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Biden’s Demoralizing Speech to Morehouse Grads

I you don't read the Spritzler Report you aren't...err....high offensive?

Biden’s Demoralizing Speech to Morehouse Grads

In his 2013 commencement address, Obama stressed opportunity. His successor emphasizes victimization.

By Jason L. Riley


May 21, 2024 5:33 pm ET

President Biden smiles at the crowd after receiving an honorary doctorate at the Morehouse College commencement in Atlanta, May 19.

President Obama’s commencement address at Morehouse College in 2013 couldn’t have been more different from the one President Biden gave on Sunday. Not just in terms of style or delivery—no one expects Mr. Biden to match Mr. Obama’s oratory skills—but, more important, in its tone and emphasis.

Mr. Obama urged graduates of the historically black, all-male college in Atlanta not to squander the tremendous opportunities that 21st-century America had to offer them. He highlighted that “laws and hearts and minds” had changed significantly for the better over the decades as evidenced by, among other things, his election, and he said that “your generation is uniquely poised for success unlike any generation of African-Americans that came before it.”

Mr. Obama emphasized the importance of individual responsibility in black advancement and counseled the graduates to guard against self-pity. He said that while his job as president was to advocate policies that “generate more opportunity for everybody,” government efforts go only so far. “There are some things, as black men, we can only do for ourselves,” he said. Among them was being a role model. “Just as Morehouse has taught you to expect more of yourselves, inspire those who look up to you to expect more of themselves.”

Mr. Obama said that too many young black men in the U.S. continue to make bad personal choices and then blame others. “And I have to say, growing up, I made quite a few myself,” he noted. “Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. I had a tendency sometimes to make excuses for me not doing the right thing. But one of the things that all of you have learned over the last four years is there’s no longer any room for excuses.”

Pointedly, the former president said that while racism and discrimination still exist, they shouldn’t be used as a crutch. “Nobody cares how tough your upbringing was. Nobody cares if you suffered some discrimination. And moreover, you have to remember that whatever you’ve gone through, it pales in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured—and they overcame them. And if they overcame them, you can overcome them.”


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When Mr. Biden took the stage on Sunday, he didn’t see an audience of black men with limitless opportunities awaiting them. Instead, he saw an audience of black victims who should question their prospects. “You started college just as George Floyd was murdered and there was a reckoning on race,” Mr. Biden said. “It’s natural to wonder if democracy you hear about actually works for you. What is democracy if black men are being killed in the street?”

Only in Mr. Biden’s imagination would it be “natural” for the black people in that audience—many of whom were second- and third-generation college graduates—to wonder if democracy is working for them. Atlanta has had black mayors going back to the 1970s, and Georgia currently has a black Democratic U.S. senator (a Morehouse graduate) who won re-election by defeating a black Republican.

Mr. Obama told Morehouse graduates that if they act responsibly and make good choices, they can live productive and fulfilling lives in a society that has never had more to offer them. Mr. Biden suggested that the graduates see themselves in George Floyd. “If black men are being killed on the streets, we bear witness,” Mr. Biden said. “For me, that means to call out the poison of white supremacy, to root out systemic racism.”

Which is fine, but what is the connection between white supremacy and black homicides when nearly all black murder victims are killed not by white people or police officers but by other black people? Name-checking Floyd in front of a black audience doesn’t change that reality, and using a convicted felon and drug addict as a poster child for black men in this country is deeply insulting.

Given that Mr. Biden lacks Mr. Obama’s unique standing among blacks, let’s concede that these comparisons aren’t entirely fair. They do, however, offer insights into what Mr. Biden believes black people want to hear from their president in an election year. Mr. Biden’s speech revealed someone who doesn’t believe that black people can or should be held to the same standards as other groups. He believes they want to be told constantly that racial inequality is entirely the fault of others and the responsibility of others to address. He believes they need lectures from him about racism.

If the president’s slipping support among black voters is any indication, he’s wrong on all counts. And if Morehouse College can’t do better in choosing a commencement speaker next year, just replay Mr. Obama’s address.

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