Senator Ben Sasse was invited to deliver a commencement speech to the graduating class of Fremont High School in Fremont, Nebraska. Sasse is a graduate of the high school. Reactions to the speech and Sasse’s delivery of it by the press are over the top.
The commencement event was called “2020 Online Graduation Celebration” and it was streamed on the city of Fremont’s YouTube page for all of their public schools on Saturday. Senator Sasse’s address was reported to be the opening speech. The media hated it. According to the opinions expressed by the likes of CNN’s Chris Cillizza and Yahoo! and even the editorial staff of the Omaha World-Herald, Senator Sasse is a racist tone-deaf idiot who can’t tell a joke.
You can watch the video HERE. It goes for 50 minutes but Sasse is up first and his speech is 8 minutes long. Take a look if you have time. I laughed a couple of times and I groaned a bit but it was far from the worst speech I’ve ever heard.
Chris Cillizza calls the speech strange and weird. He listed some specific quotes that a CNN colleague pointed to on Twitter. Mostly, Cillizza is particularly upset that Sasse poked fun at psychologists.
* “There are a whole bunch of people who make a whole bunch of money by just trying to help other people forget high school. They’re called psychologists. In fact, 95% of all gainfully employed psychologists — and I’m serious, there are dozens of them that are gainfully employed — their job is really just to help people forget high school.”
* “There will always be money to be made in psychology. No, that’s a joke. Do not. If you’re headed to college, do not, do not major in psychology. That part’s not a joke.”
All kidding aside, Ben Sasse's dismissiveness about mental health and psychology is incredibly narrow-minded and just plain wrong.
This kind of attitude is why talking about depression, anxiety and the rest is *STILL* stigmatized.https://t.co/zH8G4CFFzs
— Chris Cillizza (@ChrisCillizza) May 18, 2020
Displaying a lack of humor, Cizzilla went on to criticize Sasse’s attempt at making jokes during the speech. Ok. The jokes weren’t stellar but obviously Sasse was trying to keep the tone of the speech light. He pointed out that our country is in a difficult place due to a public health crisis and an economic crisis just as they are entering a new adult stage in their lives. He encouraged the grads and said they would help lead the country out of tough times with “Nebraska grit”.
A writer for Yahoo Life calls Sasse’s speech “an unnecessarily racist speech” because he blames China for the coronavirus pandemic and calls the Chinese leaders who were not transparent about the outbreak “thugs”. How dare he. Would it have been more acceptable for Sasse to refer to them as a brutal dictator and his murdering minions?
Sasse began his speech congratulating “parents, teachers and coaches” before stating how, because of the pandemic, there was no longer a difference between the titles. “If you’re a parent, you’re a teacher; thanks a lot, China,” he ends, immediately setting the tone for the rest of his time on camera.
Sasse continued blaming China for the pandemic through the remainder of his speech, stating in another anecdote how the class of 2020 will be reminiscing about their unique graduation at their high school reunion decades from now. “You going to say stuff at your high school reunion service ceremonies ‘Remember that time that China started a big, global pandemic that created the worst public health crisis in over a century and brought the economy to its knees?’”
While the senator seemed to try and raise spirits at the end of his speech, telling students how there’s a cure for the coronavirus on the way thanks to American pharmaceutical companies, he made China the punching bag one last time with the declaration, “We’re going to have a serious reckoning with the thugs in China who let this mess spiral out of control by lying about it.”
Sasse offered a little jab at China for turning all parents into school teachers now due to school closures and rightly points to China as the source of the pandemic. He said nothing wrong. Liberal scolds are humorless.
The senator made cracks about the kids living in sweatpants at home and made a couple of jokes about coaches – his father was a coach and school teacher.
The Omaha World-Herald editorial staff , like Cizzilla, is upset about the cracks about psychologists.
First, his mockery of psychologists — saying he was serious in telling students not to major in psychology — risks undercutting school counselors and their important contributions to Nebraska. Those professionals are on the front lines in helping young people address mental health needs, and it is simply inappropriate for a leader to say anything that might discourage teens from seeking help or that denigrates the value of mental health professionals. Only half of adolescents with depression are diagnosed before reaching adulthood, research shows, and suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Nebraska youths ages 15-19.
The op-ed goes on to state that “Fremont Public Schools had disavowed responsibility for Sasse’s remarks, and the Nebraska Counseling Association had issued a statement calling Sasse’s remarks “tasteless and demeaning.” And then it said that Sasse’s remarks were jumbled and not focused on inspiring the graduates. I’ll note the irony in criticizing a politician for not inspiring kids during graduation as I am old enough to remember Barack Obama missing an opportunity, too, the very same day last weekend.
Sasse spokesman James Wegmann criticized Nebraska Democrats for fundraising off Sasse’s speech.
“Like he said in the video greeting, Ben’s proud of each of the graduates — and he believes their generation is tough enough to help lead us through the bumpy economic times ahead. … Ben’s said this for months, because it’s true: The Chinese Communist Party’s coronavirus coverup wasted time that could have contained the spread — those lies cost innocent lives in China and around the world. Pretending graduates are too fragile to hear the truth is silly.”
Commencement speeches are difficult even for the most articulate speakers. Most are nothing memorable. Clearly Sasse was trying to strike a tone of light-hearted humor along with some words of encouragement. It is an unprecedented time and virtual commencement is not something that previous graduating classes faced. A pre-recorded speech wasn’t going to come off as well as in person, especially the jokes. Sasse wasn’t offensive. The adults in the media who have an axe to grind against conservatives in public office are humorless scolds. With the ugliness they sling on a regular basis, they are the last who should be criticizing something as harmless as this commencement address.