A weekly window on the American political scene hosted by the Monitor's politics editors.

At graduation time, even the speeches can sound political

Mary Altaffer/AP
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers Hunter College's commencement address, Wednesday, May 29, 2019, in New York.

Dear reader:
 
It’s graduation season. And that means we get to watch many of our politicians give commencement speeches.
 
These days, the ritual often comes with controversy. Speakers get boycotted; conservatives complain that their views are underrepresented. This year has been somewhat quieter than usual. Campus Reform, a right-wing website that tracks commencement speakers for political bias, found that at the 50 largest public and private four-year colleges, 15 speakers were liberal and 11 conservative, while 24 were non-political.
 
Of course, most speeches, even from politicians, tend to consist largely of urging graduates not to be afraid to fail, or reminding them of the importance of having a goal larger than themselves. Still, some pointed lines crept in.
 
President Donald Trump told Air Force cadets in Colorado Springs that their time at the academy had prepared them “to win, win, win.” “Our country is respected again,” the president said. “We’re reawakening American pride, American confidence, and American greatness.”
 
Speaking to Hunter College grads in New York, Hillary Clinton criticized President Trump for failing to condemn Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. “There may not be tanks in our streets – but make no mistake, we are witnessing an assault on the rule of law and the foundations of our democracy,” she said.
 
One of the most revealing speeches may have come from the man who first appointed Robert Mueller to investigate possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia. In an address at the University of Baltimore law school, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein quoted a speech of Mr. Mueller’s, in which the former special counsel and FBI director said: “You may find yourself standing alone against those you thought were trusted colleagues. You may stand to lose all that you worked for, and it may not be an easy call.” 
 
Mr. Rosenstein then added: “Principles exist precisely for those moments. When you grow old and reflect on times when you stood firmly for what was right, although it was painful and costly, the most difficult occasions may rank among your finest moments.”
 
“Success,” he concluded, “can only be measured over time.”
 
If you have a graduate in your family, congratulations to them. And as always, let us know what you’re thinking at csmpolitics@csmonitor.com.

Why We Wrote This

Most commencement speakers deliver inspirational advice. But for politicians, the chance to tout a record – or sneak in a jab – is hard to pass up.

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