In a speech that launched Memorial Day weekend, President Barack Obama’s commencement address to the U.S. Naval Academy on Friday was largely politicized and failed to recognize or honor truly the U.S. Navy’s purpose.
Obama used his time at the podium at one of the most prestigious military institutions in the nation to deny culpability for automatic cuts in defense spending, and went on to promise to “keep fighting to end those foolish across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequester”—an idea originated by his own administration.
In paying homage to big government, the president noted the financial system’s crisis, stating that “we’ve also seen how the misdeeds of some — wild risk-taking or putting profits before people — sparked a financial crisis and deepened the recession that cost millions of Americans their jobs”—a remark straight from the campaign trail.
The president also blamed Republicans in all but name for Washington’s present ills, lamenting a political environment “where compromise is rejected as a dirty word, and policies are driven by special interests rather than the national interest…that breeds a cynicism that threatens our democracy.”
In a curious nod to the many scandals that have embroiled the beltway, Obama vaguely denied any responsibility, saying “as we’ve seen again in recent days, it only takes the misconduct of a few to further erode the people’s trust in their government … that’s unacceptable to me, and I know it’s unacceptable to you.”
The president also neglected to speak on the actual purpose of the Naval Academy. Instead, he referenced the trials the graduating midshipmen have undergone and future struggles.
“When your service is complete, many of you will go on to help lead your communities, America’s companies, you will lead this country,” the president said. “And if we want to restore the trust that the American people deserve to have in their institutions, all of us have to do our part.”
Obama also appeared uncomfortable telling his audience what they will actually do between the end of their academy years and the end of their service.
At times he came close, as when he asserted “we need you to project power across the oceans, from the Pacific to the Persian Gulf —100 percent on watch,” but this mission comprised only one in a series that included partnering with other navies and helping out in disasters.
What’s more, his approximation of the Navy’s role resorted to mere uncertainty: “And just as classes before you could not know that they would find themselves at Coral Sea or Midway or Fallujah or Helmand, we cannot know sitting here today where your service will carry you.”
While true, Obama sidestepped highlighting the primary mission of the Navy, which is to serve America’s offensive and defensive needs, even—especially—when that involves conflict. Obama’s opportunity to focus on the Navy’s immense historical, cultural and practical significance was lost to politicking and blame games.
He even took this celebratory moment to chide the grads about sexual assault scandals that have plagued the military recently, saying “those who commit sexual assault are not only committing a crime, they threaten the trust and discipline that makes our military strong. …That’s why we have to be determined to stop these crimes, because they’ve got no place in the greatest military on Earth.”
The best of Obama’s speech, unsurprisingly, was the homage he paid to the grads.
“In your four years by the Bay, you’ve met every test before you,” Obama said. “And today is the day that you’ve been counting down to for so long. You will take your oath. Those boards and gold bars will be placed on your shoulders.”
“I say all this because you’re about to assume the burden of leadership. As officers, you will be trusted with the most awesome of responsibilities — the lives of the men and women under your command.”
Fix contributor Jack Butler is a student at Hillsdale College.
IMAGE: Screenshot/ YouTube via the White House