separated into factions, grown monstrous from lack of input from the other, and set upon each other in mortal combat.

    • brianthedad says:

      +1. One of the wisest comments I’ve seen from you. Can’t see that Numo can find much fault in that. 🙂

    • turnsalso says:

      The most insightful political comment I’ve ever read.

    • Damaris says:

      Very wise.

    • Burro [Mule] says:

      Thanks for the complements. I already need a bigger hat.

      But it makes me wonder what pastures of political commentary y’all have been grazing in. What I said should have be part of the mental furniture of anybody who has ever read Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, The 42nd Parallel, Leaves of Grass, “Self-Reliance” or Sometimes A Great Notion.

      • StuartB says:

        I grew up mainlining Rush, Hannity, and Beck. 10 years ago I quit listening because it made me angry 24/7 and wanted to fight everyone. 5 years ago I rejected their beliefs, views, and political sides because it made me less compassionate and just an utter asshole to everyone.

        Now, politically apathetic, but more interested and invested than ever.

        Funny how that works.

        Like leaving the church to find Jesus and faith.

        • StuartB says:

          Also I’ve never read any of those books. Half of which weren’t approved of in my fundy education.

          • Funny, that.

            I hang around here and it never dawns on me that real, lasting damage can be done to real peoples’ lives by Fundamentalism. I can’t imagine not being able to read these books. I can imagine not having read those books, but I cannot imagine a culture where reading those books was considered a “bad” thing. I am also continually surprised by how non-Fundamentalist Pentecostalism/Charismaticism is. It can get pretty salty and form common cause with Fundamentalism in the Kultur Wars, but it is an altogether different animal.

          • Mule, charismatics and Pentecostals have their own forms of fundamentalism. I spent too many decades in various charismatic “churches” (which were really, in my current way of thinking, cults) to be able to say otherwise.

          • StuartB says:

            Mule, definitely. I think that’s why it took years and then sources like Assassin’s Creed, Dragon Age, the Safeworld series and others to have the effect the books you listed have on me. Same effect, different sources, but had to happen. Those are all important texts, but it’s the ideas expressed that are most important and need to be learned.

            Thought and idea suppression works wonders til it doesn’t.

            And numo, you are spot on.

          • There are two guys where I work. One guy dresses like an evil Rod Serling. He’s thirty years old, looks fifty, and He is furious at everything. He has very glaring anger management issues. He doesn’t care for Black people or Asians, and seemingly doesn’t care who knows it. He’s always picking a fight [I can usually oblige him], and doesn’t do well under his female supervisor. I can’t talk about the Bible with him because his hermeneutical horizon is extremely limited.

            The other guy is loopy as hell, but it’s great fun talking to him about the Bible, because he believes that space aliens separated the continents in the time between the Flood and Abraham. He believes that the advanced civilization that existed in on the floor of the current Black Sea was destroyed because of “witchcraft”. He gets along fine with Black people and Asians, and they love him back.

            One of these is Independent Baptist [graduated from Pensacola Christian College], the other is Pentecostal. I’ll bet you can tell which.

          • Brianthedad says:

            My fundy, southern baptist elementary school, complete with gospel presentations followed by encouragement to invite jesus into your heart (first grade), girls in skirts, boys with hair length inspections, etc read Huckleberry Finn. 5th grade teacher read it out loud to us. Maybe it was Tom Sawyer. Uncle Remus and Stuart little, too. Leaves of grass? Not so much.

        • I grew up mainlining Rush, Hannity, and Beck. 10 years ago I quit listening…

          Not familiar with Hannity but hey, no need to apologize for your musical tastes. I mean Moving Pictures was a great album and Beck is a musical genius.

          😉

      • turnsalso says:

        I pretended to have read Huckleberry Finn in an honors English class about nine years ago and got an A on my essay… is that close enough?

        • David H says:

          Hah, exact same story here with having to write an essay on that book (about 12 years back in ap english)…I got by in that class with SparkNotes 😛

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Now that we have hardened into Oligarchy, the two seem to have separated into factions, grown monstrous from lack of input from the other, and set upon each other in mortal combat.

      Karl Marx vs Ayn Rand.
      For the Iron Throne.
      To the Death.

      • Christiane says:

        these days,
        it’s more like Pope Francis vs. Ayn Rand

        and may the Force be with him 🙂

      • The Finn says:

        I remain baffled, just baffled, how anyone can look at the current political landscape and see a Karl Marx. He is not here. The American Left is light-years from Marx.

