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Obama Wrong on Faith and Success, Right on Value of Community College

Point of personal privilege, as I note that the Aberdeen American News has its priorities straight:

Aberdeen American News, front page, 2015.05.09
Aberdeen American News, front page, 2015.05.09

Who gets her picture above President Barack Obama? Pastor Erin, on Mother’s Day weekend, and right next to our 13th anniversary. President Schmesident—let’s woot-woot my wife!

Funny, that juxtaposition, since now I’ve got to bag on President Obama for going all theocrat on me in the conclusion of his Lake Area Vo-Tech commencement speech in Watertown yesterday:

To the Class of 2015, you have earned the chance to walk the road to freedom and to make of your lives what you will; to write that next great chapter in our American story. And your path will not always be easy, and your way forward will not always be clear. But you have worked hard for this moment. And if you hold fast to that faith in yourself and in your country and in our God, then the greatest moments of your journey are the ones that still lie ahead [President Barack Hussein Obama, commencement address, Lake Area Technical Institute, Watertown, South Dakota, 2015.05.08].

Our God? Barack, you’re killing me here! Did your advance people really verify that you and the 700+ graduates whom you honored yesterday all believe in the same God? Are you really saying that holding fast to your God (not even any god or gods, but your one God, with a capital G) is a necessary condition to enjoying a successful life? Do you really believe that everyone who adopts the Christian faith will avoid poverty and other hardships? And is it really the place of any elected leader who has sworn an oath to uphold the properly church-state separating United States Constitution to exhort any American to adhere to that leader’s religion?

I wonder: would a President Bernie Sanders say such religiously insensitive things?

Mr. President, I have never held fast to your religious faith. I don’t have a problem with your or my wife’s holding fast to said faith. Throughout my counterexemplary faithlessness, my adult life has only become richer, bringing me ever more interesting, challenging and satisfying experiences and friendships. Your statement that the “greatness” of my “journey” hinges on my faith in your God thus appears to be not only unconstitutional but incorrect.

*   *   *

Deep breaths. Snack break. Walk around the block.

*   *   *

President Barack Obama gets Governor Dennis Daugaard to chuckle during the President's commencement address to Lake Area Technical Institute graduates, Watertown, South Dakota, May 8, 2015. Screen cap from SDPB live video.
President Barack Obama gets Governor Dennis Daugaard to chuckle during the President’s commencement address to Lake Area Technical Institute graduates, Watertown, South Dakota, May 8, 2015. Screen cap from SDPB live video.

Other than that, the President’s speech was pretty good. A majority of his text—well over 2,000 out of the 3,700 words delivered—was specific and unique to South Dakota and the Lake Area graduates. It was funny: the President issued an executive action guaranteeing the graduates lifetime student discounts at Buffalo Wild Wings (“B-Dubs”—the President is hipper than I). Even Governor Dennis Daugaard, stuck in the TV frame to the President’s right throughout the Commander-in-Chief’s 24 minutes at the LATI podium, had to crack a smile when the President said the graduates probably weren’t thinking about hard work, sacrifice, and the idea that we Americans are all one family while they “celebrated Thirsty Thursday last night.” He knocked the “He’s so arrogant” fabrication out of the Limbaugh-listeners in the hall by saying, “I didn’t come here to inspire you. I came here because you, the graduates, inspire me.”

The President also made some vital points on principle and policy. Invoking Hubert Humphrey, he said, “The road to freedom begins in the classroom.” Working toward that line, the President laid out the case for making community college free and universal:

So stories like Joe’s, and Leanna’s, and Maysa’s, and Colin’s — they are our proof that community colleges like this one are a vital path to the middle class for millions of Americans. In just two years, schools like this can change lives, change careers, grow our economy. It can change our country.

All of us are better off when our businesses have access to the best-trained workers in the world. All of us are better off when entrepreneurs like Colin and Maysa can boost their hometown economies, and make it more attractive for young people to stay. All of us are better off when a parent like Leanna can make ends meet and provide for her kids. All of us are better off when a patriot like Joe can keep serving his country [President Obama, 2015.05.08].

(Ah, the speech coach says: excellent use of repetition, combined with continued references to people the audience knows and cares about.)

