The First Lady’s Regrets

Times are tough all over and we don’t want to hear your gripes, especially if you’re the First Lady of the United States of America. Still, Michelle Obama took the occasion of Tuskegee University’s commencement ceremony to lament that nobody knows the troubles she’s seen.
The more polite pressmen over at The Hill described the speech as “Michelle Obama speaks of emotional toll of being first black first lady,” without the usual respectful capitalization in the headline, which is no doubt some sort of racist slight, and The New York Daily News went with an even more anodyne “Michelle Obama delivers Tuskegee University commencement address,” which could easily be understood as censorship of the truth she was she speaking to power or some such racist explanation, but we’ll go right ahead and call it the whining of a spoiled brat. To say that Obama lives like a queen is a gross overstatement, given the wide disparity between what America’s ostensible republic spends on her and what any official monarchy spends on its queen, and how Obama has more ostentatiously flaunted her privilege than any uneasy head that wears a crown would ever dare, and how relatively obliging the media coverage is, so her ordeal as First Lady hardly inspires our pity.
She recalled that when her husband was winning election as President of the United States someone described their celebratory fist-pump as a “terrorist fist-jab,” that someone else accused her of “uppity-ism,” and that yet another person somewhere or another referred to her as “Obama’s baby mama,” and we don’t doubt a word of it, this being a populous country full of 320 million people who say all sorts of nasty things about one another. It seems a rather small inconvenience compared to the compensations of being First Lady, though, at least from our perspective as regular American schmucks who routinely endure worse insults despite our straight white Christian male privilege, and often from the First Lady’s husband’s administration. She generously concedes that other potential presidential wives were subjected to questions about what kind of First Lady she might be and what causes she might champion, but said that “as potentially the first African-American First Lady, I was also the focus of another set of questions and speculations; conversations rooted in the fears and misperceptions of others. Was I too loud, or too angry, or too emasculating? Or was I too soft, too much of a mom, not enough of a career woman?” All we can remember of the ’08 press was coverage of her muscled arms and middle-class upbringing and a few snide conservative press pieces about her resentful and poorly-written thesis at Princeton and her well-paid gig as a “diversity officer” at a hospital receiving even greater amounts of money from a state where her husband was a prominent Senator, but we can see how that questions about too loud and too angry were worth asking, and at this point we’re keen to know just how emasculating is enough.
The First Lady of the United States went on to empathize with her fellow African-Americans who have felt “invisible” for the past many decades, as if she hasn’t been all too visible, and shared her fears of those pesky traffic stops by police officers, as if she knows what it’s like to be even a white male driving a red convertible without a safety belt, one of those pointless violations that her party adamantly supports even though it increases the chances of a a newsworthy encounter between the police and an unarmed black male. Just like her party has supported policies that have kept black unemployment high and black household income down and effective law enforcement in black neighborhoods subdued. Obama also told her audience not to become cynical, to continue supporting the same Democratic candidates that have prevailed over the past decades in Baltimore and the rest of those of oppressed portions of America, but we hope that the graduate of such an august institution of higher learning as Tuskegee University will have some questions.