  5. God bless Mrs. Obama!

  6. brianthedad says:

    I live 20 minutes from Tuskegee. Commentary and criticism of her speech has been the on-going subject of local news since she waved to the crowd and sat down. Local talk radio has been blistering in its criticism. Now that I’ve read it, I scratch my head about the kerfuffle. It was a good commencement speech. She said some great things. She made some good points. I disagree with her and her husband on many things, but this was a good speech. Perhaps these students will remember this longer than I did my commencement speech.

    • Cannot understand how anyone could be “blistering” in criticizing this speech. One suspects it is simply knee-jerk prejudice, political and otherwise. The sheer animus that has been directed toward the Obamas is unrivaled in my lifetime in the way people have talked about any president.

      • Burro [Mule] says:

        In my [Rockefeller Republican] household growing up, Franklin D Roosevelt was never referred to by name. He was always “that bastard”, when he wasn’t “that goddamned bastard”.

        And you must not have been paying attention when the Great Coryphaeus Ronaldus Maximus ruled over his Raj.

        “Those g-d California real-estate and banking con artists in their polyester slacks have pushed that platitude-spewing Rorshach blot into the White House. This country won’t be worth a bucket of warm piss when they get through with it.”

        I’ll have to admit I consider Obama less effective a President than others who have held the office recently. He seems particularly out of his depth in foreign policy.

        We love our vitriol though. Get ready for an infinite flourishing of the “b” word if Hillary gets in office.

        • I agree that this kind of language has always been a part of American political “discourse.” However, with the current president it seems to be screamed with an even more apocalyptic fervor. Plus there is a racial element to it that has obviously not been possible before.

          • Patrick Kyle says:

            This is exactly the kind of thing that feeds into the dislike of Obama, it’s not about racism. I find him to be abjectly unqualified for the office he holds, and think his policies are a disaster for this country. For me and people like me IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE COLOR OF HIS SKIN. That this is the knee jerk argument anytime someone expresses dislike or disagreement with him is telling and I ultimately find it depressing as it shows the sad depths to which political discourse has fallen to in this country. Let’s call people prejudice and bigoted and maybe they’ll shut up. Lets use race as a club to bludgeon the opposition into silence and defeat. If there is prejudice against him, it is certainly a small minority. Mostly that trope is a cop out to avoid discussing his accomplishments (or lack thereof) and his politics.

            Back when Sarah Palin was McCain’s running mate, I heard her regularly referred to as the ‘B’ word and even several times as a ‘C’ word in regular conversation.( By ardent supporters of Obama) She was constantly savaged and mocked by the media and her family held up to public ridicule I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have heard Obama referred to as the ‘N’ word. So forgive me if the accusations of racism ring hollow for me.

            • Patrick, note that I qualified the word “prejudice” by saying “political and otherwise.”

              I do think there is a racial component – conscious or not – in many peoples’ opposition to the president. However there are many different kinds of bias at play – ideological, political, religious, etc. For example, the fact that many of his policies were originally Republican ideas doesn’t prevent people from calling him a leftist or socialist when in fact he has governed like a moderate.

          • Patrick – just because you do not think or say these things does NOT mean that others think the same as you.

            Because many, many people do hate the Obamas on both racial and religious grounds (including all the people who think he is not only Muslim but a front man for Muslim terrorism).

            I think perhaps what might be true for your part of the country is very much NOT true in a LOT of places. (Like the area where I live, where protests against his 2008 campaign included people holding up little monkey dolls and Arlen Specter repeatedly saying “We don’t want to vote for ‘these people’!” and suchlike.)

          • In fact, someone interviewed in the Pittsburgh area back in fall 2008 even used the N-word to express his support for Obama, as in “We’re votin’ for the n-er!” A white guy; retired steel worker, iirc.

            Please do not assume that race is a non-issue. I think current events have proven otherwise, but that’s a whole other post topic.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          “I’ll have to admit I consider Obama less effective a President than others who have held the office recently. He seems particularly out of his depth in foreign policy. ”

          Huh? His immediate predecessor got us into the greatest foreign policy debacle since at least Vietnam.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I’ll have to admit I consider Obama less effective a President than others who have held the office recently. He seems particularly out of his depth in foreign policy.

          He reminds me more of Jimmy Carter in that respect.

