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Obama Tells Unemployed Youth to ‘Persevere’

With the battle lines of the 2012 Presidential race beginning to form–from Bain Capital to the War on Women–President Obama took time last week to give the commencement address at Barnard College, the private women’s liberal arts college whose brother-school, Columbia, is Obama’s alma mater.

The speech was delivered well: the President worked the crowd, hit his punchlines, and delivered his sobering anecdotes. While battered from a turmoil-ridden first term in office, Obama nevertheless displayed a familiar, yet highly concerning, charisma for the onset of his re-election efforts.

He began by reminding the recent graduates that he too faced a hard economy leaving college. As a member of the class of 1983, the President told students he shared “a lot in common with all of you.”

However, the attempt here to present a relatable, shared struggle stumbled upon the reality of two very different recessions. Barack Obama entered an economy shaped by the Reagan recovery. In 1983 the nation was adding roughly 400,000 jobs per month, GDP was growing around seven-percent, and the unemployment rate was steadily declining.

As a careful omission, the President chose not to tell the young women of Barnard they were not as fortunate: The labor market is relatively stagnant. Fewer jobs are being added despite tremendous population growth. And the economy is much more difficult for Americans under twenty-five.

Mr. Obama suggested that perhaps our problem is simply one of perception. He blamed the news media. As he reminded students, “good news doesn’t get the same kind of ratings as bad news anymore.” We shouldn’t worry because there’s a tremendous amount of good news happening–it just cannot be seen and is not being reported, according to the president.

This sort of finger pointing is not uncharacteristic for Obama, who always seems ready to construct a culprit other than himself, be it a Republican Congress, the Supreme Court, Wall Street, Super-PACs, and even now, with an equal amount of irony and desperation, the mainstream media.

Beyond the finger pointing in the President’s address, two larger themes stood out that could be defining elements of his re-election narrative: perseverance and progress.

As his last piece of advice, Obama implored the graduates to “persevere.” Despite the numerous hardships down the road, determination is almost a sufficient quality in itself for success. Speaking to a generation now unemployed and burdened with a multi-trillion dollar generational debt–largely due to the man they put in office–the message of hope is hard to sell.

Instead, the President focused on perseverance–a shared struggle that our generation will endure side by side a President who is “right there with you.” And to his credit, there is a degree of brilliance to this strategy. Cloaked in empathetic anecdotes and an admirable personal story, the President has redefined his failings as virtuous opportunities. His economy is our defining struggle–yet, miraculously, he is the shepherd, not the villain.

With the economy in tatters, Obama’s message has gone from Hope and Change to Grin and Bear It in the course of four short years.

Additionally, in his speech the President disclosed a very revealing premise: “The question is not whether things get better… they always do,” he said. Progress–loosely defined as the addition of laws, rights, entitlements and the like–is inevitable. Call it moving forward or evolving or some other formulation, but change, almost by itself, is some sort of social good.

And here, the President touched on the core–the intellectual, social and political culmination–of the 2012 race: What is our metric for progress? In Obama’s address, he painted an America striving for greater equality, social justice, populated by individuals that could materially flourish once the government provided “fair” opportunity.

But contrast this with Mitt Romney’s commencement address at Liberty University, given only a few days earlier. Romney played down worldly ambitions. He urged students not to rush forward, but to look back–to search for guidance in the ancestral, fundamental, unchanging, grounded truths of the West’s religious tradition. In Governor Romney’s address, he painted an America that places its trust and hope in “God, not man.”

The coming election need not be about religion in the public square, or which candidate can more aptly quote bible verses. But, in addition to the economy or whatever hot-button issues drive the news cycle, it will be about our nation’s sense of purpose. How should we measure our society? Will America be a nation defined by liberty and opportunity, or by heavy-handed, debt-saddled, government-engineered “progress”?

These questions will have very real repercussions come November. And within that setting, the President’s Barnard address revealed at a profound difference between his vision for America and that of his Republican rival.

Fix Contributor Harry Graver is a student at Yale University.

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Add to the Discussion

  • Davis

    Finger pointing…now that is something Obama knows very well.

    Solving problems…that is an entirely different matter (and Obama sucks at it).

  • INTJ

    Boil it down to two refrains from Animal Farm:

    “I will work harder.”

    “Comrade [Obama] is always right.”

  • ray

    Why am I reminded of the movie scene with the Old Indian and Josie Wells?
    He told us, “endeavor to persevere.” We thought about it, and after we had thought about it, we declared war.

  • booboo

    Yea, get out there and work the hell out of the part time McDonalds job. Obama is pulling for you, so vote for him. {sarcasm}

  • James J

    I can just here Chief Dan George saying “Endever to persever”.

    What a clown.

  • ConfoundedSociety

    Lone Watie: We thought about it for a long time, “Endeavor to persevere.” And when we had thought about it long enough, we declared war on the Union.

  • tom59

    Persevere……How about SCREW YOU!

  • Ira Dernotsei


    Wow, this is so 1977 De Ja Vu, Jimmy Carter telling the people to put on their sweaters because we were almost “out of oil”. Didn’t believe him then, don’t buy a word of what Obama says now. Narcissist Charlatans that blame everyone else for the pain and suffering they directly cause!

  • DaPower

    Funny that he says good news just doesn’t get reported as much as bad news…when the media is doing WHATEVER it can to report ANY shred of good news for Obama, even promoting a fact deficient (that’s lying to you and me) study that spending is down under Obama, then NOT reporting the Labor Departments upwards reassessment of unemployment numbers, and the 70+ Catholic dioceses and institutions suing the DOH.

    But then…whoever said when he spoke the truth came out?!

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  • Freebird

    I really hope you guys can spread your blog throughout the country and grow the college audience.
    How about leaving free copies of “Ameritopia” around hallways on campus ?

    Are you plastering the CP USAs goals on walls everywhere to educate people as to the true nature of the anti West Progressives ?
    Are you pointing out that Individual Responsibility is the cornerstone of any functional society ?
    Showing “Animal Farm” and distributing “Anthem” ??

    Getting $ contributions from small businesses ?

    Because we desperately need more factual information spread on campuses. I know, I’ve been there.
    Good luck.

  • Very nice analysis, although I think you might invest a bit more depth to the themes in the President’s speech than is really there. There is, of course, one purpose behind every one of his speeches: reelection. Other than that, his speeches usually contain a random assortment of catch phrases selected to gain some applause.

    For a real understanding of the Obama campaign and it’s underlying themes, I recommend this thoughtful article (satire) which explores the selection of the President’s new campaign slogan: FORWARD. In this inside look at the slogan selection process, as much is revealed by the slogans which did not make the final cut, as in the ultimate theme upon which the campaign now rests.

    Here is that great article, which, coincidentally, was published by the Pundit Pete Press Service.

  • WakeUpAmerica

    The students should ‘persevere’ until Nov. 6, 2012 and celebrate on Jan.21, 2013 when he and his family get kicked to the curb and back to the southside of Chicago so he again can cry ‘RACISM’ to try and get his way! God bless America and all the people in it, except for the ILLEGAL ALIENS and their ilk! NOBAMA 2012! – hope and change I can start to believe in again!

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