The President noted that we helped lots of this year’s LATI graduates with Pell Grants. He said we could offer that same help to every willing worker with one simple policy change and a little gumption from Congress:

 I want to lower the cost of community college in America to zero. I want to make it as easy to go to community college as it is to graduate from high school, if you’re willing to work hard.

Now, I know some of you graduates are wishing we could go back in time and make the last two years free. (Laughter.) I get it. I do, too. But if folks in Congress decided to make this a priority, we could do the next best thing and make community college free for an entire generation of young Americans, as long as they’re willing to work, keep their grades up, be responsible, graduate on time. And we could pay for it by closing just one loophole for millionaires and billionaires. Just one. (Applause.) Just one tax loophole enjoyed almost entirely by very few at the top, we could offer a quality education to millions of middle-class Americans. It’s in everybody’s interest.

We live in a 21st century economy that rewards knowledge and innovation like never before. So as a country, we can’t afford to let any striving American be priced out of the education they need to get ahead. For everybody willing to work for it, we need to make two years of community college as free and universal as high school is today. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the right thing to do. [President Obama, 2015.05.08].

PNR, take note: the President is tying free community collage tuition to some of the judgmentality you and Thomas Sowell say help for the poor should include. President Obama is saying he’ll pay for kids’ two-year degrees, but the kids will have to get good grades and get through on time. His proposal even nods toward the Tennessee free-two-year-degree plan’s community-service requirement. PNR, since private scholarships aren’t making universal K-14 possible, may we accept the government assistance President Obama proposes to promote our common wealth?

President Obama’s offer to add two-year degrees to part of our American concept of free and universal public education would make history. It would also help nine million young Americans make more money. Yet our Congressional delegation walked out of yesterday’s ceremony saying this bold plan is just too big, too costly.

Keep trying, Mr. President. Keep trying.


  1. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-05-09 18:54

    Congratulations Erin! Cory, you didn’t tell us your wife is so beautiful. I’m very happy for her to be at the beginning of her ministry. Pastoring has pluses and minuses, but I never expected it to be so much flat out fun! I wish Erin many delightful experiences.

  2. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-05-09 18:56

    POTUS said, “And we could pay for it by closing just one loophole for millionaires and billionaires.”

    Every American, and especially those in Congress, should find that statement appalling. How did this great nation get so messed up?

  3. Douglas Wiken 2015-05-09 19:36

    I have the whole text of Obama’s remarks at Raucous Caucus. There is a link to that also at Dakota Today.

  4. Richard Schriever 2015-05-09 19:38

    I had my eye on Governor Daugard’s body language as he listened to the speech. There were many points at which he resorted to nervous hand motion ticks to attempt to disguise his disagreements with the contents of the speech (FYI Dennis – that doesn’t really work.) There was one noticeable moment when a subtle eye-roll escaped his ability to “control” his reactions. It was while this portion of the speech was being delivered.

    “”And we could pay for it by closing just one loophole for millionaires and billionaires. Just one. (Applause.) Just one tax loophole enjoyed almost entirely by very few at the top, we could offer a quality education to millions of middle-class Americans. It’s in everybody’s interest.”

  5. larry kurtz 2015-05-09 19:48

    Good eye, Mr. Schriever: DD was positively squirming with discomfort for being upstaged by someone whose IQ made South Dakota’s governor look like a deer in the headlights.

  6. Kurt Evans 2015-05-09 20:18

    Cory wrote:
    >“Our God? Barack, you’re killing me here! … is it really the place of any elected leader who has sworn an oath to uphold the properly church-state separating United States Constitution to exhort any American to adhere to that leader’s religion?”

    The signatories to the Constitution dated it in reference both to the life of Jesus Christ and to American independence, and they used the phrase “our Lord” in reference to Christ: “Done in convention by the unanimous consent of the states present the seventeenth day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-seven and of the independence of the United States of America the twelfth, in witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names.”

    Is the Constitution unconstitutional?