— Bud Norman

Of Angry Mobs and Freedom of Speech

There’s always a temptation to get out in front of an angry mob, and these days it is especially alluring, but the problem is that you inevitably wind up with an angry mob at your back. Angry mobs are notoriously fickle, as many on the a left have lately learned.
Consider the the case of Kristian Williams, a writer who until recently enjoyed an impeccable reputation as a brave voice in the academic wilderness for opposing rape and other forms of violence against women. We’re not sure how this entails any bravery, as the pro-rape and pro-violence-against-women lobbies do not seem to wield any formidable power in academia or any other corner of modern society, but it was nonetheless considered quite heroic by the sorts of people who take an ostentatious pride in their opposition to rape and other forms of violence against women. Williams was bold enough to write in an essay last year that there is an unfortunate tendency among the anti-rape and anti-violence-against-women preeners to insist that “the survivor, and the survivor alone, has the right to make demands, while the rest of us are duty-bound to enact sanctions without question. One obvious implication is that all allegations are treated as fact.” We read this to mean that the American criminal justice system should should allow a presumption of innocence, and that even a male should not be deprived of his life, liberty, or property without proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which does not seem to us a unreasonable position, but in this day and age a leftist must muster some genuine bravery to make such a claim. Williams recently found himself shouted down at a “Law and Disorder” symposium at Portland State University by some of that Oregon city’s famously strident hipsters.
A widely-circulated video of the fiasco is somewhat comical, as the fashionably disheveled activists with their obligatory up-turned chins chant that “We will not be silenced in the face of your violence” as a response to Williams’ entirely non-violent writings on behalf of a long-standing and quite sensible legal principle that guards against state-sanctioned violence, and Williams’ perplexed expression is by far the best part. He’s clearly threatened by the angry protestors, and understandably so given the unsettlingly contorted faces he confronts, but it’s a “Law and Disorder” symposium devoted to decrying law enforcement so he can’t call the cops to restore order. The cops eventually do arrive, although it’s unclear from the subsequent press releases who dropped the proverbial dime, but the forces of progress and liberalism do seem to have succeeded in keeping Williams from stating his heretical opinions.
A similar sort of censorship by mob has prevented a conspicuous number of graduating classes from hearing the heretical opinions of notable speakers who had been slated for commencement address. Most of the speakers were arguably from the right, and included such estimable figures as former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but some from the left were ousted because they weren’t quite from far enough to the left. Robert J. Birgeneau was a chancellor of the University of California-Berkely, which ordinarily would be sufficient far-left credentials to ensure entry to anywhere in Academia, but he was prevented from speaking to the graduating class of Haverford College. Despite his otherwise meticulous adherence to the prevailing proprieties of liberalism he had called the cops to evict some squatting Occupy Wall Street protestors from campus facilities a few years earlier, and that was enough to render him unfit to still-innocent minds of the school’s graduates. There’s no comic video to record the moment, but we can imagine the look on his face when he found himself cast into the same purgatory of persona non gratis as Condoleeza Rice.
The well-paid folks at America’s universities are quick to defend academic freedom whenever taxpayers or students’ parents wonder why they’re paying to have their children indoctrinated in the latest liberal fads, but Princeton’s Professor Robert P. George is the latest to discover that freedom extends only so far to the right. George is a longtime advocate of same-sex marriage and pretty much the rest of the homosexual community’s demands, but he’s lately been barraged by criticism for his suggestion that other people might have a right to disagree with him. With everyone from Internet engineers to chicken sandwich peddlers to Home and Garden Television reality show stars under attack from the forces of tolerance, he should have seen it coming.
Despite our begrudging admiration for the actual bravery it took Williams, Birgineau, and George to utter their mild heresies, we can’t shake a nagging suspicions that they’d previously cheered on the similar angry mobs that seek to silence dissent from the right. Aside from the stigma that a still-dominant mass media can impose on a society that isn’t paying much attention, the Internal Revenue Service has bee deployed to harass Tea Party groups and the Department of Justice has declared troublesome investigative reporting a a criminal conspiracy and contributors to the wrong causes have wound up being investigated by any number of regulatory agencies, all of which have been excused by the censorious mobs on the left. For now they’re confident that they’re leading the mob, and until the mob turns fickle they’ll probably enjoy the parade.
Those very rich folks with the fashionable complaints about income inequality should keep this in mind, and remember the headless fate of Robespierre during the Reign of Terror that so many leftists want to revive, but the hard-right folks wanting to purse the conservative ranks of the near-right should also pay heed. We’re all heretics on something or another, and should agree that the banishment of heretics from the public square is a bad idea.

