President Obama does all the commencement speaker schtick, and does them well, but when he begins talking about the importance of Howard University, he's able to easily use the first person plural, It's important that we have a president who can speak to the progress our nation in the years since he graduated college.
And, yes, I love the swagger in "And, yes, it happens to be better off than when I took office. But that's different story."
"That's a different discussion. For a different speech."
The speech has a valedictory feel. And that's appropriate, as the focus is about to shift from President Obama to those who would replace him.
But for a few months, yet, we remain in good hands.
Meantime, here's some of the core of the President's speech:
The point is, you need allies in a democracy. That’s just the way it is. It can be frustrating and it can be slow. But history teaches us that the alternative to democracy is always worse. That’s not just true in this country. It’s not a black or white thing. Go to any country where the give and take of democracy has been repealed by one-party rule, and I will show you a country that does not work.Whoever wins will have, in my opinion, a pretty tough act to follow.
And democracy requires compromise, even when you are 100 percent right. This is hard to explain sometimes. You can be completely right, and you still are going to have to engage folks who disagree with you. If you think that the only way forward is to be as uncompromising as possible, you will feel good about yourself, you will enjoy a certain moral purity, but you’re not going to get what you want. And if you don’t get what you want long enough, you will eventually think the whole system is rigged. And that will lead to more cynicism, and less participation, and a downward spiral of more injustice and more anger and more despair. And that’s never been the source of our progress. That’s how we cheat ourselves of progress.
We remember Dr. King’s soaring oratory, the power of his letter from a Birmingham jail, the marches he led. But he also sat down with President Johnson in the Oval Office to try and get a Civil Rights Act and a Voting Rights Act passed. And those two seminal bills were not perfect — just like the Emancipation Proclamation was a war document as much as it was some clarion call for freedom. Those mileposts of our progress were not perfect. They did not make up for centuries of slavery or Jim Crow or eliminate racism or provide for 40 acres and a mule. But they made things better. And you know what, I will take better every time. I always tell my staff — better is good, because you consolidate your gains and then you move on to the next fight from a stronger position.