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-09 20:23

    Deb, thank you. She doesn’t like me tooting that horn… but pictures speak for themselves.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-09 20:25

    Larry, I do agree the speech demonstrated high IQ and EQ. He reaches his audience, but he also structures a very serious argument about one specific couched in deep political philosophy and love of country.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-09 20:33

    Kurt, the First Amendment was part of the twelve articles approved by the First Congress and submitted to the states for ratification on September 25, 1789. At the time our Founders inscribed the miscalculated reference to Jesus’s birth, there was no First Amendment Establishment Clause on which I could have based an objection.

  10. owen 2015-05-09 20:41

    The speech by the President was much better then the one I had to sit through at the Mitchell Tech graduation yesterday.
    Dana Dykhouse, CEO of First Premier Bank in Sioux Falls gave the commencement address and it was awful. I”ll try to find a transcript.
    Dykhouse brought up that the President would be announcing details of a scholarship program and in a smart-alex voice Dykhouse said he’d tell the President that South Dakota beat him to the punch with the Build Dakota Scholarship program.
    Ah Mr. Dykhouse the President called for a free education for ALL students. The Build Dakota Scholarship program doesn’t do that.
    If he would have given the address last year when I graduated from MTI I would have stood up during the address and walked out.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-09 20:46

    Owen, I’d love to see that transcript… and maybe some video, if the school or your classmates shot any. But smart-alecky? Can’t be—Bob Mercer says South Dakotans and the President were all being mutually respectful and cordial yesterday.

  12. Roger Elgersma 2015-05-09 20:49

    Freedom of speech and freedom of thought give both Cory the right to not agree with the Pres and his wife to not agree with Cory.
    Obama was not talking about a law to have faith. He is speaking from experience as are you Cory. Obama has said that the job of president does put you in positions where you learn to pray. When he said ‘our God’ rather than ‘my God’ he was leaving the door open for more than one opinion about who God is although not much of a door for atheism. I do think that there is some room for a personal touch of ones own experience especially since he included the experience of individual students. Not everyone]s life will have all the same experiences even if following the same values or methods. We all have different situations and they do not all follow the same pattern. But his speech had a general point of individuals and their experiences rather than law on education, except his reference to funding education.

  13. Donald Pay 2015-05-09 20:55

    Cory, it’s a matter of “priorities” for South Dakota Republican leaders. That means you have to know who’s paying these Republicans off. It isn’t the students, who barely have enough change in their pocket for an order at B-Dubs. They’ll say Obama’s student tuition help is too costly to help all South Dakota students get a good start in life, but then take Obama’s largesse on a borehole for radioactive wastes.

    Spreading the same amount of money around to a large number of students makes it nearly impossible that the Republican bigwigs are going to get a cut of it. Send it to a couple Republican-leaning subcontractors in the nuclear waste business means the Republicans get a huge chunk. It’s all greed and graft with those Republicans.

  14. owen 2015-05-09 21:00

    I’ll see what I can find Cory. Yes Dykhouse was a smart ass.

  15. Kurt Evans 2015-05-09 21:45

    Cory wrote:
    >“Kurt, the First Amendment was part of the twelve articles approved by the First Congress and submitted to the states for ratification on September 25, 1789. At the time our Founders inscribed the miscalculated reference to Jesus’s birth, there was no First Amendment Establishment Clause on which I could have based an objection.”

    Right, but there is now. Do you believe James Madison and the rest of the First Congress intended for the First Amendment to render the Founding Fathers’ reference to “our Lord” unconstitutional?

  16. grudznick 2015-05-09 22:45

    I listened on Public Radio. I thought Mr. Obama came off as smarmy and ignorant but did a pretty good job of being a suckup to the Watertown crowd by pretending he knew several good teachers by name.

  17. Roger Cornelius 2015-05-09 22:48

    grudz, spoken like a true South Dakota Republican low-information voter.

  18. grudznick 2015-05-09 22:56

    Mr. C, I blame Mr. Obama for that. He should do better at educating me but he really doesn’t care to. So I guess it’s Mr. H that is dropping the ball.

    You’re a swell fellow, Mr. C, and you know I kid. If you don’t like Talley’s how about the Campbell Street Cafe?

