Former President Barack Obama made it official Saturday – he has stepped from behind the scenes and is now actively campaigning for his former sidekick, Joe Biden. That message was sent loud and clear during a busy day of virtual appearances from the former president. He was prominently featured in different virtual commencement events for the Class of 2020.
The big event was one that dominated early primetime Saturday night on all broadcast networks and, well, everywhere. Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020 was hosted by LeBron James and was heavy on high school references, both visually and verbally. It was put together by the XQ Institute, The LeBron James Family Foundation, and The Entertainment Industry Foundation and supported by the American Federation of Teachers.
"After all this, you guys are prepared for anything,” LeBron James says, to the high school class of 2020 at the start of the #GraduateTogether event amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. https://t.co/VGAiXZS7zV pic.twitter.com/fiVDhpHJjd
— ABC News (@ABC) May 17, 2020
It didn’t take long for celebrity speakers to turn their words to graduates into political speeches. Soccer star Megan Rapinoe was the first one I noticed to turn aggressively political in her words to the high school graduates. I tuned in to watch the event out of curiosity. I wanted to see how it would be done and what the speakers would say. Early in, I knew I wouldn’t last the whole hour. I watched less than half of the show.
Obama was the big name and he didn’t disappoint his fans. He blasted the Trump administration without being bold enough to actually call out President Trump or anyone else by name. The message was clear, though. President Hope and Change hopes young voters will get out and change out the current president with Status Quo Joe. Joe Biden isn’t exactly catching fire with the young people so Obama is stepping up his involvement in the Biden campaign.
“Doing what feels good, what’s convenient, what’s easy, that’s how little kids think, Obama told a multi-network and multi-digital platform audience of millions of high school seniors who won’t have an in-person graduation this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Unfortunately, a lot of so-called grownups with fancy titles and important jobs still think that way,” the former POTUS added in this time of economic near collapse and “mass uncertainty” because of the public health crisis.
“That’s why things are so screwed up,” Obama said, noting the flailing response and financial free fall to the fatal virus “pulled back the curtain” and has “laid bare a lot of our country’s deep-seated problems. In another comment that sounded like a jab at the notoriously self-absorbed Trump, Obama went on to point out that in his view “our society and our democracy only work when we think not just about ourselves, but about each other.”
“It’s woken a lot of young people up to the fact that the old ways of doing things, just don’t work,” the former leader of the free world stated of the consequences of coronavirus before taking another swing at the unmentioned Trump for not only not having “all the answers” but “not even asking the right questions.”
See, President Trump and his administration not only cannot do their jobs but they aren’t even pretending to do their jobs. That’s an interesting take, right? Especially given how frequently Trump and members of his administration have appeared on television lately. Just Friday, it was notable that Trump went before cameras four times by my count. Of course, we have to assume that this new pushback from Obama is in response to Trump’s escalation against his predecessor in public, especially since the #Obamagate narrative began last week. Barack Obama reminded us that he is famously thin-skinned and self-centered. As usual, he frequently referenced himself. When Trump’s opponents criticize him for being self-absorbed, I shake my head – who do they think normalized that kind of behavior?
Congrats to the high school Class of 2020, as well as to the teachers, coaches, and most of all, parents and family who’ve guided you along the way. Thanks for letting me be part of your big day! pic.twitter.com/RjYvHs2BhC
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) May 17, 2020
Barack Obama missed an opportunity to inspire future leaders by making it about the Trump administration and himself, bringing the kids into their squabble, instead of focusing on their achievements. A commencement speech should be about praising the graduates and passing the baton to a new generation. Instead, especially during a presidential election year, speeches go right to politics.
Earlier on Saturday, Obama participated in a two-hour event, “Show Me Your Walk H.B.C.U. Edition”. More than 27,000 students from 78 schools participated. His address to the college grads was very similar to the later televised event for the high school graduates. The HBCU speech, though, was a little heavier on victimhood and racial divisiveness, natch.
But these aren’t normal times. You’re being asked to find your way in a world in the middle of a devastating pandemic and a terrible recession. The timing is not ideal. And let’s be honest — a disease like this just spotlights the underlying inequalities and extra burdens that black communities have historically had to deal with in this country. We see it in the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on our communities, just as we see it when a black man goes for a jog, and some folks feel like they can stop and question and shoot him if he doesn’t submit to their questioning.
Injustice like this isn’t new. What is new is that so much of your generation has woken up to the fact that the status quo needs fixing; that the old ways of doing things don’t work; and that it doesn’t matter how much money you make if everyone around you is hungry and sick; that our society and democracy only works when we think not just about ourselves, but about each other.
More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing. A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.
If the world’s going to get better, it’s going to be up to you. With everything suddenly feeling like it’s up for grabs, this is your time to seize the initiative. Nobody can tell you anymore that you should be waiting your turn. Nobody can tell you anymore “this is how it’s always been done.” More than ever, this is your moment — your generation’s world to shape.
Congratulations to the HBCU Class of 2020! Michelle and I are so proud of you. As you set out to change the world, we’ll be the wind at your back. Can’t wait to see what you achieve. https://t.co/PCsjkJJTXi
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) May 16, 2020
Toward the end of his speech to the high school graduates (the televised event), Obama even worked in a plug for the Obama Foundation.
— The Obama Foundation (@ObamaFoundation) May 16, 2020
If the message from the celebrities was truly one of unity as the graduates move into the future, the selection of speakers wouldn’t have been those who speak with one voice. Unifying the country means people holding differing opinions have to work together, not preach to the choir. If unity was the goal, President Trump would have been given a minute or two to deliver a message to the graduates, if for no other reason than to encourage respect for the office of the president, even if they don’t respect the man. Did the organizers think that only liberal-leaning young people should be celebrated? (That is a rhetorical question.)
He’s back. Despite waiting until the last possible minute, Obama has decided to get out and campaign for Joe Biden. This starts the mano-a-mano fight between two presidents – one former president and the current president is front and center. It’s not something we’ve seen in our lifetimes but Obama’s ego demands that he try to salvage what he can of his legacy. I would argue he has no legacy – other than the debacle known as Obamacare – but Obama supporters believe he was a successful president. NeverTrump Republicans will embrace Obama’s arrival on the scene, just watch. 2020 is one strange ride. There is never a boring moment.