In his New York Times column today Bill Kristol takes a look at Barack Obama’s May 25 Wesleyan University commencement address. Kristol observes, as did Bill Katz in “Pay no attention to the facts,” that Obama omitted military service from the theme of service to which the address was devoted. Kristol concludes that the omission was deliberate. He does not speculate, however, on the reason for it. He comments that Obama “felt no need” to discuss or honor military service as a form of public service.
I think there are two principal reasons for Obama’s omission of military service from the commencement address. First, in the guise of praising public service, Obama sings a song of himself. His work as a “community organizer” in Chicago is more praiseworthy, in Obama’s eyes, than work for profit-making companies in the private sector. It would truly be a public service for commencement speakers and others to challenge this reigning cliche of elite opinion. Consider, for example, Thomas Sowell:
Every year about this time, big-government liberals stand up in front of college commencement crowds across the country and urge the graduates to do the noblest thing possible — become big-government liberals.
That isn’t how they phrase it, of course. Commencement speakers express great reverence for “public service,” as distinguished from narrow private “greed.” There is usually not the slightest sign of embarrassment at this self-serving celebration of the kinds of careers they have chosen — over and above the careers of others who merely provide us with the food we eat, the homes we live in, the clothes we wear and the medical care that saves our health and our lives.
What I would like to see is someone with the guts to tell those students: Do you want to be of some use and service to your fellow human beings? Then let your fellow human beings tell you what they want — not with words, but by putting their money where their mouth is.
You want to see more people have better housing? Build it! Become a builder or developer– if you can stand the sneers and disdain of your classmates and professors who regard the very words as repulsive.
Would you like to see more things become more affordable to more people? Then figure out more efficient ways of getting thousands of things from the producers to the consumers at a lower cost. That’s what a man named Richard Sears did a century ago. In the process he rose from near poverty to become one of the richest men around.
The only form of production that Obama supports is the production of big-government liberals. He regularly demonstrates that he has no idea how wealth is produced. With the exception of his best-selling books, he has devoted his life to consuming it, not producing it.
Second, Obama’s opponent for the presidency personally exemplifies the virtues of military service and martial sacrifice. As a form of service requiring the literal commitment of one’s life, military service justifiably overshadows the work of a “community organizer” in the esteem of ordinary citizens. It does not serve Obama’s interest to glorify it, except as necessary for rhetorical purposes or ceremonial occasions.
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