The last time we were asked to address a commencement ceremony was way back in ’77, when our high school graduating class bestowed the honor. All we can remember of the speech are the jokes, the most obvious of which went over well enough, but we’re quite sure that even at such a tender age we weren’t so very stupid as to tell people not to fear tyranny.
That was the advice President Barack Obama offered to the graduates of Ohio State University on Sunday. After warming up the crowd with a few jokes of his own, mostly about football and other topics of local interest, Obama eased into his theme of citizenship. Much of it was typical commencement address fare, full of highfalutin and inoffensively vague statements about participating and persevering and so forth, and much of it was a typical Obama stump speech, extolling the many wonders of big government and such rhetorical flourishes as the Founders leaving us “the tools to do big things and important things together that we could not possibly do alone.” What caught our attention, however, was the typical swipe at the president’s critics.
“Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works,” Obama said. “They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave and creative and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.”
The president did not name these critics, although his audience was surely curious to know. Despite a steady diet of talk radio, conservative news outlets, and the company of fellow right-wingers, we can’t think of anyone who argues that democracy should be replaced and rule entrusted to some enlightened elite. We used to hear such talk often from our liberal friends, but that was back when a Republican was in the White House and we suspect those are not the people Obama was talking about.
There are plenty of people who argue that the government is becoming increasingly separated from the people, that it is sometimes sinister and at the root of many problems, and they make a strong case for gumming up the works, but we have never heard them say that the people can’t be trusted. We believe that certain individual rights should be constitutionally protected from the proper will, so perhaps the president meant us, but the Founders also gave us that tool and we expect that even Obama will be eager to use it when the topics of homosexual rights and abortion come back around.
If tyranny isn’t lurking around the corner, it is only because this country has traditionally been on guard against it. Immutable human nature compels those in power in to seek more power, and only the resistance of a stubbornly independent people can’t prevent them from doing so. Obama has not proved an exception to this rule of history, and it is hoped that even a stadium full of college-educated twenty-somethings will be wary.
– Bud Norman