In his latest column for The New York Times, Bill Kristol dissects Barack Obama’s recent commencement address at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. In terms of his delivery, Mr. Kristol writes, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee hit a home run. But in terms of content, Mr. Obama’s ode to public service left something to be desired.
Obama chooses to introduce the notion of public service from an autobiographical point of view. In college, he explains, “I began to notice a world beyond myself.” So while his friends were seeking jobs on Wall Street, he applied for jobs as a grass-roots activist. And one day, a group of churches in Chicago offered him a job as a community organizer for “$12,000 a year plus $2,000 for an old, beat-up car.”
“And I said yes.”
More striking is Obama’s sin of omission. In the rest of the speech, he goes on to detail — at some length — the “so many ways to serve” that are available “at this defining moment in our history.” There’s the Peace Corps, there’s renewable energy, there’s education, there’s poverty — there are all kinds of causes you can take up “should you take the path of service.”
But there’s one obvious path of service Obama doesn’t recommend — or even mention: military service. He does mention war twice: “At a time of war, we need you to work for peace.” And, we face “big challenges like war and recession.” But there’s nothing about serving your country in uniform.
But we would describe it as an error of commission, rather than omission. You see, Mr. Obama has made similar remarks in the past. In fact, we wrote about his description of public service a few months ago. As in the commencement speech, Senator Obama failed to mention military service as a laudable way to serve your country.
Not that we’re surprised. Obama’s experience with the U.S. military is cursory, at best. He attended two universities—Columbia and Harvard—where ROTC is not allowed on campus. Students preparing for a military career must attend ROTC classes at other schools.
In the case of Harvard, it means a two-mile drive to the MIT campus. For ROTC cadets at Columbia, it’s at least a four mile trip to Manhattan College, or other local institutions that allow the military on campus.
A two or four-mile trip may not sound like much. But making that commute in city traffic is no picnic. And, as far as we know, neither Harvard nor Columbia offers a free shuttle for its ROTC students. That’s about what you’d expect from Ivy League schools that loathe the prospect of on-campus military presence, but still gladly accept DoD research dollars.
And, it’s about what you’d expect from one of their most famous grads, who can’t equate public service with a military uniform.