The jab was one of the few that got any response from the audience, which was muted in comparison to Obama’s usual audience of college students in Democratic districts. Before the speech, Obama shook hands with a group of students who swarmed to him in the gym where they waited for the ceremony to begin.
But a press pool report noted that “about half the seniors, all wearing burgundy caps and gowns, remained back.”
Obama’s text included several campaign-trail slaps at Romney, who is repeatedly charged by by Obama’s campaign with laying people off and closing factories while trying to maximize profits.
“Together, the businesses that were destroyed in the tornado decided that they weren’t about to walk away from the community that made their success possible,” Obama said. “Even if it would have been easier. Even if it would have been more profitable to go somewhere else.”
Media reports have related Obama’s frequent habit of writing portions of his own speeches. This address included seven mentions of “community” and seven mentions of “together,” and ended with a martial call for unity in the face of economic adversity.
“We have tomorrow, so we march. We march together,” said the president, who began his political career as a community organizer in Chicago.
Obama’s military language echoes his 2012 State of the Union speech, when he urged American civilians to model their actions on the U.S. military.
“Those of us who have been sent here to serve [in Congress] can learn a thing or two from the service of our troops,” he declared.
“When you put on that uniform, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, Asian, Latino, Native American, conservative, liberal, rich, poor, gay, straight. … When you’re in the thick of the fight, you rise or fall as one unit, serving one nation, leaving no one behind,” he said.
However, Obama’s message to Joplin’s high school seniors did not include any of the diversity language that has become common in Obama’s speeches.
That messaging would have been inappropriate because the town, which is half-rebuilt one year after the tornado, is 97.4 percent white and 2.51 percent of Hispanic, according to federal government census data.
Obama’s speech also omitted his campaign slogan, “Forward,” which conservatives and libertarians have derided as a 1930s-era socialist slogan.
The word “forward” appeared twice in the speech, but on both occasions Obama used it to describe how Americans who have received a favor should return it, or “pay it forward.”
Obama’s call for a military-style reorganization of society is a recurrent theme of progressive politicians, dating back to Presidents Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
For example, FDR’s government tried to organize the country as it emerged from the 1929 depression by implementing the 1933 National Industrial Recovery Act. That initiative allowed government experts to tightly regulate economic activity by crafting a government seal of approval — the “Blue Eagle” — for companies that complied with the recovery act, and by creating a Civilian Conservation Corps.