          • I could not stand Carter, but clearly THAT can be attributed to his politics, whereas my (and anyone else’s) distaste for Obama & Spouse is clearly and totally racist on every level.

            **************************************************************************************************************

            I am truly chagrined that many here I have admired have sunk to this level of fallacy. And I will miss the spiritual discussions and enlightenment that drew me to this site originally. Blessing to all in their journey. I am afraid that it is time to move along….

          • Pattie – nobody said that about you, though. I didn’t, i know that for certain. I think you are reading things into replies that people did not say *about you* specifically.

          • I’m headed into that same path as Pattie. The knee-jerk anti-right flavor of a number of the commenters here has kept me from commenting much, mostly because no one is listening, just slamming evangelicalism, conservative politics, and anyone that criticizes our current president.

            Memories are awfully short. No one seems to remember the vitriol aimed at Bush, some of it quite foul, or even Reagan (for those who have been around awhile). The problem with our current president is that to criticize him is equal to racism in the minds of many.

            Thank God for Saturday Ramblings!

          • I unfortunately am getting the same vibe. I have left fundamentalism (the evangelical kind), but I dislike the fundamentalism of the left little more. To dismiss philosophical and political differences as merely racism is pretty low. To dismiss anybody’s criticism of anything out of hand and then to demonize those we disagree with is exactly what fundamentalism is all about. I left a church recently (evangelical) because when I mentioned the need for critical views, nobody understood what I was talking about. It is important to understand that our group (liberal, conservative, fundamental, right, left, black, white, etc.) has bigots, mean people, close minded individuals, etc. just like the other side. Thus it is a cop out to blame dissent on bigotry, and then say some on your side are bigots. Some people dislike Obama for his race, but some people dislike Ted Cruz for his race. To use the fact that some are prejudiced against Ted Cruz, to silence people from criticizing some of his bizarre stances is just wrong!

  7. A fantastic speech! Unfortunately, I’m not sure if it will resonate with many caucasian readers for one simple fact. While the black community (sorry, I think the term “african-american” is silly. I’ve got plenty of black friends and there ain’t a damn think “african” about them. Except the ones who actually are from Africa, and they have their own set of issues!) feels and expresses social fracture on the basis of race, most whites feel and express social fracture on the basis of socio-economic status. From this position, Michelle Obama is still very much the “other” – one of the one percenters who went to Princeton and Harvard and wants to step on the little guy’s face (note: for anyone who might be confused, this is not my narrative). I personally believe this paradigm gap is one of the reasons why we have such difficulty resolving racial tensions and overcoming unjust social systems.

    • Robert F says:

      Perhaps I should be embarrassed to say that your observation resonates with me. As someone who is downwardly mobile, I tend to view all Washington insiders, especially the ones who went to all the right schools, as the one percenters who don’t so much want to step on the little guy’s face as don’t give a hoot whether they do or don’t step on the little guy’s face. But then, I tend to view the entire upper-, and most of the middle-, classes that way. Which means that I feel that way about the middle-class Tea Partyers, too. If I had been born in Russia a century ago, I probably would have been among the revolutionary rabble.

  8. This is unbelievable. This is literally unbelievable. There’s now not a dime’s worth of difference between iMonk and HuffPo. What a sad day.

    • What a funny comment. I wish you would elaborate. Citing one commencement address approvingly makes IM the same as HuffPo? Really?

      • Rick Ro. says:

        Perhaps clark is referring to this sort of article being more suitable to being posted on Facebook than here, but I didn’t mind reading it. The same could be said for Michael’s baseball article (re-posted on Sunday). Sometimes we just have to let the main writers and leaders of this site post things that are important to them, regardless of how we think it “fits.”

      • Robert F says:

        From those on the far right, like clark, I’m sure that’s the way it looks.

        • You think he might be closer to the middle than you? It IS possible. Introspection is a wonderful thing. It allows you to take the comments of others with equanimity, knowing that you, yourself (not you specifically, Robert) just MAY be mistaken.

          Often it makes a difference as to what part of the country you live in, east coast, west coast, big industrial city and its environs, or the more scattered suburban enclaves.

          Much of what the First Lady said was nice and appropriate considering who she was speaking to. Some of it was even inspirational, but for ME it didn’t resonate. Does that make me a racist?

          • Robert F says:

            oscar, Clark has stated in other comments in this forum that he is opposed to the 1964 Civil Rights Act on the grounds that it abridges the right to free association. According to my political spectrometer, that makes him far right, even if his opinion were to be the majority one, which it’s not.

