President Barack Obama used a Sunday commencement speech at Ohio State University to emphasize the importance of government and collective action.
The country’s founders, he claimed, “left us the keys to a system of self-government, the tools to do big things and important things together that we could not possibly do alone — to stretch railroads and electricity and a highway system across a sprawling continent … to gradually secure our God-given rights for all of our citizens, regardless of who they are, or what they look like, or who they love.”
“We, the people, chose to do these things together — because we know this country cannot accomplish great things if we pursue nothing greater than our own individual ambition,” said Obama, who used a Boeing 747 jet to fly into Ohio, the home state of Orville and Wilbur Wright, who invented the aircraft.
Obama made a few references to the inventors, investors and company executives who grow employment, but he focused on politics and government as the engines of progress.
“We still face many important challenges,” he said. “Some will require technological breakthroughs or new policy insights. … [M]ore than anything, what we will need is political will …. because it takes dogged determination — the dogged determination of our citizens,” he said.
“I’ll ask for two things from the Class of 2013: to participate, and to persevere,” he declared in Ohio.
He called on the graduates to help government revamp education programs, to “build better roads and airports and faster Internet, and to advance the kinds of basic research and technology … to confront the threat of climate change before it’s too late … [and] to protect more of our kids from the horrors of gun violence.”
Even while urging greater political activism, Obama seemed to dismiss the political activism of people who disagree with him, including the senators who delivered a critical political defeat April 17 by voting down a bill restricting gun rights.
Some “voices [are] doing their best to gum up the works … [they] warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner,” he said.
“When we turn away and get discouraged and cynical … we end up with lobbyists who set the agenda … the well-connected who publicly demand that Washington stay out of their business — and then whisper in government’s ear for special treatment that you don’t get.”
“That’s how a small minority of lawmakers get cover to defeat something the vast majority of their constituents want,” he said.
“I think it’s fair to say our democracy isn’t working as well as we know it can [in Washington]. … I’m obsessed with this issue because that sense of citizenship is so sorely needed there,” he claimed.
Throughout his speech, Obama preached the importance of citizenship.
“Sometimes, we see [citizenship] as a virtue from another time, a distant past, one that’s slipping from a society that celebrates individual ambition above all else; a society awash in instant technology that empowers us to leverage our skills and talents like never before, but just as easily allows us to retreat from the world,” he claimed.
The family got only a few brief mentions in Obama’s speech, and only when described as a supplicant for aid from the state, or as a synonym for the state. “We sometimes forget the larger bonds we share as one American family,” he said.
Via the government, he said, the public should persevere “to give more families a fair shake, to reject a country in which only a lucky few prosper,” he said.
Without a citizenry involved in politics, he said, “we end up with lobbyists who set the agenda; and policies detached from what middle-class families face every day.”