Thursday, May 31, 2012


From Think Progress, here's a suggestion by Mitt Romney that the Constitution be amended to require that future presidents all have at least three years of business experience, a rule that would have excluded Dwight D. Eisenhower and John McCain, among others, from eligibility.

The last president we had with an MBA as well as a considerable business background was George W. Bush. Funny how Romney does not mention how well that worked out.

 It's also funny that in this video Romney mentions a constitutional requirement having to do with the birthplace of the president. The Constitution contains no such provision, requiring only that the president be a "natural born citizen" of the United States. Did Romney forget that his own father, who ran for president in 1968, and who considered himself constitutionally qualified for that office, was born in Mexico? George Romney nevertheless regarded himself as a natural born U.S. citizen.

UPDATE: Timothy Egan in the New York Times explains in more detail why requiring that the president have a business background is a terrible idea.

Romney as Governor

Speaking of negativity, here's a video about Mitt Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts:

And a quote from that master wordsmith George W. Bush that seems relevant:

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Below, a video of John Heilemann talking about his article in New York magazine predicting that the Obama campaign plans an all-out brawl with Mitt Romney, who just clinched the GOP nomination this week. The brawl has already started, as anyone watching the news can tell. Is that the end of positive messages from the Obama campaign, as Heilemann asserts? Does that mean the end of hope and change?

I think this is a false choice. There is no inconsistency between exposing Romney's record and the false premises of Romney's campaign, and President Obama's promise that his campaign is still about hope and change. What's wrong with telling the truth about Mitt Romney? Why shouldn't the Obama campaign fight back against unfair attacks? And why can't Obama still present a hopeful message regarding the administration's own plans? That is no more inconsistent than the administration's policies of attacking terrorists without mercy, while simultaneously trying to lift the prospects of American workers. Can the campaign attack its adversaries while it simultaneously presents a positive vision of a second term? Yes we can!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Since the Obama campaign unveiled their new slogan "Forward" about a month ago, I've been wondering what will happen to "hope and change," a slogan in which I have come to feel I have a proprietary interest. I was reassured when the president spoke in Columbus a couple of weeks ago, giving a ringing endorsement to the continued relevance of the 2008 slogans. President Obama told that audience that if people ask what the campaign is about, they should respond that "it's still about hope. It's still about change." That seemed to put some life back into the theme of my website, but I still have to wonder. It can't just be about hope and change anymore, when we are talking about re-electing the current administration. It also has to be about continuity.

I've decided to embrace the new slogan as well as the old. What I like about "Forward" is that it conveys in a very simple and direct way one of the most important ideas about presidential power. What the president does primarily is set the direction of the nation. The policy details are important too, but they are subject to a messy process that involves Congress and a lot of other players, and all of us can quibble about the details. In fact, we love to quibble about the details, but we don't want to be quibbling during the campaign. The only thing we get to decide during a presidential campaign is the general direction we want to go. President Obama is going to take us forward. Under President Obama, we are going to implement health care reform and financial reform. We are going to continue to push for an important role for the federal government in rebuilding infrastructure and improving education, and we're going to keep modernizing the economy and building on a record of success in putting people back to work. We're going to try to reduce inequality and give everyone a fair shot. The other side is quite explicitly promising to take us backward. They want to dismantle everything that has been accomplished in the past four years. They want to de-regulate. They want government to abdicate responsibility. They want to do more to help the rich and less to help the poor. The choice is stark. The new slogan helps clarify the choice.

In embracing the new slogan, I decided today that I should try to own it as well, in the same sense that I own "hope and change." I don't own the idea, of course, or the trademark, but I do own one version of the domain name, which I feel proud and lucky to own. With "forward," I was not quite so lucky. I found out that "" is already owned by the Jewish Daily Forward, a distinguished, longstanding socialist-leaning newspaper. (That feeds into the idea that the opposition has already tried to promote, that "forward" is some kind of Communist slogan. Does that mean that if Communists promoted the ideas of peace and prosperity, we should be against those things too? Ridiculous. I would advise people to stop worrying about the Communist connection.) I also found that "" is unavailable, as well as all the other popular extensions. So I chose "" which has the added benefit of including yet another one of the Obama campaign's slogans. (, by the way, is owned by Ken Ward for President, a candidate who has not received a lot of attention from the mainstream media. I wonder if the Obama campaign was aware that Ken Ward was also using the "forward" slogan.)

I will never abandon "hope and change," but for ten bucks a year on blogger, I now have a second outlet to support the Obama campaign. I haven't decided yet how to use the new site. Maybe I will cross-post a lot of stuff from this site. Or maybe I will just collect pictures and other references to the theme of "forward." But it's now up and running, so check it out. FORWARD.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


A very personal speech by the vice-president at the opening session of the National Military Survivor Seminar:

Romney's Heresy

In an interview with Time's Mark Halperin, Mitt Romney has essentially admitted that the entire Republican attack on President Obama's economic policies is based on a false premise. The Republican orthodoxy argues as follows: Obama's policies have caused a dramatic expansion of the deficit; the deficit is the primary cause of the country's economic problems; and the only way to fix the economy is to reduce federal spending as quickly as possible to eliminate the deficit as quickly as possible. (The Obama rebuttal to this false series of assumptions, and probably the mainstream economic position would be as follows: most of the dramatic increase in the deficit was built in by the time Obama came into office, but the deficit was not the primary cause of the economic crash, anyway. We need to increase the deficit in the short term to stimulate the company, but we recognize that the deficit is a long term problem, and it should be reduced over the long term by a combination of tax increases and spending cuts.)

Here's what Romney said in the Time interview, in response to being asked why not reduce the deficit even more quickly than is proposed in Romney's plan:

 Well because, if you take a trillion dollars for instance, out of the first year of the federal budget, that would shrink GDP over 5%.  That is by definition throwing us into recession or depression.  So I’m not going to do that, of course.  What you do is you make adjustments on a basis that show, in the first year, actions that over time get you to a balanced budget.  So I’m not saying I’m going to come up with ideas five or ten years from now that get us to a balanced budget.  Instead I’m going to take action immediately by eliminating programs like Obamacare, which become more and more expensive down the road – by eliminating them, we get to a balanced budget.  And I’d do it in a way that does not have a huge reduction in the first year, but instead has an increasing reduction as time goes on, and given the growth of the economy, you don’t have a reduction in the overall scale of the GDP.  I don’t want to have us go into a recession in order to balance the budget.  I’d like to have us have high rates of growth at the same time we bring down federal spending, on, if you will, a ramp that’s affordable, but that does not cause us to enter into a economic decline.

How refreshing to hear some truth from challenger Romney. "Of course" nobody would be foolish enough to reduce federal spending by as much as Tea Party people are advocating, because that would throw the country into a recession. Instead we have to work on ideas that will reduce the deficit over time. Which is exactly what the Obama administration has been proposing. Mitt Romney's team might have somewhat different ideas about how to do that, but both agree that we have to tolerate large deficits in the short run to keep the economy growing. They must agree on that, because it is only common sense and common knowledge. Romney apparently forgot for an unguarded moment, that this truth is denied by most of his supporters, and that he has run his campaign thus far in denial of this fundamental truth. It's time to explain to your supporters, Mr. Romney, that the nonsense that you've been spouting in your stump speeches, trying to hold the president responsible for the entire increase in the federal deficit, and pretending that you would not have allowed that to happen, is just that: nonsense.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Into the fray

The Obama campaign has already started taking the gloves off for the fall campaign, and the forces of decorum in the media seem a little taken aback. The New York Times, for example, published a story today remarking on how President Obama has tossed aside convention by getting directly involved in attacks on his opponent, instead of leaving such base politicking to his vice-president or campaign spokesmen as previous incumbent presidents have done. He even refers to his opponent by name. (The horror!)