            Btw, it didn’t resonate with me, either.

          • Robert F says:

            I don’t see a single comment today which suggests that if you don’t like the First Lady’s speech that means you’re a racist.

    • Burro [Mule] says:

      IMonk has a pretty center-left demographic, with the emphasis on the center. You won’t find opinions from Taki’s Mag much in evidence here.

      • StuartB says:

        It does, doesn’t it? And that’s where I think I am now too, center left.

        Sorta feels like a huge part of my identity is missing or has been redefined. But I can’t lie about it. It’s true.

        Odd, not entirely pleasant feeling.

    • What’s wrong with the Huffington Post?

  9. I remember when GWB was president hearing the most irrational rage from the left, to the point of bemusement. The center-right referred to the progressive blogs as the “fever swamp”. A funny thing happened when O got elected: the left calmed down, and the right started doing the same thing.

    Mike, let the crazy rants stand or fall on their own merits. You don’t need to question whether there are other prejudices present. If we ever get to the point where criticism of the most powerful person in the world is declared out-of-bounds because of suspected racism, or if certain topics or discussions are out-of-bounds for future presidential candidates because of potential sexism, etc., that’s when I get nervous. I don’t want a president that can’t be criticized, especially now that the executive office wields so much more power than even 40 years ago.

    • I had high hopes for Bush and supported him after 9/11. I think the criticism of Pres. Obama has been much more personal, mean-spirited, and less based on policy (such as the Iraq War) than that which Bush received. To his credit, Bush has expressed regret for some of those actions and for letting the Cheneys of the world have their way.

      In general, I think there is far too much demonization of people as individuals. Christians should have a different way of critique.

      Michelle Obama has a story, a life, just like you and me. I put up this post today not as a political endorsement but as a way of saying I appreciated her courage in publicly sharing that story and using it to encourage others.

      • Charlotte says:

        “Michelle Obama has a story, a life, just like you and me. I put up this post today not as a political endorsement but as a way of saying I appreciated her courage in publicly sharing that story….”

        Thank you! No agenda beyond simply shining a light on courage and wisdom– so refreshing!

      • Speaking as one who serves a couple of churches in a community that 50 years ago proudly posted the sign saying “N—-r be gone by sundown” I think that I can be confident in saying that so much of the criticism that I hear of the current administration is based upon an irrational racism that has only gone underground. It is a toxic environment fueled by the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity, and O’Reilly that defies common sense.

    • StuartB says:

      especially now that the executive office wields so much more power than even 40 years ago.

      Is this true? I’ve heard that meme a lot, mostly from Drudge types.

      Can anyone show me where this is true?

      • This lis primarily in the adoption of articles which grant sweeping powers to the executiv branch that essentially short circuit the balance of powers. One very good example is the Patriot Act, but even the creation of the DHS had has this effect.

        • StuartB says:

          So in this case, it’s who possesses those powers that is the real problem, not that the office possesses those powers.

          I wonder which party will be the first to disarm their office?

          • Well, from a classical liberal point of view (or libertarian) the problem is with the office having the power in the first place. This is how I lean. The powers granted the federal government over citizens is – imo – unconstitutional. Furthermore, the executive branch has been pushing even these boundaries – witness the recent ruling that the NSA’s surveillance program goes beyond the bounds of even the Patriot Act.

          • Stuart, historically citizens will tolerate the expansion of powers in the executive branch when they trust the executive in power. If it’s *your* guy who is deciding on which drone strike to do next, then maybe you’re OK with it. But the problem remains, what about the next guy who occupies the Oval office?

            I used “40 years” as an example because that about how long Nixon has been out of power. Would you like Nixon to have had the same powers possessed by our current president?
            Nixon never had legally available access to a FISA court, metadata, targeted killings (drones), etc. He did not have a Dept. of Education, nor Dept of Homeland security, nor a Dept of Energy. He did not rewrite the structure of the healthcare system. He did not use Title IX funding to compel campuses to set up extrajudicial evaluations of sexual conduct.

            You may think these are all fine things, and that’s OK. The point is, there are many many in which executive power has expanded.

          • LIBERTY: The ability to live one’s life in the manner in which they feel is most appropriate.

