by Jacob Sullum
I agree with Jesse Walker and Nick Gillespie that the worst thing about President's Obama's speech to the students today (aside from the fact that he had no business giving it to begin with, since it's well beyond his constitutional job description) is the creepy collectivism implied by sentences like these:
If you quit on school, you're not just quitting on yourself, you're quitting on your country....
Don't ever give up on yourself, because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.
The story of America [is] about people...who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best....
What will a President who comes here in 20 or 50 or 100 years say about what all of you did for this country?...
I expect great things from each of you. So don't let us down. Don't let your family down or your country down.
As the positive quotes in this Los Angeles Timesstory show, Republicans and self-identified conservatives do not necessarily have a problem with this sort of rhetoric, or with the notion of the president as national dad. But individualists should.
One hopeful thing about Obama's speech is something that was not there: There was not a single explicit reference to drugs. The closest Obama came was when he said:
I wasn't always as focused as I should have been [in high school]. I did some things I'm not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.
But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams.
In his memoir Dreams From My Father, Obama famously acknowledges that he smoked pot and snorted coke as a teenager, choices he implausibly magnifies into a brush with ruin, the better to reinforce the message that users are losers (except when they become presidents or Olympic champions). But perhaps because his own biography (like those of most people who use drugs, including his two immediate predecessors in the White House) is such a clear refutation of that notion, Obama only alluded to it in today's speech. As Tim Cavanaugh notes, Obama also mentioned "friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren't right," which could be interpreted as a reference to drug use (but might also be about cheating, cutting class, stealing, vandalism, or some other adolescent misdemeanor).
By comparison with the anti-drug obsessions of Reagan and Bush the Elder or the obligatory anti-drug messages from the two subsequent administrations, Obama's silence on the subject in this speech represents progress. As nice as it would be if the president could discuss drugs honestly, refraining from lying about them is a good first step.