Of course you would think that only those with the president's best interests at heart (staunch supporters like myself) would question the wisdom of the president getting off his "presidential" pedestal and into the mud with his opponent, if there were reason to think that such a strategy would "diminish" the office, or make the president look like just another challenger. But that is not what is happening. Rather the article itself makes clear exactly who is planting the idea that it is somehow undignified for the president to be slugging it out with his opponent. (In May! He's not even waiting until the summer!) Here is what the Times article reveals:

But some veterans of past campaigns, particularly Republicans, questioned whether it would take some of the sheen off Mr. Obama’s stature as president. Rather than appearing above the fray, Mr. Obama may look like just another officeseeker.
Note how it is particularly Republicans who question the president's strategy, and then the article goes on to quote an adviser to George W. Bush during his 2004 campaign against Senator Kerry. That tells me all I need to know. Republicans are worrying about whether President Obama is taking the sheen off his stature? Not very likely. They would be only too happy if Obama were de-sheening his stature. The only reason Republican strategists would complain about President Obama's strategy is if they are worried that it is working. They would much prefer to have Mitt Romney sling mud and lies at President Obama week after week, while President Obama ignores those attacks because he has to preserve the dignity of his office, instead of calling them what they are. Their hand-wringing must be meant to sow the seeds of doubt among Obama supporters. (Oh woe is us! Is our guy in danger of seeming less presidential? What do we do now?)

So let us just say, thanks for all your advice, Republican strategists. Obama supporters should not pay them much heed. Let's just enjoy watching President Obama do what he does best, continuing to hit the Romney campaign fairly and squarely with everything we've got. I trust the campaign to know what is working.


Here's the president yesterday, back where it all began:

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fact-checking Mitt Romney

Team Romney has apparently put out a new campaign ad, and the Obama campaign is already all over it.

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“Another Mitt Romney ad – and yet more empty promises. Contrary the claims made in his latest ad, on Day One, Mitt Romney would blow a hole in the deficit with $5 trillion worth of budget-busting tax cuts weighted towards millionaires and billionaires. And we know Mitt Romney can’t be trusted to stand up to China because in 2010 he criticized President Obama for acting to protect the American tire industry, calling it 'decidedly bad for the nation and our workers.’ If Mitt Romney had had his way, more than one thousand American workers’ jobs would have been on the chopping block. President Obama has proposed a balanced plan to reduce the deficit by more than $4 trillion, taken unprecedented action to protect American products and workers from unfair Chinese trade practices, and initiated an overhaul of the regulatory system that cuts red tape and will save businesses $10 billion over the next five years. We can’t afford to go back to the same policies that crashed our economy and devastated the middle class in the first place – America can’t afford Romney Economics.”—Lis Smith, campaign spokeswoman

What's wrong with the news?

Another study came out testing Americans' knowledge of some basic questions about foreign and domestic policy. The thrust of the study seemed to be comparing how well people did based on which news source they relied on most heavily. Predictably, people who relied on Fox "News" for news did the worst on the test. But people who relied primarily on NPR didn't do that much better. Actually, they did about twice as well, but that only meant NPR listeners averaged about 2 out of 4 questions right, instead of 1 out of 4 questions on each section.

Here are the foreign policy questions:

1. To the best of your knowledge, have the opposition groups protesting in Egypt been successful in removing Hosni Mubarak?

2. How about the opposition groups in Syria? Have they been successful in removing Bashar al-Assad?

3. Some countries in Europe are deeply in debt, and have had to be bailed out by other countries. To the best of your knowledge, which country has had to spend the most money to bail out European countries?

 4. There have been increasing talks about economic sanctions against Iran. What are these sanctions supposed to do?

Most people in this study (63%) got 2 or fewer of these questions right. (About 23% got zero correct, and only 18% nailed them all.) I'm thinking the real story should have been about Americans' minimal state of knowledge of the world in general, regardless of where they get their information from. How is it that people can watch dozens of stories about Egypt, or about the European debt crisis, and they don't know who is winning and who is losing? Maybe it's because the news somehow glosses over that kind of basic information. Even the story about this study might be a good example of news that fails to truly inform us, as the only information most people are likely to get out of the story is a dig at Fox News. If they like Fox News, they'll probably think the study was biased, and if they don't like Fox News, they'll probably just feel superior. But those who watch MSNBC shouldn't be feeling too smug, because those people did almost as badly on the test.

The question we should be asking is why the news media in general are failing to impart basic information to people. Maybe that's not they're job, and it's the public's fault that we are so complacent in our ignorance. After all, information is available if you take the trouble to search for it. Or maybe the news assumes too much. Maybe they're afraid to remind the public of how little we know, and how much we need to learn, because reminding us of our ignorance would make us uncomfortable. The media instead play on peoples' desires to have their previous biases confirmed. Instead of doing that, perhaps the news media, say when they are presenting a story about Egypt, should show us where Egypt is on the map, and tell us who is running the place, before describing what happened today in Egypt. Otherwise, all viewers are seeing are pictures of protest and turmoil, and they don't even know who is up or down. We should recognize we need more help, as Sarah Palin did when the McCain campaign called in two foreign policy experts to brief her, as shown in the movie Game Change. They found out they had to start with the basics, like explaining which countries were on which side in World War II.

By the way, the answers to the above questions are (1) yes, (2) no, (3) Germany, and (4) any mention of nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction got you a correct answer.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Air Force Academy

