He could have encouraged them to pursue their personal goals for success and achievement right here in a state that desperately needs their talents. He could have inspired them to become a new generation of businessmen and women who could re-create the state's dismal economy and save its dying cities. He should have invited them to make Michigan a laboratory for new thinking and new solutions that would let them reach their individual goals. He ought to have said, "Go for your dreams and take this state with you on your ride to success."
Instead he said this: "So, class of 2010, what we should be asking is not whether we need 'big government' or a 'small government,' but how we can create a smarter and better government."
There's your answer, graduates. Go work for the government.
Mostly, Mr. Obama lectured his audience under the guise of the question: "How will you keep our democracy going?" This is a question he posed just after telling the story of Benjamin Franklin being asked, "Well, Doctor, what have we got — a republic or a monarchy?' And Franklin gave an answer that's been quoted for ages: He said, 'A republic, if you can keep it.' If you can keep it."
Even at Michigan, they know that the words "democracy" and "republic" are not interchangeable.
Other gems for the grads: Don't use words like "socialist" to describe the government's growing usurpation of personal freedom. It's uncivil to say things like that.
And participate. You don't necessarily have to run for office, but get involved. (Read: Be ready to pay hefty taxes. That's a great way to participate.)
It's no wonder the next generation seems cynical. On the day on which they might be the most able to imagine that they could reach their loftiest personal dreams and most ambitious goals, they were asked to "contribute part of your life to the life of this country."
Time for the real world, I guess.
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