  19. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-10 08:57

    Roger E., I think you are too generous in your reading of the possessive pronoun. “Our” means we all share it. “God” is singular. “Our God” means one God whom we all share. That excludes atheists, agnostics, and polytheists. The exclusivity also does does not invite differing opinions on the nature of God. It implies a common religion, a common theology. It is an exclusivist comment that I find bothersome coming from a President who is usually pretty good about speaking inclusively. Maybe he just assumed that since he’s in South Dakota, he’s speaking to the least diverse audience possible, and he could slip into the theocratic vernacular.

    Flip the situation: were I a graduation speaker, I would never presume to say, “Our success depends on our rejection of faith in the supernatural.”

    Such an exclusivist religious exhortation has no place in the secular sphere. It is appropriate only in your church.

  20. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-10 08:59

    Realistically, I suspect Madison and the rest of the First Congress didn’t even think about that bookkeeping notation at the end of Article 7. Technically, the First Amendment would have that effect, just as the 13th Amendment rendered illegal the more substantive clauses of the original Articles protecting slavery.

  21. Bill Fleming 2015-05-10 09:51

    Cory, can you go along with two thirds of Obama’s equation? i.e. Can you agree that your having faith in yourself and your country makes for a greater life journey? If so, I submit that two out of three ain’t bad. ;-) now, if you’ll allow a little esoteric discussion from your friend Pythogoras, consider the number one, and the idea that one and one can never add up to two. One means all, unity. Everything there is. You can only get two by breaking the One down into parts.

    Your rational mind won’t like that mode of thought, but that’s only half the mind you have. The other half of your head gets it just fine. We’re talking soul, homeboy, so don’t get too hung up on the words.

    You got soul, brother, we all do.

    And that’s really all your President was talkin’ bout. Keep the faith man. Life is good. :-)

  22. larry kurtz 2015-05-10 10:08

    Obama is a pro but grud smells more like pp every post.

  23. Travis 2015-05-10 10:22

    I think you’re nitpicking a bit, Cory, about Obama’s use of the term “Our God.” I assume he meant it not to be controversial. South Dakota and the rest of the Midwest has a reputation of being more church-going nod religious than either coast, so I’m thinking it was a small bit of pandering to our state’s citizens. You should take as much offense to it as I should take to a person who states that God doesn’t exist. I don’t take offense, since we are all entitled to believe what we believe. God does or doesn’t exist whether or not you or I or Obama do or do not believe in Him/Her. Just my opinion, but I’m a liberal Lutheran (and by liberal, I mean open-minded)… :)

  24. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-10 10:44

    Travis, my school district probably doesn’t mean it ot be controversial when it requires middle schoolers to stand and recite a Pledge of Allegiance that includes the inserted phrase “Under God” and posts “In God We Trust,” the national motto Congress adopted in 1956, in every classroom. But such expressions, like the President’s, exclude many citizens and violate the separation of church and state. There is a big difference between any person in the street saying God exists or doesn’t exist and the President of the United States not just saying so in an official capacity but saying that one’s success depends on believing so.

    And if it was just pandering, then we should all take offense independent of the First Amendment.

  25. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-10 10:56

    Bill, faith in oneself? Yes. Faith in one’s country? Yes. However, we should also maintain a healthy skepticism about ourselves and our country: we’re both capable of doing selfish, stupid things, and we should never take on faith that all of our personal and national decisions are unquestionably good ideas.

    I believe our President has the intellectual horses to engage in an esoteric discussion of Pythagoras and the magic of numbers, not to mention the full ramifications of the First Amendment for Presidential rhetoric. He’d be a heck of a discussion partner at Bully Blends. But as much as I love our President, I’m hard-pressed to believe that those two words—”our God”—were a deliberate and sly invitation to such discourse rather than a poor choice of words.

    Life is good, Bill, and I will keep the faith… on a shelf… far away from my intellectual meat and potatoes. :-D

    Side note: I saw a bumper sticker today at the grocery store: “I didn’t reach the top of the food chain just to eat vegetables.” My mind spins a little, and I recall that President Obama is far from the greatest threat to the separation of church and state. My upcoming bumper sticker: “I didn’t go through the Reformation and the Age of Enlightenment just to have President Ted Cruz.”