Remarks by the President at the Air Force Academy Commencement

Air Force Academy
Colorado Springs, Colorado
10:29 A.M. MDT
THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)  Please be seated.  Good morning, everybody!  It is wonderful to be at the United States Air Force Academy on such a spectacular day.  And it is a privilege to join you in honoring the Class of 2012.  (Applause.)  
I want to thank Secretary Donley for his introduction, but more importantly, for his leadership.  Generals Gould, Clark and Born; academy faculty and staff; Governor Hickenlooper; members of Congress; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen. 
I especially want to acknowledge a graduate of this academy who has kept our Air Force strong through a time of great challenge, a leader I’ve relied on and for whom today is his final commencement as chief of staff -- General Norton Schwartz. Norty, Suzie, we could not be prouder of you and we are grateful for 39 years of extraordinary service to our nation.  (Applause.)
And although he is not with us today, I’m proud to have nominated another Academy graduate, General Mark Welsh, as the next chief of staff.  (Applause.)  
This is my second visit to the Academy.  I was here in the summer of 2008, and you were getting ready to head out to Jacks Valley.  So I was proud to be here when you began this journey, and I thought I’d come back and help you celebrate at the end.  (Laughter.)    
It’s great to be back at a school that has produced so many of the airmen I’ve known as President.  Every day, I rely on outstanding Academy graduates who serve at the White House.  Some of you know that photo from the Situation Room on the day we delivered justice to bin Laden -- you can see right next to me a great leader of our Special Operations forces, General Brad Webb.
Last month, I was able to present the Commander-in-Chief Trophy to Coach Calhoun and the Fighting Falcons -- (applause) -- for the second straight year, a record 18th time.  And of course, every time I step on Air Force One, I count on Academy graduates like my pilot today -- Colonel Scott Turner.  Now, I was going to tell you a joke about Scott, but he’s my ride home.  (Laughter.) So I'm going to have to keep it to myself.
Cadets, you distinguished yourselves as leaders before you ever stepped foot on the Terrazzo.  And when you arrived, I know your upper classmen gave you quite a welcome.  They let you experience the joy of the Beast.  The pleasure of Recognition.  They made you experts on filling out forms.  I only ask that you resist the temptation to rate my speech -- "fast-neat-average-friendly-good-good."  (Laughter and applause.)  
But you survived.  In you we see the values of integrity and service and excellence that will define your lives.  And I know you couldn’t have made it without the love and support of your moms and dads and brothers and sisters and grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, cousins.  So give them all a big round of applause.  (Applause.) 
This Academy is one of the most demanding academic institutions in America.  And you have excelled.  I’m told you have set at least three Academy records:  The largest number of graduates ever to go directly on to graduate school; the largest number of female graduates in Academy history -- (applause.)  You will follow in the footsteps of General Janet Wolfenbarger, who I was proud to nominate as the first female four-star general in Air Force history.  (Applause.)  
And of course, your final and perhaps most impressive distinction -- breaking the world's record for the largest game of dodgeball -- (applause) -- 3,000 participants, 30 hours.  I didn't know that was possible.  (Laughter.)  Of course, you are also the class that snuck into the Superintendent’s office and moved all the furniture into your dorm rooms -- (laughter) -- which does bring me to some important business.  In keeping with longstanding tradition, I hereby grant amnesty to all cadets serving restrictions and confinements for minor offenses.  (Applause.)  Of course, I leave it up to General Gould to define "minor."  (Laughter.) 
Cadets, this is the day you finally become officers in the finest Air Force in the world.  (Applause.)  Like generations before you, you'll be charged with the responsibility of leading those under your command.  Like classes over the past 10 years, you graduate in a time of war and you may find yourselves in harm’s way.  But you will also face a new test, and that’s what I want to talk to you about today.
Four years ago, you arrived here at a time of extraordinary challenge for our nation.  Our forces were engaged in two wars.  Al Qaeda, which had attacked us on 9/11, was entrenched in their safe havens.  Many of our alliances were strained and our standing in the world had suffered.  Our economy was in the worst recession since the Great Depression.  Around the world and here at home, there were those that questioned whether the United States still had the capacity for global leadership.
Today, you step forward into a different world.  You are the first class in nine years that will graduate into a world where there are no Americans fighting in Iraq.  (Applause.)  For the first time in your lives -- and thanks to Air Force personnel who did their part -- Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat to our country.  (Applause.)  We’ve put al Qaeda on the path to defeat. And you are the first graduates since 9/11 who can clearly see how we’ll end the war in Afghanistan.
So what does all this mean?  When you came here four years ago, there were some 180,000 American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We’ve now cut that number by more than half.  And as more Afghans step up, more of our troops will come home -— while achieving the objective that led us to war in the first place and that is defeating al Qaeda and denying them safe haven. So we aren’t just ending these wars, we are doing so in a way that makes us safer and stronger.
Today we pay tribute to all our extraordinary men and women in uniform for their bravery, for their dedication.  Those who gave their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan to make this progress possible -— including 16 graduates of this Academy -- we honor them.  We will always honor them.
For a decade, we have labored under the dark cloud of war.  And now, we can see a light -- the light of a new day on the horizon.  So the end of these wars will shape your service and it will make our military stronger.  Ten years of continuous military operations have stretched our forces and strained their families.  Going forward, you’ll face fewer deployments.  You’ll have more time to train and stay ready.  That means you’ll be better prepared for the full range of missions you face.
And ending these wars will also ensure that the burden of our security no longer falls so heavily on the shoulders of our men and women in uniform.  As good as you are, you can’t be expected to do it alone.  There are many sources of American power -— diplomatic, economic and the power of our ideals.  And we’ve got to use them all.  And the good news is, today we are. 
Around the world, the United States is leading once more.  From Europe to Asia, our alliances are stronger than ever.  Our ties with the Americas are deeper.  We’re setting the agenda in the region that will shape our long-term security and prosperity like no other -- the Asia Pacific.
We’re leading on global security -- reducing our nuclear arsenal with Russia, even as we maintain a strong nuclear deterrent; mobilizing dozens of nations to secure nuclear materials so they never fall into the hands of terrorists; rallying the world to put the strongest sanctions ever on Iran and North Korea, which cannot be allowed to threaten the world with nuclear weapons.
We are leading economically -- forging trade pacts to create new markets for our goods; boosting our exports, stamped with three proud words -- Made in America.  (Applause.)  We’re expanding exchanges and collaborations in areas that people often admire most about America -- our innovation, our science, our technology.
We’re leading on behalf of human dignity and on behalf of freedom -- standing with the people of the Middle East and North Africa as they seek their rights; preventing a massacre in Libya with an international mission in which the United States -- and our Air Force -- led from the front.  (Applause.)  We’re leading global efforts against hunger and disease.  And we’ve shown our compassion, as so many airmen did in delivering relief to our neighbors in Haiti when they were in need and to our Japanese allies after the earthquake and tsunami.
Because of this progress, around the world there is a new feeling about America.  I see it everywhere I go, from London and Prague, to Tokyo and Seoul, to Rio and Jakarta.  There’s a new confidence in our leadership.  And when people around the world are asked, which country do you most admire, one nation comes out on top -- the United States of America.  (Applause.)
Of course, the world stage is not a popularity contest.  As a nation, we have vital interests, and we will do what is necessary always to defend this country we love -- even if it’s unpopular.  But make no mistake, how we’re viewed in the world has consequences -- for our national security and for your lives. 
See, when other countries and people see us as partners, they’re more willing to work with us.  It’s why more countries joined us in Afghanistan and Libya.  It’s why nations like Australia are welcoming our forces who stand side by side with allies and partners in the South Pacific.  It’s why Uganda and its African neighbors have welcomed our trainers to help defeat a brutal army that slaughters its citizens.
I think of the Japanese man in the disaster zone who, upon seeing our airmen delivering relief, said, "I never imagined they could help us so much."  I think of the Libyans who protected our airman when he ejected over their town, because they knew America was there to protect them.  And in a region where we've seen burning of American flags, I think of all the Libyans who were waving American flags.
Today, we can say with confidence and pride the United States is stronger and safer and more respected in the world, because even as we’ve done the work of ending these wars, we’ve laid the foundation for a new era of American leadership.  And now, cadets, we have to build it.  We have to build on it.  You have to build on it. 
Let’s start by putting aside the tired notion that says our influence has waned or that America is in decline.  We’ve heard that talk before.  During the Great Depression, when millions were unemployed and some believed that other economic models offered a better way, there were those who predicted the end of American capitalism.  Guess what, they were wrong.  We fought our way back.  We created the largest middle class in history and the most prosperous economy the world has ever known. 
After Pearl Harbor some said, the United States has been reduced to a third-rate power.  Well, we rallied.  We flew over The Hump and took island after island.  We stormed the beaches and liberated nations.  And we emerged from that war as the strongest power on the face of the Earth.
After Vietnam and the energy crisis of the 1970s, some said America had passed its high point.  But the very next decade, because of our fidelity to the values we stand for, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down and liberty prevailed over the tyranny of the Cold War.  (Applause.)
As recently as the 1980s with the rise of Japan and the Asian tigers, there were those who said we had lost our economic edge.  But we retooled.  We invested in new technologies.  We launched an Information Revolution that changed the world.
After all this, you would think folks understand a basic truth -- never bet against the United States of America.  (Applause.)  And one of the reasons is that the United States has been, and will always be, the one indispensable nation in world affairs.  It's one of the many examples of why America is exceptional.  It’s why I firmly believe that if we rise to this moment in history, if we meet our responsibilities, then -- just like the 20th century -- the 21st century will be another great American Century.  That’s the future I see.  That’s the future you can build.  (Applause.)   
I see an American Century because we have the resilience to make it through these tough economic times.  We're going to put America back to work by investing in the things that keep us competitive -- education and high-tech manufacturing, science and innovation.  We'll pay down our deficits, reform our tax code and keep reducing our dependence on foreign oil.  We need to get on with nation-building here at home.  And I know we can, because we’re still the largest, most dynamic, most innovative economy in the world.  And no matter what challenges we may face, we wouldn’t trade places with any other nation on Earth. 
I see an American Century because you are part of the finest, most capable military the world has ever known.  No other nation even comes close.  Yes, as today’s wars end, our military -- and our Air Force -- will be leaner.  But as Commander-in-Chief, I will not allow us to make the mistakes of the past.  We still face very serious threats.  As we’ve seen in recent weeks, with al Qaeda in Yemen, there are still terrorists who seek to kill our citizens.  So we need you to be ready for the full range of threats.  From the conventional to the unconventional, from nations seeking weapons of mass destruction to the cell of terrorists planning the next attack, from the old danger of piracy to the new threat of cyber, we must be vigilant.
And so, guided by our new defense strategy, we’ll keep our military -- and our Air Force -- fast and flexible and versatile. We will maintain our military superiority in all areas -- air, land, sea, space and cyber.  And we will keep faith with our forces and our military families. 
And as our newest veterans rejoin civilian life, we will never stop working to give them the benefits and opportunities that they have earned -- because our veterans have the skills to help us rebuild America, and we have to serve them as well as they have served us.  (Applause.) 
I see an American Century because we have the strongest alliances of any nation.  From Europe to Asia, our alliances are the foundation of global security.  In Libya, all 28 NATO allies played a role and we were joined by partners in the air from Sweden to the Gulf states.  In Afghanistan, we’re in a coalition of 50 allies and partners.  Today, Air Force personnel are serving in 135 nations -- partnering, training, building their capacity.  This is how peace and security will be upheld in the 21st century -- more nations bearing the costs and responsibilities of leadership.  And that’s good for America.  It’s good for the world.  And we’re at the hub of it, making it happen.
I see an American Century because no other nation seeks the role that we play in global affairs, and no other nation can play the role that we play in global affairs.  That includes shaping the global institutions of the 20th century to meet the challenges of the 21st.  As President, I’ve made it clear the United States does not fear the rise of peaceful, responsible emerging powers -- we welcome them.  Because when more nations step up and contribute to peace and security, that doesn’t undermine American power, it enhances it. 
And when other people in other countries see that we’re rooting for their success, it builds trust and partnerships that can advance our interests for generations.  It makes it easier to meet common challenges, from preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to combating climate change.  And so we seek an international order where the rights and responsibilities of all nations and peoples are upheld, and where counties thrive by meeting their obligations and they face consequences when they don’t.
I see an American Century because more and more people are reaching toward the freedoms and values that we share.  No other nation has sacrificed more -- in treasure, in the lives of our sons and daughters -- so that these freedoms could take root and flourish around the world.  And no other nation has made the advancement of human rights and dignity so central to its foreign policy.  And that’s because it’s central to who we are, as Americans.  It’s also in our self-interest, because democracies become our closest allies and partners.
Sure, there will always be some governments that try to resist the tide of democracy, who claim theirs is a better way.  But around the world, people know the difference between us.  We welcome freedom —- to speak, to assemble, to worship, to choose your leaders.  They don’t.  We welcome the chance to compete for jobs and markets freely and fairly.  They don’t.  When fundamental human rights are threatened around the world, we stand up and speak out.  And they don’t.
We know that the sovereignty of nations cannot strangle the liberty of individuals.  And so we stand with the student in the street who demands a life of dignity and opportunity.  We stand with women everywhere who deserve the same rights as men.  We stand with the activists unbowed in their prison cells, and the leaders in parliament who’s moving her country towards democracy. We stand with the dissident who seeks the freedom to say what he pleases, and the entrepreneur who wants to start a business without paying a bribe, and all those who strive for justice and dignity.  For they know, as we do, that history is on the side of freedom.
And finally, I see an American Century because of the character of our country -- the spirit that has always made us exceptional.  That simple yet revolutionary idea -- there at our founding and in our hearts ever since -- that we have it in our power to make the world anew, to make the future what we will.  It is that fundamental faith -- that American optimism -- which says no challenge is too great, no mission is too hard.  It’s the spirit that guides your class:  "Never falter, never fail."  (Applause.)
That is the essence of America, and there’s nothing else like it anywhere in the world.  It’s what’s inspired the oppressed in every corner of the world to demand the same freedoms for themselves.  It’s what’s inspired generations to come to our shores, renewing us with their energy and their hopes.  And that includes a fellow cadet, a cadet graduating today, who grew up in Venezuela, got on a plane with a one-way ticket to America, and today is closer to his dream of becoming an Air Force pilot -- Edward Camacho.  (Applause.)  Edward said what we all know to be true:  "I'm convinced that America is the land of opportunity." 
You’re right, Edward.  That is who we are.  That’s the America we love.  Always young, always looking ahead to that light of a new day on the horizon.  And, cadets, as I look into your eyes -- as you join that Long Blue Line -- I know you will carry us even farther, and even higher.  And with your proud service, I'm absolutely confident that the United States of America will meet the tests of our time.  We will remain the land of opportunity.  And we will stay strong as the greatest force for freedom and human dignity that the world has ever known.  
May God bless you.  May God bless the Class of 2012.  And may God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)
10:56 A.M. MDT

