Opinion: Obama shares strong message

May 24, 2013


President Obama gave two commencement addresses in one to graduates of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga., last weekend. It would be easy for this conservative to critique the political and social elements of his speech. Instead, I choose to focus on the inspirational part.

The president struck the right note at the historically all-male college. African-American men in America need more role models and encouragement to counter the reality, reinforced by much of the media, of too much failure, crime, imprisonment, too many out-of-wedlock births, a disproportionate abortion rate and other social maladies affecting many in the black community.

The president underscored values any conservative could embrace when he spoke of the college’s objective of producing “good men, strong men, upright men” who will “better themselves so they could help others do the same.” He added, “In troubled neighborhoods all across this country — many of them heavily African American — too few of our citizens have role models to guide them.” They do, but too often they are the wrong role models.

Only an African-American man could say what the president said to these young African-American men. In this, he repeated what comedian Bill Cosby has been saying for years about personal responsibility and accountability, while taking heat from some in the black community. The president challenged the graduates to think beyond what their degree could do for them: “...it betrays a poverty of ambition if all you think about is what goods you can buy instead of what good you can do.”

Given the size of government and especially welfare programs, the president’s statement “nobody is going to give you anything that you have not earned” rings a little hollow, but the ideal he stressed is worthy of praise.

The president spoke of previous generations who overcame hardships worse than theirs: “And if they overcame them, you can overcome them, too.”

In the most poignant moment in the speech, the president said he wished he “had had a father who was not only present, but involved.” In too many African-American homes, there is neither. He said because he didn’t know his father he has tried to be a good husband and father to his wife and daughters. “I want to break that cycle where a father is not at home — where a father is not helping to raise that son or daughter. I want to be a better father, a better husband, a better man.” As a husband and father he is an excellent role model.

This is the message that needs to be delivered not only in the African-American community, but in all communities. Inspiration, followed by motivation, followed by perspiration can improve any life, while entitlement, envy and greed can only diminish it.

The president asked — no, he commanded — the Morehouse graduates to “be a good role model, set a good example for that young brother coming up. If you know somebody who’s not on point, go back and bring that brother along — those who’ve been left behind, who haven’t had the same opportunities we have. ... You’ve got to be engaged on the barbershops, on the basketball court, at church, spend time and energy to give people opportunities and a chance. Pull them up, expose them, support their dreams. Don’t put them down.”

Beyond the rhetoric, the president acts as if these ideals can best be advanced by government, but even he seemed to acknowledge there is something more powerful than what happens in Washington. It is what happens inside an individual.

The values the president stressed are, or once were considered to be, American values. They are needed most, not only where people live in poverty, but among those who suffer from a poverty of spirit.

— Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.


weiser 4 years, 12 months ago

They need more Kids in order to get more of our tax money. I know this first-hand and I don't see it ever changing.

Smarmy_Schoolmarm 4 years, 12 months ago

Did you read the article or the text of the speech? I didn't think so. Have you read anything since 1950? I didn't think so.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 12 months ago

"Inspiration, followed by motivation, followed by perspiration can improve any life, while entitlement, envy and greed can only diminish it."

This is just a thinly veiled strawman argument. Its implication is that anyone who disagrees with the oligarchic agenda of Cal and the Republican party is lazy and shiftless, greedy and envious, and merely looking to collect one of those "entitlements" that are destroying the fabric of the pious and moral JohnWayne way of American Life.

Here's a commentary on the lazy and dishonest use of the word "entitlement" so common among folks like Cal.


verity 4 years, 12 months ago

Thanks for the link, Bozo. Great article. Entitlement isn't the only word that has been used to dissemble and fool people---in other words, push emotional buttons to get people worked up about things that aren't true. Lots of slippery, slidey words out there.

msezdsit 4 years, 12 months ago

Ironic that cal would use the word "greed" to describe people when "greed" has become the number one enemy of this country among people who have plenty but are willing to stoop to any means to get even more. Greed has become the single biggest enemy of a our society and it ain't the straw man that cal is conjuring up that is greedy.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 12 months ago

Interesting that Bozo admonishes us to not over generalize, assuming that every poor person receiving an entitlement is lazy and/or shiftless, yet the very next comment by msezdsit then goes on to over generalize, assuming that those with wealth are greedy.

The problem is that you're both correct and you're both wrong. There are some wealthy who are greedy who could care less about the poor. And there are some wealthy who do care. There are some poor who are lazy and shiftless. There are some poor who are working very hard to better their lot in life.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 12 months ago

I made no comment about "all wealthy people." My comment was about the dishonest and lazy commentary of Cal and way too many of his ideological brethren, and that this has sadly become almost the entire ideological and policy basis for the Republican Party these days. And ever since Clinton and the DLC, even the Democratic Party has adopted much of this dishonest line of thinking.

msezdsit 4 years, 12 months ago

My comment is directed at those who are greedy and can act on it, not those who aren't. For example, the banking meltdown was largely driven by greed. You might remember how much of a problem that created. You see greed being justified and misdefined as capitalism. It is just the free market and private sector taking its natural course. Survival of the fittest when it is really survival of the greediest. Corporate well fare is driven largely by greed. Off shore bank accounts to name another. Being greedy and acting on it are two different things and Acting on it creates the threat to our society.

weeslicket 4 years, 12 months ago

quote in the article from president obama: “I want to break that cycle where a father is not at home — where a father is not helping to raise that son or daughter. I want to be a better father, a better husband, a better man.”

cal's response to quote: As a husband and father he is an excellent role model.

pretty sneaky cal. pretty sneaky.

Sunny Parker 4 years, 12 months ago

He should have told them "Good luck finding a decent paying job in this economy that I have created'!

Maddy Griffin 4 years, 12 months ago

Except he didn't. The economy was a mess when he took office.We've actually been gaining jobs since his first year in office. Despite what Faux Noise tells you, fverything is NOT his fault.

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