President Barack Obama’s high school commencement speech in the tornado-stricken town of Joplin, Mo., pushed a sharply ideological message and included partisan jabs and a call for military-style community action during crises.
“You are from America. No matter how tough times get, you will be tougher,” he told the students and parents May 22. “The road has been hard. The day has been long. But we have tomorrow, so we march. We march together,” he said on the first anniversary of the deadly tornado strike.
The military imagery was entwined with stump-speech language that repeatedly contrasted the president’s progressive ideology of organized acton against what he caricatured as the spiteful and selfish alternative of individualism.
“As you begin the next stage in your journey, you will encounter greed and selfishness; ignorance and cruelty. … You will meet people who try to build themselves up by tearing others down; who believe looking after others is only for suckers,” he said.
“My deepest hope for all of you … [is that] you can serve as a reminder that we’re not meant to walk this road alone; that we’re not expected to face down adversity by ourselves,” he told his audience. “We’re stronger together than we are on our own.”
The “stronger together” phrase is the main slogan used by Obama’s campaign to rally young and first-time voters.
The speech came the same day that Obama declared Gov. Mitt Romney’s work at Bain Capital, not his own record in office, would be the central issue of the 2012 campaign. “This is not a distraction. This is what this campaign is going to be about,” he said during a Chicago press conference. (RELATED: Obama top $1 billion in career political contributions)
Romney’s “main calling card for why he should be president is his business experience… [but] when you’re president, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, then your job is not simply to maximize profits,” he said during the press conference, while caricaturing Romney’s work as merely profit-making, rather than investing or reforming companies.
In Joplin, Obama repeatedly pushed his progressive ideology as the cure to the economic crisis of his presidency’s first three and one-half years.
The Missouri town’s “stronger together” spirit, Obama said, “is the same spirit we need right now to help rebuild America. … America only succeeds where we all pitch in and pull together — and I’m counting on you to be leaders in that effort.”
The president did not try to explain why the town’s inhabitants wanted to cooperate, or why they trusted each other to cooperate, and he did not suggest that self-interest played a role in the rebuilding. He did, however, deviate from his prepared text to mention God, saying “We need God, we need each other. We’re important to each other, and we’re stronger together than we are on our own.”
Obama also departed from his planned remarks to reprise his campaign-trail claim that an obstinate Congress is opposing his pragmatic political measures.
“Together, you decided that this city wasn’t about to spend the next year arguing over every detail of the recovery effort,” he said “At the very first town meeting, every citizen was handed a Post-It note, and asked to write down their goals and their hopes for Joplin’s future.”
He then added that he was “thinking about trying this with Congress — give them some Post-It notes.”