Monday, May 21, 2012



David Axelrod explained on CNN yesterday (talking about the campaign's video on GST Steel), why this sort of thing is fair and highly relevant:

UPDATE: President Obama gave an even clearer explanation today of why Governor Romney's experience at Bain is relevant to the campaign and puts the governor on notice that "this is what the campaign is going to be about." After all, Governor Romney is the one who argues that his Bain experience equips him to be president, so it's only fair to talk about Bain. And even if we allow that Romney did a good job for himself and investors at Bain, what Romney doesn't seem to realize that the president's job "is not simply to maximize profits." His job is to move the country forward in a way that allows everyone to succeed, not just some.

I can't improve on the president's explanation of the themes of the campaign, but maybe it would be helpful to the discussion to introduce the concept of negative externalities that I vaguely remember from various economics classes. The idea is that business activity, such as the smells and noises from a factory, can impose costs on the community. Those costs are an externality if the business has no incentive or legal obligation to pay for them. If the owners of a business decide to reduce wages, or fire employees, or even shut the whole factory down, to maximize their own return, that imposes similar kinds of costs on the community in the form of say, reduced business at local stores and restaurants. Or the costs of unemployment insurance or food stamps for employees who are not able to find new jobs right away. Or abandoned homes. Now if you're supposed to be looking out for the whole community, as opposed to worrying only about the interests of the business's owners, you have to address all those costs. You could make business pay for the costs they impose on the community, or you could make the community pay to clean up those externalities, or you could just tell the community to suck it up. But you have to address those costs somehow.

