As the vigorous applause finally began to subside in the wake of President Barack Obama taking the stage Saturday at spring commencement, a lone “I love you!” rang out amidst the crowd. The president didn’t hesitate. He responded with an eager, “I love you back.” Such is the relationship between Obama and the class of 2010.

After all, we certainly showed Obama our love during the ’08 campaign, when University students pulled out all the stops to make sure he was elected. Students’ relentless campaigning, voter-registering and city-wide canvassing on behalf of Obama was the reality of life in Ann Arbor last year. It was gratifying, then, to see Obama acknowledge the support this campus showed him by attending our graduation ceremony — even for those like me who usually don’t love the president back.

Besides, I was relieved that Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm (who was clearly sucking up to Obama in hopes of landing a Supreme Court appointment) had finished her incredibly awkward on-behalf-of-Michigan-thanks-for-all-the-bailouts speech, which was neither appropriate nor particularly accurate.

So when the president stepped up to speak and my fellow graduates burst into cheers, I applauded as well. There’s no denying it: at the University, Obama is a popular man. But if Obama’s presence at spring commencement was a testament to his popularity on college campuses, his speech addressed the reality that elsewhere, people aren’t as pleased with him. Speaking more to his opponents across the nation rather than those present in the Big House, the president recognized the merits of informed disagreement while criticizing the lack of civility in current political debate.

He blamed politicians and pundits for driving the argument to the left and right fringes, reserving particularly harsh words for a media that “tends to play up every hint of conflict, because it makes for a sexier story, which means anyone interested in getting coverage feels compelled to make their arguments as outrageous and as incendiary as possible.” That’s right, the president used the word “sexier” in the Big House.

Obama said that he sympathizes with people’s frustration and the effect it has been having on political discourse. But he called upon all factions of American society to listen to each other in hopes of moving forward and making compromises that will improve both the government and the country. Such sentiments are certainly noble, and they were delivered with the eloquence of a president who gives terrific speeches, no matter what you may think of his policies.

But Obama’s speech also revealed that there’s something he doesn’t fully understand – the sincerity of his opponents. While University graduates nod along to his words and wonder why those awful Tea Party protesters and their ilk just won’t listen to reason, there are millions of people who think that the president is the one who isn’t listening. As evidence, they point to the passage of a health care bill that Obama vehemently backed – a bill completely despised by about half the country, according to several opinion polls. Many U.S. taxpayers and business owners worry that Obama’s agenda will make them less prosperous, reduce their freedoms and leave their children with an overwhelming national debt. In their view, Obama is the one who won’t compromise, and that’s at least part of the reason why the debate seems less civil.

Still, the president was right to maintain a historical perspective and recognize that political debate in the U.S. has often been less than civil. As he noted (as did Alex Marsten in his terrifically clever and heartfelt student address), it is up to us, college graduates entering a world of passionate opinions, to add something intelligent and constructive to the debate.

Thanks for sending us off into the professional world with your eloquent advice, Mr. President. But don’t pick Granholm for the Supreme Court, no matter how badly she wants it.

Robert Soave was the Daily’s editorial page editor in 2009. He can be reached at

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.