In “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers,” Lord Byron wrote:
Seek roses in December — ice in June;
Hope constancy in wind, or corn in chaff,
Believe a woman or an epitaph,
Or any other thing that’s false, before
You trust in Critics.
I will not attempt iambic pentameter, which is probably just as well, but I do think it makes equally little sense to expect a college-commencement speaker to say anything you won’t forget by the time you finish lunch with your parents afterwards.
In keeping with this tradition, Bill Clinton’s Class Day address to the graduating students at Yale University on Sunday appears to have been a masterpiece of Obama-style aerogel speechwriting, in which a microscopic quantity of meaning is dispersed within a vast quantity of wind. I haven’t found a complete transcript (video is available here), but, while conceding the futility of trying to extract meaning from a blizzard of banalities, here are some of the highlights:
“One problem we have in the modern world is, we’ve got access to more information than ever before, but we don’t all listen to the same information,” he said.
And that’s a problem why?
“All these wacko things that are happening in American politics today are not really what they seem — just people screaming, ‘Stop the world! I want to get off!’ The problem is you can’t stop it, and you can’t get off. And since we’re all stuck, we’d better make it better together.”
Gee whiz, Bill, who might you be referring to?
“We have to become relentlessly committed to change — and change is hard,” said Clinton.
And of course to a true progressive, change is inherently good, and standing athwart is bad.
The goal, Clinton asserted, “should be the non-zero sum game,” i.e., finding solutions to the world’s problems in which everybody wins.
Welcome to capitalism! Let Obama know about this if you ever talk to him.
“The mission of every citizen in the world . . . has to be to build up the positive and reduce the negative forces of our interdependence.”
Let me get this straight: You want more of what’s good and less of what’s bad? Sounds crazy, but it just might work — though I’m not sure that we want to saddle every Applebee’s waitress and Bombay street urchin with that much responsibility.
Calling pessimism a “cop out,” Clinton said, “Nobody remembers the naysayers. In the end, all that endures are the builders. And in the end, the builders are forgotten, and all that endures are the ripples of what they built.”
Well, that’s encouraging. Have you met John Derbyshire?
On the other hand, at least President Clinton refrained from wearing a funny hat.