If Mitt Romney wants to deflect attention away from his record at Bain Capital, he could make something like the following speech:
I'm proud of my record at Bain Capital, but I understand that in the job I'm seeking, I would have much broader responsibilities. In addition to creating a profitable environment for businesses, I also have to worry about how to pay for the pollution they might cause. And how to deal with the costs of layoffs and shut-downs. And how to pay for the transportation networks that businesses require, and the health care and education of potential employees, so that companies can find productive workers in this country. So I have a plan to address all of those issues.
Romney is saying the opposite of that. He wants to make it easier for business to avoid the negative consequences of their actions. He is proposing that we reduce regulation of pollution and reduce regulation of dangerous financial practices. He makes fun of government investment in infrastructure. He wants to cut back drastically the social safety net. That means that when businesses take actions to reduce their costs, they are able to shift all the negative consequences, such as the cost of higher unemployment, to the rest of us. Mitt Romney proposes to do even less than we are doing now to ameliorate those consequences. That means he has not fundamentally changed his mindset from that of the Bain partners whose concerns were limited to increasing profits in the short term, and who did not have to worry about any broader social issues, including unemployment, pollution, health care, pensions, education, or infrastructure. Therefore Mitt Romney has no grounds for complaining when people bring up his record at Bain. Because he is the one still saying that his record is directly transferable to how he plans to run the government.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Hope and Change in Afghanistan

I heard an amazing interview on the The World radio program the other day, with a young American Army commander, Captain Michael Kolton,  who decided to reach out and forge a relationship with one of the Taliban commanders that his unit was fighting in Afghanistan. (transcript here)
Captain Kolton made a deal with his Taliban counterpart, a man known as Massoud. Kolton told Massoud that as long as he called every week, the Americans would not hunt him down. Massoud made sure to call every week, and the two men continued to meet and get to know each other. Pretty soon, Massoud was giving Kolton the best intelligence he had ever received, and both found they had more to talk about than they realized.

What common interests could these two enemies, who were both there for the purpose of killing each other, possibly have? And how would these talks serve the Americans' mission, which was to defeat the Taliban forces?

For one thing, both found that they had some common enemies. The Americans were after some rival insurgent leaders in the area, and Massoud was only too happy to help the enemy of his other enemies track those rivals down. More importantly, both discovered that they identified themselves in a similar way. Both men were in the area to hunt and kill others for a cause. Different causes, to be sure, but the realization that both defined their mission in a similar way helped both discover their common humanity (or perhaps their common lack of humanity).

Kolton began to ask himself, is this man truly evil, or is he fighting for something he believes in, just as I am. Those questions allowed him to feel a certain empathy toward his enemy, instead of viewing him only as the other, as something to be destroyed.

These opposing forces probably have a number of other goals in common. Both may seek an end to conflict. Both may seek political power. And both can probably help the other achieve at least some of those goals by continuing the dialogue. It turns out that the Taliban fighters that the Americans made contact with are now receiving stipends and vocational training from the Afghan government. They do not pose the same threat they once did. Kolton thereby proved the truth of Abraham Lincoln's saying that the best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.

This certainly seems like a new way of fighting, especially as an initiative from an American soldier instead of the usual way that diplomatic efforts come about. We give medals for heroism in war, usually for uncommon bravery in risking one's life to help others in the unit. Perhaps we should also consider medals for peacemaking, to reward initiatives that help the army achieve its goals without needless loss of life.  As Captain Kolton says in this interview, "the new definition of courage is risking yourself to protect innocent people and reconcile fighters. That new definition of courage is slowly changing the culture of my army."

Friday, May 18, 2012

Mitt Romney tells the truth!

"Hello, folks. Here I am today in Hillsborough, New Hampshire standing in front of an historic stone bridge that the New Hampshire legislature voted overwhelmingly to repair. The federal government approved the grand sum of $150,000 out of federal stimulus money for the repairs at the town's and the state's request. The town also wants to turn the surrounding area into a park, but they haven't managed to come up with the money for that yet. So you might ask, am I against preserving historic structures?  Uh, no. Am I against parks? Well no, of course not. But hey, it still seemed like a good idea for me to pose in front of this bridge because I can use it as a symbol of how Obama's stimulus plan was a failure. Does this bridge prove that? No, it does not. But look at it. It doesn't connect to the road. It's not a working bridge and hasn't been for many years. Actually, the plan was not even to use it as a working bridge anymore since as you can see, they built a new bridge next to the old one. So am I saying they should have torn down this piece of history? No, I'm not saying that either.

"So what am I saying? Does the decision to repair this historic and scenic artifact prove in any way that the stimulus was a failure? Actually, once again, I must admit that it does not, since undeniably this project did create some jobs. Of course I could quibble about whether jobs requiring actual physical work laying stone and concrete are real jobs. In my world, real jobs involve financial planners and analysts and bankers who raise capital to help companies outsource their labor force and escape their pension obligations. But I have to admit this bridge project did put a few people to work.

"Is this project a good example of wasteful government spending? Well I'm not saying there was any fraud or graft involved, and I have to admit that they did a nice job with the restoration. And I guess I would also have to admit that to me this project doesn't really seem all that expensive. I mean, I'm spending more myself to renovate the beach house in La Jolla than the federal government spent to repair this bridge. If you want to see some real wasteful government spending, I could show you some bridges in Iraq that cost us a hundred times what this one cost. Those contractors really know how to pad their bills! But I digress.

"Who cares if this bridge project created some employment and might stimulate additional development in the area? Who cares whether this project represents wasteful spending or not? Or whether people around here seem to like it. What the bridge truly represents is what I like to think of as a concrete metaphor supporting a false narrative. It's a photo op, really, and you fools in the media are once again suckers enough to fall for it. The point is that I have to keep saying that the stimulus was a failure, even though almost all the economists who have studied it have found that the stimulus helped us out of recession. So because I can't actually prove that the stimulus was a failure, it's helpful to show a visual symbol of wasteful government spending. Even if it's not really wasteful. But what the heck. It's in New Hampshire, which might be a swing state this year. So I get a chance to visit, and maybe stay in one of my homes tonight. That will be nice.

"Thanks for watching and covering this pseudo-event. I'm counting on the fact that nobody will remember what I said about it. All they will see is a picture of me standing in front of a bridge that doesn't connect to the road. If enough people believe that that means anything at all, I've got another bridge to sell them tomorrow."

(AP photo)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Campaign ugliness

This might have been a non-story, until the New York Times this morning managed to get hold of what appears to be a pitch for a new Super-PAC video that would stir up the old Jeremiah Wright controversy for the 2012 campaign. Maybe it should still be a non-story, since the man who was supposed to finance this campaign, Joe Ricketts, a Chicago billionaire who started Ameritrade and whose family owns the Chicago Cubs, immediately rejected the idea as soon as it became public, and Mitt Romney himself has repudiated it.

The twists and turns of today's story are still interesting, however, because they reveal the depths of ugliness to which some people might be prepared to sink in the upcoming campaign, as well as some of the unintended consequences of the new Wild West style of political campaigning that the Supreme Court has allowed.  Let's deal with some of the questions that came up about this proposed ad campaign, in turn. First of all, Jeremiah Wright. Seriously, in 2012, does anyone still care? For the record, I'm not a fan of Wright, but it seemed over the top even back in 2008 to make such a big issue out of a few controversial statements by Obama's pastor. I mean, does anyone agree 100% with everything their pastors say in sermons, or follow their pastors like a slave? It also seemed unfair to take Wright's "God damn America" statements so out of context. (If anyone would take the trouble to listen to that entire sermon, they would discover that Wright's message was that governments repeatedly fail us, but God never fails us. Conservative evangelicals and Tea Partiers should have been able to get right on board with the thrust of that sentiment, instead of being so quick to see it as unpatriotic.)