            Can we say that is still the case with all of the governmental interference in the lives of everyday Americans? How many executive orders, resolutions, acts of Congress, bills passed by both House and Senate, etc. have changed how we live our lives? It doesn’t matter who is in the White House, or which party controls Congress, they all have the “Do Sumpin'” disease, as if actions alone confer effectiveness. Sometimes INaction is better!

          • Robert F says:

            I wonder if the day will ever come when executive power will be expanded to include targeted assassination by drone attack against terrorist operatives within the borders of the United States. I further wonder, if that day comes, whether it will be a Democratic or Republican president who will give the order for the first such attack.

          • Robert F – fortunately, no need to worry about that at the present, because our current president won the Nobel Peace Prize, which was conferred on him for… what a minute… I’m thinking… I’m sure it will come to me…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I remember when GWB was president hearing the most irrational rage from the left, to the point of bemusement. The center-right referred to the progressive blogs as the “fever swamp”. A funny thing happened when O got elected: the left calmed down, and the right started doing the same thing.

      Obama Derangement Syndrome replaced Bush Derangement Syndrome and Birthers replaced Truthers.

      Funhouse mirror reflections of each other, like Vladimir Lenin and Ayn Rand.

  10. StuartB says:

    The Obamas have been a breath of fresh air in the White House. Policies aside, I like these people a lot. I don’t know when we will have another pair like them in the Office.

    I hope President Obama has a long career ahead of him, just like President Carter has had.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Carter has been a MUCH BETTER politician after his presidency! I mean, the guy has had an amazing post-presidency career and run!

      • StuartB says:

        The more I read about him, the more I respect him. But I can’t discuss him in polite company without those who lived during his administration tearing me a new one.

        I am starting to think he was our last Christian president. The man has much to be greatly admired and respected for. I wish we all thought fonder of him.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          I was in high school during his administration. He is a fundamentally decent human being, and this was apparent at the time. He is the only president within my lifetime that I am absolute confident goes to church even when there are no cameras around.

          As president, he was dealt a bad hand. He inherited both an economy and a military in tatters. The rebuilding of the military that Reagan gets credit for actually began under Carter. The unemployment rate was about the same when he left office as it had been when he took it (and peaked two years later, in 1983). One can speculate all day about how someone else would have done better, but he didn’t leave the place worse than it was when he got there. His predecessors had done the damage he had to live with.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I had a similar impression of Carter: Decent man, in over his head.

            Obama’s slightly different: Inexperienced, perpetual campaigner, always rising on the fast track from office to higher office; what happens when he tops out (like the White House) and can’t start running for any higher office? In over his head once he has to sit down and start making the jelly, like the Robert Redford character in that movie The Candidate — “What do I do now?”

            And I understand he took a few years to get his bearings. He seems an average president, like those of the late 19th Century; unfortunately, we’re slipping into a Crisis period in history where a president needs to be above average.

            One service he DID perform in 2008: His election blocked the Clinton Royal Family from the Ring of Power for eight years.

          • Rick Ro. says:

            My feeling was Carter’s main problem as President was his cabinet and the people he brought into office around him. Some truly clueless individuals. Carter might not have been over his head, but his hand-picked people were.

            Frankly, I think a person’s presidency is often determined by the people he’s brought in around him.

          • Rick – agreed about most of Carter’s so-called advisors. I mean, Jody Powell? Come on! (OK, so he was no G. Gordon Liddy, but he was every bit as awful, in his own way.)! (

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            My feeling was Carter’s main problem as President was his cabinet and the people he brought into office around him.

            And then you have both President Grant and President Mandella of South Africa, who both trusted the wrong people to bring into office around them — not just clueless, but outright crooks.

    • turnsalso says:

      I think I remember reading in an interview with Mrs Obama from 2012 that if he got the second term, they’d get out of politics when it ended. I’m not sure if she was serious, but I suppose it might man he’ll go back to teaching the Constitution at a university again.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Assuming the CELEBRITY limelight hasn’t taken hold of the mind of its host.
        (“THE VOICE OF A GOD! NOT OF A MAN!”)

        So many retired Presidents take the CELEBRITY lecture circuit (a lot like CELEBRITY MegaPastors) and keep themselves front-and-center. If Obama retires back to being a law professor and elder statesman, it could set a good example.

        • You mean like Willy C raking in $100K per speak the last few years?

          I think Barak believes he was elected to do great things and this belief will carry over to his post presidential career. He’ll find SOMETHING, fear not!

