It’s the height of commencement season, and life advice is flying as Members of Congress and other big-name political types dispense their wisdom to the class of 2012.
President Barack Obama delivered remarks at Barnard College in New York. His all-but-certain opponent in November, Republican Mitt Romney, addressed students at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) spoke to students at institutions in their home states.
Others traveled far and wide to impart their wisdom to the thousands of graduates entering the workforce — such as it is — this spring. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat who pondered a cross-country move to run in Washington state before deciding against it, went the other direction to deliver a commencement address at American University in Dubai.
But no matter where they spoke or what ideological stripes they wear, politicians tended to hew to the golden rule of commencement addresses: lots of platitudes, not much politics.
“When you’re talking to a college audience that includes parents as well as students, you are communicating [with] a bipartisan group, and you have a chance to reach out to segments that may not be naturally with you and show us a more friendly face on your policies and your approach,” said former Rep. Mark Kennedy (R-Minn.), now director of George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. “And so a wise politician would not try to advance partisan angles in a speech but would try to be taking the high ground.”
Many speeches already given this year follow Kennedy’s guidelines.
A recurring theme in this deeply divided election year has been to get involved in the political process in a “respectful manner,” as Warner put it when he spoke at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
That’s a political theme with few obvious negative connotations from a lawmaker with a solidly centrist and civil reputation.
“Today we’re living in a nation that engages too much confrontation and too little conversation,” Warner said in his speech. “Disagreement and rigorous debate about the big issues of the day and the challenges we face is both healthy and proper. But we should be able to debate these critical issues without questioning each other’s motives or our shared commitment to America’s success. No one in politics — and I mean no one — has a monopoly on virtue, or patriotism, or on the truth.”
Of course, such innocuous-sounding messages are delivered with intent — in effect, “I’m not going to make an obvious political pitch today, but the subtext of what I’m saying is that I’m the kind of person you should support because I’m civil and virtuous and patriotic.”