The disturbing thing about dredging up the Reverend Wright controversy, however, lies the attempt to find a sinister pattern in the Obama administration's policies that is supposed to be derived from Wright's supposed anti-Americanism. If political opponents want to attack Obama's stimulus program as wasteful, that's fine. If they want to blame Obama for the entire federal deficit, they can try to make that argument. If they want to criticize the Affordable Care Act, that's fair game. But don't try to argue that Barack Obama advocated these policies because he was a tool of an anti-American preacher. That crosses the line. Critics of President Bush might--and do--argue that his policies wasted trillions of dollars, almost caused our economy to collapse, and made good will for America evaporate around the world. But hardly any of them question his patriotism. Critics of Mitt Romney can make the case that his policies favor the rich, or that he would return us to the same failed ideas that sunk our economy under George W. Bush, but hardly anybody is claiming that Mitt Romney is on a mission sponsored by a strange cult to impose its views on America.

And that's probably one reason Mitt Romney was so quick to repudiate the proposal to use Reverend Wright as a tool of character assassination against President Obama. Romney knows that religion is a potential vulnerability of his probably more than President Obama's. By appearing to take the high road, Romney was doing something else that was clever. He created a false equivalence between the proposed ad attacking the president for his association with Jeremiah Wright, and recent Obama campaign ads attacking Romney's record at Bain Capital. Both of those, in Romney's view, are character assassination. What a minute! Isn't there a difference between talking about someone's actual record and experience, the very thing that Mitt Romney himself trumpets as a qualification for the presidency, and trying to use out-of-context remarks by somebody's pastor to insinuate that the candidate is on a secret mission to destroy the country? Romney would gloss over that gigantic difference. From now on, every time the Obama campaign brings up what Romney actually did at Bain Capital, Romney can say, hey, I took the high road and stayed away from those kinds of base attacks, but now you want to engage in character assassination. Why don't we talk about the issues that really matter to Americans? Clever, as I acknowledged. Fiendishly clever. Maybe Romney won't be the pushover that Obama supporters were hoping for.

Finally, let's talk about the unintended consequences of this type of advertising. It turns out that even for entertaining the idea of creating such a video, the Ricketts family, which by the way includes some staunch supporters of the president as well as the conservative patriarch, is facing some serious fallout in terms of damage to the Ameritrade brand, as well as the possible derailment of the family's plan to renovate Wrigley Field with the help of the State of Illinois. Evidently, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was none too happy about the Ricketts family even thinking about engaging in unfair attacks on the president, and doesn't seem likely to become a supporter of those plans. (Not to mention the irony of someone like Joe Ricketts, who decries supposedly wasteful government spending and pork barrel projects seeking the help of a financially strapped state to help upgrade a rich family's pleasure palace.) Maybe one hopeful lesson from this story is that despite Citizens United, corporations that have to care about public opinion, may want to shy away from the worst kinds of negative political advertising.

Finally finally, I'd just like to mention, as is well known, that the president, because he lived on the South Side of Chicago, is of course a White Sox fan, and now even more likely to remain one.

For a non-story, that's a lot to talk about!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Obama's Deficit

This chart, variations of which have been floating around for awhile (this one is from TPM),  is well worth studying. Not because it settles the argument over whose fault it was that the federal deficit expanded so dramatically since 2008 (people will never stop arguing about that), but because it proves that the deficit was going to explode regardless of who had become president that year. The recession itself caused a massive shortfall in revenues, as well as triggering automatic spending increases such as unemployment insurance and food stamps. The tax structure put in place during the Bush administration added to the shortfall. And measures taken to deal with the financial crisis, many of which were supported by both parties, including TARP, as well as additional tax cuts, also added substantially to the deficit.

The idea that President Obama and the Democratic Congress went on some kind of spending spree in 2009 and 2010 is just plain false. In fact, federal spending has grown at a lower rate during the Obama administration than during the Bush and Reagan administrations. So the only claim the Republicans can make is that had they been in control, they would have responded to the recession by cutting spending dramatically. This claim does not stand up either, since even under the Ryan budget, spending levels for the last several and next several years would not have been reduced substantially, and revenues would actually decrease further. Moreover, additional spending cuts would likely have prolonged the recession, and increased unemployment, which is proven by the impact of spending cuts at the state level.

Whenever you hear about how much Obama has added to the federal deficit during his term, remember that only means the deficit increased by that amount during Obama's term. You can't attribute all of that increase to Obama's policies until you analyze the factors that have caused that deficit increase. Then you can figure out which of those components are due to Obama's policies, which are due to policies the Republicans supported, and which are due to factors beyond either party's control. Somehow, that part of the analysis is always missing from the opposition's critiques. It's a lot simpler to just keep laying all the trillions of additional debt at Obama's doorstep, than to admit that the alternative policies proposed by the opposition would have created about the same amount of debt.

Monday, May 14, 2012


Like the president, I went to college across the street from Barnard College. So I was interested in what he had to say to the Class of 2012 today.  Full transcript follows:

