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John Legend’s Liberal Lecture



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One of the most disappointing things about being a conservative is discovering (over and over) that musicians that you love talk distressingly like every other liberal celebrity. Soul crooner John Legend gave a very pedestrian liberal lecture (very un-legendary) speaking at the commencement of his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. Pacifica Radio anchor Amy Goodman was in the audience, and was delighted to broadcast audio of the speech on her show Democracy Now. Here’s a snippet:

We lost thousands of lives and spent billions, possibly trillions, of dollars fighting in and rebuilding Iraq, all based on the false premise that there were weapons of mass destruction or that Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with al-Qaeda and caused 9/11, all falsehoods that were allowed to poison the debate while dissension and fact-checking came too little and too late.

We’ve spent trillions of dollars bailing out banks with phantom profits that were selling financial products whose values had no grounding in reality. The fact that some of them didn’t even understand their own product didn’t stop them from getting millions of people to buy into it. Meanwhile, the regulators and the press failed to ask the right questions and bear witness to the house of cards until it had already collapsed.

From the war in Iraq to credit-default swaps to the internet bubble to the real estate bubble, too often we got caught up in the hype and failed to see the real truth.

Too often, in business and in government, people are rewarded for having the answer that the person they report to wants them to have: “Yes, sir. We can provide mortgages to people who have no down payment and can’t afford the monthly payments.” “Yes, sir. We should buy the cheapest possible toys from factories with low safety standards and not worry if it poisons our children.” “Yes, ma’am. I can write a legal brief to justify torture.”

Too often, we become apathetic. We see the lies, we see the obfuscation, the deception. And we fail to point it out. We’re afraid to rain on the parade, afraid to rock the boat, afraid to pursue the truth.

Now, while your education here at Penn does not require that you are a spokesperson for any particular cause, you now have the resources and skills, the privilege and, yes, hopefully, the passion to pursue the truth, to be witnesses of today and for tomorrow, to speak truth to power and to speak the truth on behalf of the powerless.

The cliches continue, about the strong bond between a commitment to truth and a commitment to “social justice,” but that’s about all a conservative fan can stand.



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