          • StuartB says:

            Would you rather him believe he wasn’t? That seems like a crappy mindset for anyone to have. I’m just adequate, mediocre, not here to do anything of important.

            Eff that.

  11. Rick Ro. says:

    This strikes me as a good commencement speech. Thanks for sharing it. Reading some of the criticism here makes me wonder what the purpose of a commencement speech is. Seems to me it’s to offer hope and encouragement, to send its listeners off with excitement and a “Hell, yeah!” attitude. I see both of those things in this one.

    And frankly…does anyone remember their commencement speeches a month later, a year later, five years later? Take it for what it is: a speech in a moment in time for a specific audience intended for hope and encouragement.

    • StuartB says:

      Side memory comment – I remember after 9/11 when we had that national moment of prayer on live tv. Was it Rick Warren who did it? I don’t remember. But I remember hearing my IFB high school bible teacher rant and rave after it was over for the speaker not sharing the gospel, condemning sin, and preaching Christ. Because the man had the audience, was a pastor, and had “an obligation”.

      That was one of those “huh?” moments growing up.

      The same person and the kids that liked him said the same thing about Bono at the Superbowl a few months later. IF he’s a believer, why didn’t he use the moment to deliver the gospel message? There’s nothing more important than saving souls.

      I have no answer that doesn’t involve digits moving in upwards motions.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        When all you have is an Altar Call hammer…

      • There was also the intense anger over allowing a Muslim imam to pray in the National Cathedral mmemorial service, if you recall. I lived in the area at the time, and there was a *lot* of hatred toward all Muslims and people who “looked like” they might be Mudlims (Sikh men and boys old enough to wear turbans; even Latin American immigrants who had no Arab sncestry but “looked like Muslims” to some nasty people).

        I kept waiting for there to be some horrible incident – things were that tense, and i wonder if that has ever fully disdipated. Somehow, i doubt it, but since i haven’t lived there since 2004, I’ve lost my sense of local isdues and mood.

        • StuartB says:

          I don’t think it’s dissipated at all in the Midwest.

          • that doesn’t surprise me, because it’s certainly true around here as well, in my part of the Mid-Atlantic states. but it certainly is disheartening.

      • Brianthedad says:

        In my tribe it was outrage that an LCMS pastor joined in the prayer service at all. Accusations of unionism and syncretism. How dare he share a podium with…gasp! Methodists, Catholics! All sorts of Others!

        • Brian – due to the LCMS’ rather (imo) odd beliefs re. “prayer fellowship”?

          • Brianthedad says:

            Something like that. I understand it in theory. But then I don’t,, Because in practice it makes for a sometimes unloving response.

            We’re our own branch of fundamentalist I suppose. Just one with a classical liturgy. Which ironically enough, is getting harder and harder to find.

  12. olbaldy says:

    Stuart B that community organizer job it still open.

    • StuartB says:

      No thanks, I’d rather be a leader in Obama’s Ready Reserve Corps. I hear the pay is better than the new minimum wage. Got to get that private army funded and our death panels organized.

      • turnsalso says:

        Oh, come now. We all know you can’t be in the ORRC; you’re not a Muslim and you’ve got an American birth certificate!

  13. Good speech. Inspiring, insightful, and well-tailored to the particular situation and institution and history.

    Best line: “they will make assumptions about who they think you are based on their limited notion of the world.”
    That pretty much captures the whole ethos of prejudice and discrimination.

    I think the Obamas have conducted themselves in an exemplary fashion despite incredible difficulties and pressures. And I think he’s probably the best president I’ve seen in five decades of life.

    And I think the amount and volume of anger, hatred, and even vitriol against them personally is really unprecedented, and I think some of it is driven by an undercurrent of racism that still has a stronger foothold in this nation than most would admit to.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Not only racism (which is all too easy to focus on in the circumstances) but the Grand Unified Conspiracy Theories Uber Alles and Total Us-or-Them Kill-or-be-Killed attitude that has taken over these days.

      Let the Game of Thrones begin.

  14. Thank you for posting the First Lady’s speech. I found it very moving.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Good commencement address.

      And it was at Tuskegee — that school has as rich a history as Harvard or Yale, even more so because of its start against all odds.

  15. Great speech, CM. Thanks for printing it, very inspirational.

  16. David Cornwell says:

    Michelle Obama has always conducted herself with the dignity demanded of her position. And she has managed to do this against great odds. From the very first the enemies of the Obamas were meeting and deciding on ways to destroy them utterly.