— Bud Norman

A Tough Crowd at West Point

President Barack Obama is fond of giving speeches at colleges, where he can still rouse some of the old rock star enthusiasm among the empty-headed multi-cultural studies kids who haven’t yet returned to their parents’ basements and started paying off their student loan debts with their tips from the artisanal sandwich shop, but for some reason the military academies have always proved a tough crowd. Wednesday’s commencement speech at West Point, which was much ballyhooed as a major foreign policy address, is the latest example.
The sympathetic reporters at CNN described the response from the graduating cadets as “pretty icy,” while the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail generously upgraded that to “tepid,” but we would dispense with the meteorological metaphors all together and say the infrequent and scattered applause was perfunctory or grudgingly polite. According to CNN this was because the speech was “philosophical,” rather than the obscenity-laced sort of battle cry that George C. Scott delivered at the start of “Patton,” we presume, and aside from the stony silence the network didn’t find much fault with the oration. We suspect the reaction had more to do with the absolute balderdash that the speech contained, and that those rigorous engineering courses required at the academy have somehow enabled the graduates to think clearly through the speech’s frightening implications.
In keeping with commencement speech custom, Obama began with a jocular reference to the campus sporting teams, an apparent reference to his “Choom Gang” days as an addled schoolboy, and the obligatory flattering of the graduates. He then flattered himself with a suspiciously rosy assessment of the world today, including a “growing economy that can provide opportunity for everyone who’s willing to work hard and take responsibility here at home,” a decreasing dependence on foreign energy, freedom being championed in public squares around the world, and unrivaled American military supremacy. The record number of people who have given up looking for work, the president’s blocking of oil pipelines and closing of federal lands from drilling and efforts to regulate the tracking revolution that have made us more energy independent, the routine crushing of those who speak for freedom in an increasingly chaotic and less democratic world, and the president’s proposal to reduce America’s military spending to a level less than the annual debt payments all went unmentioned but apparently not unnoticed by the icy audience.
From that point the president started talking tough, bravely battling the usual straw men opposing his policies. There are those who would ignore the rest of the world and those who would launch constant wars against it, the president helpfully explained, but in his wisdom he has found a third option. America will continue to lead and enforce international order, he assured the graduates, but he established some rather strict criteria for when it would use military force to do. The country will still respond to a direct attack against the homeland or the country’s “core interests,” although it is not reassuring that a president feels obliged to offer such assurances, but the president seemed to imply that anything less will be death with by strongly worded statements and hashtags and “multi-lateral actions.” As proof of the wisdom of this approach the president cited Iran’s nuclear endlessly ongoing negotiations over its still-chugging nuclear weapons programs, aid to the Syrian rebels who are being thoroughly routed by the red-line-crossing regime, the sparsely attended recent election in chaotic and menaced Ukraine, and of course the negotiations over those still-kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls that the president mentioned several times, so it’s hard to imagine this getting much applause even from the multi-cultural studies students at the average university.
The scariest part was when the president warned that “We can’t try to resolve problems in the South China Sea when we have refused to make sure that the Law of the Sea Convention is ratified by the United States Senate…” It’s scary that the president makes mention of the Law of the Sea Convention, which has been a pipe of the dream of the globalist left ever since they started negotiating the thing back in the early ’70s, and has been a dead issue in American politics ever since President Ronald Reagan showed what real foreign policy leadership is by nixing it in ’82. The president says that all of his military advisors believe it will make the country safer, apparently because they’d rather enforce an international border that insists on limits that China and all the other potential major military adversaries dispute, but he also says that every economists agree that bringing another 10 million or unskilled non-English-speaking immigrants into the country will revive the economy. Scarier yet is that the president has announced to China that he’s unable to resist its increasingly belligerent claims on its neighbors territory until the little-known yet widely hated treaty that has been dead since the ’70s is ratified. He might as well announce that we’re unable to help any kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls or other female victims of Islamic radicalism until the Era Rights Amendment is passed.
We don’t wonder why the newly commissioned officers of West Point were so unenthusiastic toward the speech, but of course they weren’t the intended audience. More important to the president were those increasingly anxious supporters who still bother to listen to his speeches, and with a few remnants of the old Bush-era anti-war movement protesting outside the campus with papier mache drones he was anxious to reassure them that although he has to pander to the blood-lusting general public he’s not going all neo-con on them. The tough talk was also intended for the potential adversaries who might be calculating that now’s the time to make that long-desired land grab or smash that long-troublesome foe, but they probably understood the speech as well as those West Point graduates seem to have done. Nervous allies in Kiev, on the bombed-out battlefields of Syria, in the Israeli and Saudi bureaus that are following the Iranian nuclear program, and all over the South China Sea probably offered even less applause.

— Bud Norman

Pomp, Circumstance, and Tyranny

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