Cokie Roberts and Steven V. Roberts: Obamas speak hard truths to college grads

2013-05-28T00:00:00Z Cokie Roberts and Steven V. Roberts: Obamas speak hard truths to college grads The Billings Gazette
May 28, 2013 12:00 am

Barack Obama is a gifted storyteller, and he’s always used his own life as a text, a parable, a lesson. Often he’s told tales from his own past to transcend race, to identify with mainstream America, to claim common ground about hardships suffered and obstacles overcome.

By now we can recite many of them by heart. His single mother resorting to food stamps; his grandmother losing a promotion; his grandfather serving with Gen. Patton. Who can forget the rusty car he used to drive, or the loan payments he struggled to meet?

Michelle Obama, too, relies heavily on stories to teach lessons, and speaking to graduates of Bowie State, a historically black school, she repeated a familiar narrative: “My dad was a pump operator at the city water plant, diagnosed with MS in his early 30s. And every morning I watched him struggle to get out of bed and inch his way to his walker, and painstakingly button his uniform, but never once did I hear him complain. Not once. He just kept getting up, day after day, year after year, to do whatever he could to give our family a better shot at life.”

Invoking race

But when the president spoke recently at Morehouse College, another historically black school, he did something he seldom does. Instead of avoiding race, he invoked it. Instead of addressing all Americans, he spoke directly to African-Americans — men in particular.

‘’There are some things, as black men, we can only do for ourselves,” he said, and the word “we” was critical. I’ve been there, brother, he was telling his audience. I feel your pain and your past. Now get over it.

‘’Nobody cares how tough your upbringing was,” the president said sternly. “Nobody cares if you suffered some discrimination.” Stop whining. Start winning.

To reinforce his point, the president again invoked his own history. “We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices,” he confessed. “And I have to say, growing up I made quite a few myself. Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. I had a tendency sometimes to make excuses for me not doing the right thing. But one of the things that all of you have learned over the last four years is there’s no longer any room for excuses.”

Message isn’t ‘stale’

The reaction in some quarters of the black community was disheartening. A Washington Post headline read, “Obama message sounds a bit stale,” and the story quoted Trevor Coleman, a former Democratic speechwriter: “The first couple of times it was OK, but I and a lot of other people are beginning to grow weary of it.”

Leola Johnson, a professor of media studies at Macalester College, said the president’s words were “actually not aimed at black people.” Instead they were designed to make “white people, liberals especially,” feel comfortable with a black president.

The criticisms are both inaccurate and unfair. Just because a story is familiar doesn’t make it “stale.”

Why do we tell children Bible stories, fairy tales, Greek myths? Because they contain eternal truths. Because they cannot be repeated often enough.

Their critics actually prove the Obamas’ point. They were doing exactly what the president and his wife warned against — deflecting blame for the ills of the black community. Refusing to hear words aimed directly at them. Instead of taking responsibility, they were making excuses.

In her speech, Michelle focused on the value of staying in school: “When it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people cannot be bothered.” Please, she pleaded with the graduates, “stand up and reject the slander that says a black child with a book is trying to act white. Reject that.”

The president focused on the value of staying at home, of being a father. He spoke wistfully of his own parentage: “I sure wish I had had a father who was not only present, but involved. Didn’t know my dad.” And again he drew a lesson from personal experience: “I will tell you this: Everything else is unfulfilled if we fail at family, if we fail at that responsibility.”

These are always new and always true.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(4) Comments

  1. Veritas
    Report Abuse
    Veritas - May 30, 2013 8:13 am
    The "truth" is, this guy is a propagandist and liar to the nth degree. None better, that is truth. If our students follow his rhetoric we are in for big trouble in the future. Obuma's main goal is to destroy America, and he is doing a fairly good job of it.
  2. MTnman
    Report Abuse
    MTnman - May 29, 2013 2:03 pm
    Those believing the truth of Obama's revelations about himself, in the words of Cokie and Steven Roberts, should be warned to seek truth elsewhere as their research is deficient to the point of being nonexistent.

    It is written purely for political correctness and the multicultural effect. A short piece of fiction to wrongly glorify a failing presidency.
  3. alex
    Report Abuse
    alex - May 28, 2013 6:02 pm
    Seems to be pretty good advice to mostly colored college graduates. Essentially he is saying that they can't blame their heritage, culture, etc. because they have the great equalizer...education. He is fortunate that he can use some of the adversity in his life to let others know they can work their way out of many of the challenges they face. It doesn't sound angry at all; it is good advice to college students.
    Mitt Romney, on the other hand, would have a difficult time giving that speech. Unless, of course, he removed the silver spoon from his mouth first.
  4. newt
    Report Abuse
    newt - May 28, 2013 7:33 am
    Another example of Obamas distorted angry out look on life. People are interested in the fact that your life was challenging. People do care if you challenged adversity and came out a better person...people are interested in the fact that you met adversity and cry about it all the time and then go about the rest of your life with a chip on your shoulder. I am so fed up with this whiner and cry baby expecting other people to carry his dead beat spirit. Please people why put a man in the Presidency who focuses on how bad things are!!!

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