  26. Bill Fleming 2015-05-10 11:05

    And you didn’t learn to ride your bike by doing the math, Cory. Or how to talk by diagraming sentences. Namaste good friend. Being smart and having faith aren’t mutually exclusive. :-)

  27. Roger Cornelius 2015-05-10 12:06

    My favorite bumper sticker of all time:

    “Jesus Christ Is Coming And Boy Is He Pissed”

  28. Richard Schriever 2015-05-10 12:18

    IMHO – “Year of our Lord” is the approximate equivalent to GMT. It is a reference to an Imperially selected arbitrary location along a time-line (the progress of the Earth’s rotation relative to the sun). Or, indeed – counting in base 10 (vs. oh, say base 7. Simply something that was commonly used as a way of denoting actions relative to others. I.E., It is NOT an endorsement of a particular religion – simply a naming convention.

    Kurt – you sound like a Christian with a desperate need to assert your own (little?) faith; uncomfortable with it’s own relative position in the world. Not so different to Corey’s dissent at all. Same base emotional motive/motif.

    Personally – as a pantheist – I have no objection to the use of the term by the Prexy.

  29. mike from iowa 2015-05-10 12:22

    It ain’t Ted,it is Raphael Cruz. Actual foreign born Texan by way of Cuba and Canada.

  30. mike from iowa 2015-05-10 12:24

    President hits 50. Before the All Star break,that is a new record for MLB.

  31. Douglas Wiken 2015-05-10 18:29

    Obama is President, but he got there by being a politician first. His use and abuse of religious phrases is a partisan ploy to partially counteract the retrogrades continuing to claim he is actually a Moslem. Cory is also correct in suggesting his pandering to dangerous drinking holes and habits was also inappropriate and unnecessary. It is a lame attempt to prove that he really is just one of the good old boys.

    We have been plagued by politicians dragging in individual apocryphal stories ever since Reagan did it in a SUTU speech and got rave reviews from press knuckleheads for his expert but irrelevant exploitation. Obama’s Remarks fill 6 typed pages. Of those, only 1 actually has policy relevance to community colleges and tech schools. Politicans are like architects copying each others mistakes. They pick up the worst most egregious tools they can exploit to do what they think improves their image. They work with some people and not with others.

  32. grudznick 2015-05-10 20:45

    Mr. Wiken, it might just do the “Moslems” some good to go hang around a few dangerous old drinking holes and gravel pits with some of the brightest youth in Watertown.

  33. Kurt Evans 2015-05-10 22:49

    Richard Schriever wrote:
    >“Kurt – you sound like a Christian with a desperate need to assert your own (little?) faith; uncomfortable with it’s own relative position in the world.”

    Thanks for your perspective, Richard. You sound smug and condescending.

  34. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-11 07:37

    Deb, the WaPo article is a remarkable report on attitudes in our small-town culture. Well worth reading.

    A key takeaway: notice the huge difference in the attitude of the woman who, before the President arrives, foments the “Obama isn’t a Christian” lie, but then, after she sees him, finds herself thinking he’s a real person, with a family, just like us, and cuts him all sorts of slack. Therein lies the power of seeing each other as real people, not as the caricatures drawn for us by the corporate media and e-mail forwards.

  35. mike from iowa 2015-05-11 07:40

    Rilly good article,Ms Deb. You taught your students well.

  36. Roger Cornelius 2015-05-11 11:58

    Has anyone else noticed the ominous calm on Republican blogs about the President Obama’s South Dakota visit?

    The Dump Site or the childish Sibson have not said a word. Why is that?

  37. Douglas Wiken 2015-05-12 17:15

    The wingnut blogs are aware now that the general population has real evidence that Obama does not have cloven hooves after all. Our timid SD Democrats should have had Obama and Nancy Pelosi out here raising hell for them so the general population would have seen they were not paragons of evil, but regular people aligned with them instead of with the moguls and maggots attacking government while they themselves bleed it dry.

  38. jerry 2015-05-12 19:11

    Cloven hooves, what a description, thanks for the laugh Mr. Wiken. Wingnuts are finding that most sane people don’t buy into the nonsense of what they are selling. We are a secular nation and getting more so each hour. Their way of hate is going by the wayside. They will last here in South Dakota because most people are to damn tired to deal with them. The irony of it all is that religious radicals are driving people away from religion, life is funny that way.

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