President Obama wants you to know you aren’t responsible for your actions, and your choices in life aren’t nearly as important as luck. If that sounds stupid, it’s only because it is. Yet that was the message the president told graduating students at Howard University last Saturday, and few things could be more damaging.
The president’s commencement address, widely praised by liberals, was riddled with typically divisive progressive messages and an unfortunate amount of absolution of personal responsibility.
“We can't walk by a homeless man without asking why a society as wealthy as ours allows that state of affairs to occur,” the president said. “We can't just lock up a low-level dealer without asking why this boy, barely out of childhood, felt he had no other options.”
This is the point in the speech where he starts to go off the rails. I understand when the first black president addresses a historically black college’s graduating class that he might carry a message not meant for me, as unproductive as I may think it is. But what he’s doing starting at this point is laying the groundwork for avoiding personal responsibility.
As for that homeless man the president spoke of, not many people are homeless after playing by the rules, working hard and staying within the law. People like that who find themselves in dire straits tend to have friends or family members willing to take them in.
No, the homeless people who are not mentally ill tend to be addicts – drugs or alcohol – or ex-cons who’ve burned all their bridges. Those are the results of choices, freely made. No one shot them up against their will till they were addicted. No one poured alcohol down their throats. No one forced them into crime. Society didn’t “have it out for them” at all. They chose a different path, and their choices had consequences.
The next line, “We can't just lock up a low-level dealer without asking why this boy, barely out of childhood, felt he had no other options,” is easy – bad parenting and progressive politicians who’ve told that kid his whole life the system is “rigged” against him.
How does it help to tell people the system is rigged against them? What will they do when it’s not the system against them but the normal adversity that arrives whenever people work hard for something important? Will they stay the course and try to overcome? Or will they fall on the excuse they’ve been given? Bad choices become easier in this situation, but they’re still bad choices.
“We have cousins and uncles and brothers and sisters who we remember were just as smart and just as talented as we were, but somehow got ground down by structures that are unfair and unjust,” the president continued.
Again, Obama is acting like the Pope here absolving people of the choices they made and the consequences of those choices. Those people, were “ground down” by racism, he says. Here’s a tip: If your life sucks, 99.99 times out of 100 it’s your fault. Society isn’t “unfair and unjust;” it doesn’t know or care you exist.
Next came the crux of the horrible message the president was selling. “And that means we have to not only question the world as it is, and stand up for those African Americans who haven't been so lucky -- because, yes, you've worked hard, but you've also been lucky. That's a pet peeve of mine: People who have been successful and don't realize they've been lucky. That God may have blessed them; it wasn't nothing you did. So don't have an attitude.”
No, Mr. President, it was something they did. These kids who worked their asses off to earn their degrees did, in fact, “build that.” Luck had nothing to do with it; choices did.
They chose to work hard in high school to get into a good college. They chose to resist the temptations available to everyone. They chose to set a goal and accomplish it.
Perhaps the president believes luck is the overriding factor in life because he’s been so lucky. Without seeing his sealed school records, it’s unclear how a member of the Choom Gang who dabbled in cocaine in high school got into (let alone paid for) some of the nation’s most prestigious universities, so maybe he was lucky. But luck, for most people, is a reflection of how hard they work.
It’s luck when you win money in a casino; it’s not luck when a series of good choices culminate in their intended end. To insult graduates with a “if the coin had come up tails, you’d be in prison or on the streets” mentality misses the point of effort and cheapens earning.
That’s the president’s real goal. He and his fellow progressives want people to view effort as a sucker’s bet and the concept of earning something worthy of contempt. Society used to admire those who sacrificed, risked and achieved; now they’re the object of scorn.
The truth is, however your life is right now, was in the past, and will be in the future is a direct result of the choices you make. Barring catastrophe, no one choice will make or break you, which is why it’s important to make the best one possible when presented to you. Luck matters in coin tosses, not life.
You will not find successful people claiming luck as the key to their achievements unless they’re attempting to be humble. You will find losers blaming a lack of luck for their shortcomings and accusing the successful of being lucky because the concept of hard work and smart choices paying off is resented. But their dislike of reality makes it no less so.
The president did the students of Howard a major disservice, the same disservice he and his political fellow travelers have done to millions of Americans over generations. In absolving them of personal responsibility he’s discouraging them from trying, from striving to achieve.
In that sense, when the most powerful man in the world is telling you the system is rigged against you, he might be right.