Much attention has been paid to President Obama’s remarks — within his Commencement Address at Rutgers University yesterday — aimed at the Republican frontrunner (it’s still so hard to say or fathom) for the presidential election. But very little has been written about his addressing the state of free expression on college campuses. And this is worth highlighting. Though I’m a big Obama fan, this is one of the areas where I’ve been disappointed and concerned about the net effects of his administration. But I’m pleased to hear him speak out in the way he does here. He could certainly have avoided the topic had he chose, but I think the fact that he has addressed this on more than one high-profile occasion now in recent months demonstrates his awareness of the problem. More in future posts. (Emphasis in the following quotation is mine.)
“And if participation means voting, and it means compromise, and organizing, and advocacy, it also means listening to those who don’t agree with you. I know a couple of years ago some folks on this campus got upset that Condoleezza Rice was supposed to speak at a commencement. Now, I don’t think it’s a secret that I disagree with many of the foreign policies of Dr. Rice and the previous administration. But the notion that this community or the country would be better served by not hearing from a former Secretary of State or shutting out what she had to say, I believe that’s misguided. I don’t think that’s how democracy works best, when we’re not even willing to listen to each other. I believe that’s misguided.
“If you disagree with somebody, bring them in and ask them tough questions. Hold their feet to the fire, make them defend their positions. If somebody’s got a bad or offensive idea, prove it wrong. Engage it, debate it, stand up for what you believe in. Don’t be scared to take somebody on. Don’t feel like you got to shut your ears off because you’re too fragile and somebody might offend your sensibilities. Go at ’em if they’re not making any sense. Use your logic and reason and words, and by doing so you’ll strengthen your own position. And you’ll hone your arguments and maybe you’ll learn something and realize you don’t know everything. And you may have a new understanding, not only about what your opponents believe but maybe what you believe. Either way you win. And more importantly our democracy wins.“