President Obama last weekend at the University of Michigan undergraduate spring commencement ceremony in Ann Arbor brought with him a message that the media and those who are involved in shaping public opinion ought to adhere to: tell the truth and stop the scare tactics and fear mongering.
Instead of a major policy announcement as some were expecting, including myself, because of what his predecessors have done, President Obama offered a personal responsibility challenge to the iPod, iPhone and BlackBerry generation whose actions will determine the way this nation moves forward. Knowing how politically toxic the public space has become, where emotions are allowed to replace facts and historical perspectives when debating important public policy issues, the president challenged the graduates to consider other viewpoints in the media. He implored them to keep an open mind and let the facts, not emotions, guide their decisions.
Listening freely, attentively and allowing common sense to prevail before making important decisions is as crucial as being able to pay for college tuition.
“If you are somebody who always reads the editorial page of The New York Times, try glancing at the page of The Wall Street Journal once in a while. If you are a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil; your mind may not be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for our democracy,” Obama told jubilant students in his speech at the Big House.
It is evident that young people, especially Generation Y — the next generation — are the ones most prone to manipulation, yet at the same time they are the ones who after making up their minds it is difficult to change their perspective. But Obama admonished the U-M students to make common sense choices, because they are the least tainted by the current poisonous and infectious political climate.
Their decisions are not based on angry ideological lines or divisive politics. This influential generation keeps an open mind despite what comes out of the echo chambers.
That is why you will not see that many young people in the Tea Party movement that is touring the nation with some of its members and affiliated groups questioning Obama’s legitimacy to become president.
It is Generation Y that first embraced Obama’s “Yes We Can” campaign and descended in Iowa to pound the pavement and begin the historic campaign. They had found something they could believe in and hope for without being called names or browbeaten into accepting certain ideological positions as we see in the media now.
It is the White segment of Generation Y that convinced their parents to look at Obama beyond the color of his skin and instead focus on his qualification and the credentials he was bringing to the office of president. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri told the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008, where Obama received the nomination, that her children told her to support the “Yes We Can” campaign.
An interesting example Obama gave in his commencement speech was that during the health care debate, some protesters had signs reading “Keep your government hands out of my Medicare,” forgetting or not knowing that Medicare is government sponsored.
Though there was laughter in the stadium when the president said this was one of his favorite signs, it exposes the ignorance and deeply flawed premise of the protesters. It shows that despite the positions that some of these anti-Obama challengers are taking, they have not done their own research to realize the serious contradictions they are guilty of under the name of legitimate discontent.
Either the protest leaders are deliberately misleading some of these protesters for sound bites with signs asking the government to take its hand off Medicare when a 10 year-old knows the government provides Medicare, or simply the placard carriers couldn’t care less about truth as long it is against President Obama.
More disturbing is the fact that some media outlets have abandoned telling the truth since Obama was elected, and are helping anybody who is willing to make erroneous statements and unsupported positions that lack facts. As long as the outrage and the false claims energize protesters and oils the wheels of the Tea Party movement, it will be given prime time exposure.