Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Commencement Addresses

So my question yesterday was to see if I could discern any over-arching themes, pertaining to the campaign, from Obama's and Romney's commencement addresses.  I can't compare and contrast them; frankly, Obama's speech mannerisms set my teeth on edge and that also happens when I read his speech.  I was trying for a neutral reading of each, to see if I can tell where each one is going with a campaign theme.

Romney's speech was given at Liberty University.  With a crowd of 35,000 or so, this was likely the biggest speech he has until the convention.  Romney focused on faith in this speech.  As a matter of fact, the point of his speech seemed to be, "I may be a different faith than you, but we have much in common.  Let me show you."  The speech was full of references to many Christian thinkers, from C.S. Lewis to Martin Luther King, Jr., and Chuck Colson.

I believe Romney's goal with this address was to make evangelical Christians comfortable with him.  They aren't going to vote for Obama, but they might decide to stay home.  Romney is after their enthusiastic support.  I think his speech went a long way in achieving that.  Frankly, I found it to be uplifting and hopeful.

Obama's speech was at Barnard College, a women's college in New York City.  I think he had much less of a "selling" job to do than Romney--after all, he is the President, and this is a very liberal campus.  It seems to me that Obama went to a women's college to reinforce his support among this group, shoring up part of his base.  In that way, his speech could be seen as a defensive move.  Obama spent a fair amount of the speech praising the women in his life.  (His comment about Michelle seemed a little vacuous:  "You can be stylish and powerful, too.  That's Michelle's advice.")  There was a surprising amount of "we" in his speech, "we are better off if we invest..." or "we are better off if women are treated fairly and equally..."

The word I take away from his speech is "defiance," though.  As a matter of fact, he even refers to the national spirit as "defiant, can-do," but never uses the words liberty or freedom.  There was an attitude of expecting to encounter bad, and to change it.  It wasn't an encouraging speech, although it was definitely full of lines that pandered to his audience of women.  For example, he had throw-away lines (that he himself acknowledged as throw-away): "And I'm convinced your generation possesses that will (to bring about needed changes).  And I believe that the women of this generation--that all of you will help lead the way." He encourages his audience, "Fight for your seat at the table.  Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table."  Writing that, I am reminded of McCain's "Fight with me. Fight with me. Fight with me." speech.

This was a less hopeful speech, I thought.  More pressing, more suspect of an unjust world.  Obama referred numerous times to injustices in the world, to looking for wrongs that need to be righted.  While that is fine for a commencement address, it was the tone that seemed pessimistic, or maybe just tired.  Maybe this is hope and change four years later.

A key line from Romney:  "The call to service is one of the fundamental elements of our national character.  It has motivated every great movement of conscience that this hopeful, fair-minded country of ours has ever seen."

And from Obama:  "And if you are ready to fight for that brilliant, radically simple idea of America that no matter who you are or what you look like, no matter who you love or what God you worship, you can still pursue your own happiness, I will join you every step of the way."

Incidentally, I just noticed that Dan Henninger of the Wall Street Journal has written about this exact topic, published an hour ago.  I haven't read it yet, but it is here if you would like to.

Tomorrow's question:  I'm drawing a blank.  I'm sure something will pop up!  Come back tomorrow to be surprised right along with me.  Maybe the Greek banking crisis...

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