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

Remarks by the President at Barnard College Commencement Ceremony

Barnard College
Columbia University
New York, New York

1:28 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Please, please have a seat.  Thank you.  (Applause.)
Thank you, President Spar, trustees, President Bollinger.  Hello, Class of 2012!  (Applause.)  Congratulations on reaching this day.  Thank you for the honor of being able to be a part of it. 
There are so many people who are proud of you -- your parents, family, faculty, friends -- all who share in this achievement.  So please give them a big round of applause.  (Applause.)  To all the moms who are here today, you could not ask for a better Mother’s Day gift than to see all of these folks graduate.  (Applause.)
I have to say, though, whenever I come to these things, I start thinking about Malia and Sasha graduating, and I start tearing up and -- (laughter) -- it's terrible.  I don't know how you guys are holding it together.  (Laughter.) 
I will begin by telling a hard truth:  I’m a Columbia college graduate.  (Laughter and applause.)  I know there can be a little bit of a sibling rivalry here.  (Laughter.)  But I’m honored nevertheless to be your commencement speaker today -- although I’ve got to say, you set a pretty high bar given the past three years.  (Applause.)  Hillary Clinton -- (applause) -- Meryl Streep -- (applause) -- Sheryl Sandberg -- these are not easy acts to follow.  (Applause.) 
But I will point out Hillary is doing an extraordinary job as one of the finest Secretaries of State America has ever had.  (Applause.)  We gave Meryl the Presidential Medal of Arts and Humanities.  (Applause.)  Sheryl is not just a good friend; she’s also one of our economic advisers.  So it’s like the old saying goes -- keep your friends close, and your Barnard commencement speakers even closer.  (Applause.)  There's wisdom in that.  (Laughter.)  
Now, the year I graduated -- this area looks familiar -- (laughter) -- the year I graduated was 1983, the first year women were admitted to Columbia.  (Applause.)  Sally Ride was the first American woman in space.  Music was all about Michael and the Moonwalk.  (Laughter.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Do it!  (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT:  No Moonwalking.  (Laughter.)  No Moonwalking today.  (Laughter.)
We had the Walkman, not iPods.  Some of the streets around here were not quite so inviting.  (Laughter.)  Times Square was not a family destination.  (Laughter.)  So I know this is all ancient history.  Nothing worse than commencement speakers droning on about bygone days.  (Laughter.)  But for all the differences, the Class of 1983 actually had a lot in common with all of you.  For we, too, were heading out into a world at a moment when our country was still recovering from a particularly severe economic recession.  It was a time of change.  It was a time of uncertainty.  It was a time of passionate political debates. 
You can relate to this because just as you were starting out finding your way around this campus, an economic crisis struck that would claim more than 5 million jobs before the end of your freshman year.  Since then, some of you have probably seen parents put off retirement, friends struggle to find work.  And you may be looking toward the future with that same sense of concern that my generation did when we were sitting where you are now. 
Of course, as young women, you’re also going to grapple with some unique challenges, like whether you’ll be able to earn equal pay for equal work; whether you’ll be able to balance the demands of your job and your family; whether you’ll be able to fully control decisions about your own health. 
And while opportunities for women have grown exponentially over the last 30 years, as young people, in many ways you have it even tougher than we did.  This recession has been more brutal, the job losses steeper.  Politics seems nastier.  Congress more gridlocked than ever.  Some folks in the financial world have not exactly been model corporate citizens.  (Laughter.) 
No wonder that faith in our institutions has never been lower, particularly when good news doesn’t get the same kind of ratings as bad news anymore.  Every day you receive a steady stream of sensationalism and scandal and stories with a message that suggest change isn’t possible; that you can’t make a difference; that you won’t be able to close that gap between life as it is and life as you want it to be.
My job today is to tell you don’t believe it.  Because as tough as things have been, I am convinced you are tougher.  I’ve seen your passion and I’ve seen your service.  I’ve seen you engage and I’ve seen you turn out in record numbers.  I’ve heard your voices amplified by creativity and a digital fluency that those of us in older generations can barely comprehend.  I’ve seen a generation eager, impatient even, to step into the rushing waters of history and change its course.
And that defiant, can-do spirit is what runs through the veins of American history.  It’s the lifeblood of all our progress.  And it is that spirit which we need your generation to embrace and rekindle right now.
See, the question is not whether things will get better -- they always do.  The question is not whether we’ve got the solutions to our challenges -- we’ve had them within our grasp for quite some time.  We know, for example, that this country would be better off if more Americans were able to get the kind of education that you’ve received here at Barnard -- (applause) -- if more people could get the specific skills and training that employers are looking for today. 
We know that we’d all be better off if we invest in science and technology that sparks new businesses and medical breakthroughs; if we developed more clean energy so we could use less foreign oil and reduce the carbon pollution that’s threatening our planet.  (Applause.)  
We know that we’re better off when there are rules that stop big banks from making bad bets with other people’s money and -- (applause) -- when insurance companies aren’t allowed to drop your coverage when you need it most or charge women differently from men.  (Applause.)  Indeed, we know we are better off when women are treated fairly and equally in every aspect of American life -- whether it’s the salary you earn or the health decisions you make.  (Applause.)  
We know these things to be true.  We know that our challenges are eminently solvable.  The question is whether together, we can muster the will -- in our own lives, in our common institutions, in our politics -- to bring about the changes we need.  And I’m convinced your generation possesses that will.  And I believe that the women of this generation -- that all of you will help lead the way.  (Applause.)
Now, I recognize that’s a cheap applause line when you're giving a commencement at Barnard.  (Laughter.)  It’s the easy thing to say.  But it’s true.  It is -- in part, it is simple math.  Today, women are not just half this country; you’re half its workforce.  (Applause.)  More and more women are out-earning their husbands.  You’re more than half of our college graduates, and master’s graduates, and PhDs.  (Applause.)   So you’ve got us outnumbered.  (Laughter.)
After decades of slow, steady, extraordinary progress, you are now poised to make this the century where women shape not only their own destiny but the destiny of this nation and of this world.
But how far your leadership takes this country, how far it takes this world -- well, that will be up to you.  You’ve got to want it.  It will not be handed to you.  And as someone who wants that future -- that better future -- for you, and for Malia and Sasha, as somebody who’s had the good fortune of being the husband and the father and the son of some strong, remarkable women, allow me to offer just a few pieces of advice.  That's obligatory.  (Laughter.)  Bear with me.
My first piece of advice is this:  Don’t just get involved.  Fight for your seat at the table.  Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table.  (Applause.)
It’s been said that the most important role in our democracy is the role of citizen.  And indeed, it was 225 years ago today that the Constitutional Convention opened in Philadelphia, and our founders, citizens all, began crafting an extraordinary document.  Yes, it had its flaws -- flaws that this nation has strived to protect (perfect) over time.  Questions of race and gender were unresolved.  No woman’s signature graced the original document -- although we can assume that there were founding mothers whispering smarter things in the ears of the founding fathers.   (Applause.)  I mean, that's almost certain.
What made this document special was that it provided the space -- the possibility -- for those who had been left out of our charter to fight their way in.  It provided people the language to appeal to principles and ideals that broadened democracy’s reach.  It allowed for protest, and movements, and the dissemination of new ideas that would repeatedly, decade after decade, change the world -- a constant forward movement that continues to this day.
Our founders understood that America does not stand still; we are dynamic, not static.  We look forward, not back.  And now that new doors have been opened for you, you’ve got an obligation to seize those opportunities. 
You need to do this not just for yourself but for those who don’t yet enjoy the choices that you’ve had, the choices you will have.  And one reason many workplaces still have outdated policies is because women only account for 3 percent of the CEOs at Fortune 500 companies.  One reason we’re actually refighting long-settled battles over women’s rights is because women occupy fewer than one in five seats in Congress.
Now, I’m not saying that the only way to achieve success is by climbing to the top of the corporate ladder or running for office -- although, let’s face it, Congress would get a lot more done if you did.  (Laughter and applause.)  That I think we’re sure about.  But if you decide not to sit yourself at the table, at the very least you’ve got to make sure you have a say in who does.  It matters.
Before women like Barbara Mikulski and Olympia Snowe and others got to Congress, just to take one example, much of federally-funded research on diseases focused solely on their effects on men.  It wasn’t until women like Patsy Mink and Edith Green got to Congress and passed Title IX, 40 years ago this year, that we declared women, too, should be allowed to compete and win on America’s playing fields.  (Applause.)  Until a woman named Lilly Ledbetter showed up at her office and had the courage to step up and say, you know what, this isn’t right, women weren’t being treated fairly -- we lacked some of the tools we needed to uphold the basic principle of equal pay for equal work.
So don’t accept somebody else’s construction of the way things ought to be.  It’s up to you to right wrongs.  It’s up to you to point out injustice.  It’s up to you to hold the system accountable and sometimes upend it entirely.  It’s up to you to stand up and to be heard, to write and to lobby, to march, to organize, to vote.  Don’t be content to just sit back and watch. 
