Obama To Graduates: Listen To Opposing Views
GUY RAZ, host:
President Obama was in Michigan today to give the commencement address at the University of Michigan. On the stage sat another VIP, one familiar to many of you.
We'll hear about both of the honorees now from NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro who travelled to Ann Arbor with the president.
ARI SHAPIRO: This school has a track record for historic commencement speeches. President Johnson described his great society initiative at the University of Michigan. Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy came to Ann Arbor to lay out the ideas behind the Peace Corps.
President Obama did not propose a bold, new program today, instead he explained his views on the state of American democracy.
President BARACK OBAMA: What troubles me is when I hear people say that all of government is inherently bad.
SHAPIRO: He told students government is responsible for highways, Medicare and the school they are graduating from. He said the question is not whether government should be bigger or smaller, it's how do you make it better?
Pres. OBAMA: Government is what ensures that mines adhere to safety standards or that oil spills are cleaned up by the companies that caused them.
SHAPIRO: That line carries particular weight now all the blame game is played over why nobody stopped the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico from reaching land.
This is an old theme for President Obama. Since the beginning of his campaign, he has argued that traditional Washington debates about government are outdated. Today, he said the way people outside of Washington talk about government needs to change too.
Pres. OBAMA: We can't expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down.
SHAPIRO: He said inflammatory slash-and-burn politics have always been practiced by the ideological fringes, but now it's starting to seep into the center of our discourse.
Pres. OBAMA: This kind of vilification and over-the-top rhetoric closes the door to the possibility of compromise.
SHAPIRO: After all, he said, why should anyone listen to a fascist or socialist?
Pres. OBAMA: It makes it nearly impossible for people who have legitimate but bridgeable differences to sit down at the same table and hash things out.
SHAPIRO: He called on the students to listen to people they disagree with. The crowd was some 92,000, the biggest audience President Obama has spoken to since his inauguration.
Another icon sat on the stage and received an honorary degree today. I secured an exclusive interview with her a few days earlier.
Would you please introduce yourself with your name and title?
SUSAN STAMBERG: I'm Susan Stamberg, special correspondent, National Public Radio, and commencement speaker, frequently.
SHAPIRO: But you were not asked to give the commencement speech in Michigan this weekend?
STAMBERG: Mercifully not.
SHAPIRO: Now, I'm sure that had you been asked to speak head-to-head with President Obama, you would have given him a run for his money. But since you were not asked, I would like to give you the opportunity right now to provide a 30-second version of the commencement speech you might otherwise have given.
STAMBERG: Well, I have a grand finale for a commencement speech, which I've been dying to use, so why not do it now? A good wrap-up.
At the beginning, you plant the idea that you will be presenting them with three rules which will guarantee success for the rest of their young lives. And then at the very end, for the finale, you give the rules and here they are:
Call your mother every day, floss daily and use sunscreen.
SHAPIRO: That's my cousin, Susan Stamberg of NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.
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