    To have come this far without publically blowing a fuse in defense of herself or her husband says a lot to me, and tells me that the words of her speech are not full of hypocrisy. She has practiced what she is preaching.

    I liked the speech and have great trouble seeing anything to criticize. But talk radio is a hateful machine spouting forth everlasting vitriol.

  17. While this isn’t the usual topic I expect when I visit IM. I enjoyed most of the comments and thoughts. You all would make a delightful political site if you ever wanted to venture down that road. ….. and thank you for not telling me who to vote for…. ever

  18. Randy Thompson says:

    If you want to get a glimpse of a Christian’s heart, listen to how they speak of President and Mrs. Obama.

  19. Stephen says:

    Think the Obamas ever get the urge to go on the tube and pump their fists, cry out

    POWER TO THE PEOPLE! KILL WHITEY!

    just to watch the heads of their right wing critics explode?

    It would be amusing but what a mess to clean up.

  20. I think the audience was well served by some well written inspiration.

    As much hate as the Obamas have received that is related to race, one can’t blame them for being cynical about it. I know I would be much more than. But I hope they don’t lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of criticism against them is not racial, but purely political. People don’t think they hate America because they’re black. People think they hate America because of decisions they continually make which hurt the country.

    With the spotlight they’re under and the constant barrage of scrutiny with commentary, I wouldn’t expect anybody to be able to differentiate these without err. But at the same time, blurring the lines can also be politically advantageous. I am not convinced that hasn’t happened, even if it didn’t here.

    The first lady probably stands a good chance at her own run. With this speech she is already outdoing Hilary at what seems to be Hilary’s current campaign strategy. Her emphasis on the importance of motherhood and commitment to nurturing both in the home and through her political platform might shore up for her far more support from conservatives than her husband was able to generate. And those would be very good qualities for a president to have. Almost makes me wish I could vote for her.

    • StuartB says:

      People don’t think they hate America because they’re black. People think they hate America because of decisions they continually make which hurt the country.

      But how many think they make these decisions that hurt the country *because* they are black?

      Probably many.

      • I doubt that. Most of these same people gladly endorse black conservatives.

        • But when in doubt, assume racist motives, right? At least so long as it’s a progressive politician.

        • I don’t think that endorsing a black conservative speaker or candidate necessarily means that the person doing so is free of racism.

          The unfortunate fact is that we all, to some degree or another, have had racism inculcated in us, and I think it’s entirely possible to have racial stereotypes/racism in one’s mind while also endorsing the views of someone whose skin is a different color. But if they want to marry into your family, or even move onto your block, well…

          • Good points, but it stands nonetheless that many of us critics don’t give a rodent’s colon about the color of his or anyone’s skin. We’ve been consistently hating liberal politics since long before a black president had anything to do with it. Insinuating that race MUST have something to do with it, especially after articulate reasons have been provided that deal objectively with matters of policy, makes the racism problem worse by turning it into a witch hunt. Which is a convenient political ploy when you want to shut somebody up. I’m sure there’s plenty of racists hating on Obama under the guise of politics, but that sword also swings two ways. Ultimately, the burden of proof is for you to prove racism. If none is being expressed, you’re exacerbating racial tensions to even bring it up.

          • I am not claiming that everyone who crticizes the pres is a racist – that would be pretty stupid at best. Disagreement does not equal racism.

            What i am saying is that there is far too much directly racial invective that has been levelled against the pres by *some* people. Unfortunately, there are many of them right here, where i live, and I’m sure that is true where you live as well.

            It would be equally likely to happen if, say, the current pres was a Latino with Native ancestry, a Native American, or an East or South Asian. Or Arab- or Iranian-American – even an Italian American whose ancesrancestors came from southern Italy.

            Our country is not color blind, any more that it is free of religious prejudices. We still haven’t had a Jewish pres, or one who professes a non-Abrahamic faith. Considering the whole imprecatory “prayer” trend that took off shortly after the 2009 inaguration, i don’t hold high hopes for goodwill for those who are in any way “different” who end up in high office, regardless of party affiliation. Some people eill inevitably find justifications for their particular hatreds. it’s one of our ugliest human traits,aand nobody is immune, me included.

  21. Michael says:

    Just an observation. The text has Michelle’s signature “I” 65 times.

    • My favorite commencement speech? Conan O’Brien to Dartmouth’s class of 2011. YouTube it.