Those who oppose change, those who benefit from an unjust status quo, have always bet on the public’s cynicism or the public's complacency.  Throughout American history, though, they have lost that bet, and I believe they will this time as well.  (Applause.)  But ultimately, Class of 2012, that will depend on you.  Don’t wait for the person next to you to be the first to speak up for what’s right.  Because maybe, just maybe, they’re waiting on you. 
Which brings me to my second piece of advice:  Never underestimate the power of your example.  The very fact that you are graduating, let alone that more women now graduate from college than men, is only possible because earlier generations of women -- your mothers, your grandmothers, your aunts -- shattered the myth that you couldn’t or shouldn’t be where you are.  (Applause.)
I think of a friend of mine who’s the daughter of immigrants.  When she was in high school, her guidance counselor told her, you know what, you’re just not college material.  You should think about becoming a secretary.  Well, she was stubborn, so she went to college anyway.  She got her master’s.  She ran for local office, won.  She ran for state office, she won.  She ran for Congress, she won.  And lo and behold, Hilda Solis did end up becoming a secretary -- (laughter) -- she is America’s Secretary of Labor.  (Applause.)
So think about what that means to a young Latina girl when she sees a Cabinet secretary that looks like her.  (Applause.)  Think about what it means to a young girl in Iowa when she sees a presidential candidate who looks like her.  Think about what it means to a young girl walking in Harlem right down the street when she sees a U.N. ambassador who looks like her.  Do not underestimate the power of your example. 
This diploma opens up new possibilities, so reach back, convince a young girl to earn one, too.  If you earned your degree in areas where we need more women -- like computer science or engineering -- (applause) -- reach back and persuade another student to study it, too.  If you're going into fields where we need more women, like construction or computer engineering -- reach back, hire someone new.  Be a mentor.  Be a role model.
Until a girl can imagine herself, can picture herself as a computer programmer, or a combatant commander, she won’t become one.  Until there are women who tell her, ignore our pop culture obsession over beauty and fashion -- (applause) -- and focus instead on studying and inventing and competing and leading, she’ll think those are the only things that girls are supposed to care about.  Now, Michelle will say, nothing wrong with caring about it a little bit.  (Laughter.)  You can be stylish and powerful, too.  (Applause.)  That's Michelle’s advice.  (Applause.)
And never forget that the most important example a young girl will ever follow is that of a parent.  Malia and Sasha are going to be outstanding women because Michelle and Marian Robinson are outstanding women.  So understand your power, and use it wisely.  
My last piece of advice -- this is simple, but perhaps most important:  Persevere.  Persevere.  Nothing worthwhile is easy.  No one of achievement has avoided failure -- sometimes catastrophic failures.  But they keep at it.  They learn from mistakes.  They don’t quit.
You know, when I first arrived on this campus, it was with little money, fewer options.  But it was here that I tried to find my place in this world.  I knew I wanted to make a difference, but it was vague how in fact I’d go about it.  (Laughter.)  But I wanted to do my part to do my part to shape a better world.
So even as I worked after graduation in a few unfulfilling jobs here in New York -- I will not list them all -- (laughter) -- even as I went from motley apartment to motley apartment, I reached out.  I started to write letters to community organizations all across the country.  And one day, a small group of churches on the South Side of Chicago answered, offering me work with people in neighborhoods hit hard by steel mills that were shutting down and communities where jobs were dying away.
The community had been plagued by gang violence, so once I arrived, one of the first things we tried to do was to mobilize a meeting with community leaders to deal with gangs.  And I’d worked for weeks on this project.  We invited the police; we made phone calls; we went to churches; we passed out flyers.  The night of the meeting we arranged rows and rows of chairs in anticipation of this crowd.  And we waited, and we waited.  And finally, a group of older folks walked in to the hall and they sat down.  And this little old lady raised her hand and asked, “Is this where the bingo game is?”  (Laughter.)  It was a disaster.  Nobody showed up.  My first big community meeting -- nobody showed up.
And later, the volunteers I worked with told me, that's it; we’re quitting.  They'd been doing this for two years even before I had arrived.  They had nothing to show for it.  And I’ll be honest, I felt pretty discouraged as well.  I didn't know what I was doing.  I thought about quitting.  And as we were talking, I looked outside and saw some young boys playing in a vacant lot across the street.  And they were just throwing rocks up at a boarded building.  They had nothing better to do  -- late at night, just throwing rocks.  And I said to the volunteers, “Before you quit, answer one question.  What will happen to those boys if you quit?  Who will fight for them if we don’t?  Who will give them a fair shot if we leave?
And one by one, the volunteers decided not to quit.  We went back to those neighborhoods and we kept at it.  We registered new voters, and we set up after-school programs, and we fought for new jobs, and helped people live lives with some measure of dignity.  And we sustained ourselves with those small victories.  We didn’t set the world on fire.  Some of those communities are still very poor.  There are still a lot of gangs out there.  But I believe that it was those small victories that helped me win the bigger victories of my last three and a half years as President.
And I wish I could say that this perseverance came from some innate toughness in me.  But the truth is, it was learned.  I got it from watching the people who raised me.  More specifically, I got it from watching the women who shaped my life. 
I grew up as the son of a single mom who struggled to put herself through school and make ends meet.  She had marriages that fell apart; even went on food stamps at one point to help us get by.  But she didn’t quit.  And she earned her degree, and made sure that through scholarships and hard work, my sister and I earned ours.  She used to wake me up when we were living overseas -- wake me up before dawn to study my English
lessons.  And when I’d complain, she’d just look at me and say, “This is no picnic for me either, buster.”  (Laughter.)  
And my mom ended up dedicating herself to helping women
around the world access the money they needed to start their own businesses -- she was an early pioneer in microfinance.  And that meant, though, that she was gone a lot, and she had her own struggles trying to figure out balancing motherhood and a career.  And when she was gone, my grandmother stepped up to take care of me. 
She only had a high school education.  She got a job at a local bank.  She hit the glass ceiling, and watched men she once trained promoted up the ladder ahead of her.  But she didn’t quit.  Rather than grow hard or angry each time she got passed over, she kept doing her job as best as she knew how, and ultimately ended up being vice president at the bank.  She didn’t quit.
And later on, I met a woman who was assigned to advise me on my first summer job at a law firm.  And she gave me such good advice that I married her.  (Laughter.)  And Michelle and I gave everything we had to balance our careers and a young family.  But let’s face it, no matter how enlightened I must have thought myself to be, it often fell more on her shoulders when I was traveling, when I was away.  I know that when she was with our girls, she’d feel guilty that she wasn’t giving enough time to her work, and when she was at her work, she’d feel guilty she wasn’t giving enough time to our girls.  And both of us wished we had some superpower that would let us be in two places at once.  But we persisted.  We made that marriage work. 
And the reason Michelle had the strength to juggle everything, and put up with me and eventually the public spotlight, was because she, too, came from a family of folks who didn’t quit -- because she saw her dad get up and go to work every day even though he never finished college, even though he had crippling MS.  She saw her mother, even though she never finished college, in that school, that urban school, every day making sure Michelle and her brother were getting the education they deserved.  Michelle saw how her parents never quit.  They never indulged in self-pity, no matter how stacked the odds were against them.  They didn't quit.
Those are the folks who inspire me.  People ask me sometimes, who inspires you, Mr. President?  Those quiet heroes all across this country -- some of your parents and grandparents who are sitting here -- no fanfare, no articles written about them, they just persevere.  They just do their jobs.  They meet their responsibilities.  They don't quit.  I'm only here because of them.  They may not have set out to change the world, but in small, important ways, they did.  They certainly changed mine. 
So whether it’s starting a business, or running for office, or raising a amazing family, remember that making your mark on the world is hard.  It takes patience.  It takes commitment.  It comes with plenty of setbacks and it comes with plenty of failures. 
But whenever you feel that creeping cynicism, whenever you hear those voices say you can’t make a difference, whenever somebody tells you to set your sights lower -- the trajectory of this country should give you hope.  Previous generations should give you hope.  What young generations have done before should give you hope.  Young folks who marched and mobilized and stood up and sat in, from Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall, didn’t just do it for themselves; they did it for other people.  (Applause.) 
That’s how we achieved women’s rights.  That's how we achieved voting rights.  That's how we achieved workers’ rights.  That's how we achieved gay rights.  (Applause.)  That’s how we’ve made this Union more perfect.  (Applause.)
And if you’re willing to do your part now, if you're willing to reach up and close that gap between what America is and what America should be, I want you to know that I will be right there with you.  (Applause.)  If you are ready to fight for that brilliant, radically simple idea of America that no matter who you are or what you look like, no matter who you love or what God you worship, you can still pursue your own happiness, I will join you every step of the way.  (Applause.)
Now more than ever -- now more than ever, America needs what you, the Class of 2012, has to offer.  America needs you to reach high and hope deeply.  And if you fight for your seat at the table, and you set a better example, and you persevere in what you decide to do with your life, I have every faith not only that you will succeed, but that, through you, our nation will continue to be a beacon of light for men and women, boys and girls, in every corner of the globe.
So thank you.  Congratulations.  (Applause.)  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)
2:00 P.M. EDT