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The good news is that after ten years in office and thousands of commencement addresses, United States Senator Charles “Chuck” Schumer, ostensibly a Democrat from New York, has changed his standard speech. Students were becoming afraid to go on for advanced degrees, knowing that Senator Chuck would show up at graduation uninvited, grab the microphone, and start telling them once again how as a young man he chose the girl over the scholarship. Parents were probably starting to complain as well. As a college faculty member, I estimate I was forced to sit through the speech twenty times.
The bad news is that his new speech is at least as bad as his old one. It the past he was vapid and insipid. Now he has moved on to the insulting.
For Senator Chuck, third-ranking Democrat in the Senate and head of the Democratic Senatorial campaign committee, there was a lot he could have talked about at commencement exercises this year. It is a presidential election year and the Democrats are involved in a historic, heated, and perhaps fratricidal nominating process. The Democrats hope to win the White House and expand on its narrow control over the Senate (which is Schumer’s party responsibility). The nation has been at war in Iraq since 2003 and Afghanistan since 2001, with no end in sight, and little clarity about what the end will look like. The economy is in recession, the planet is warming, the housing market has collapsed, unemployment is creeping up, and on the way to the graduation ceremony students and their families paid over four dollars a gallon to fill up their SUVs. None of these issues were addressed in Schumer’s speech.
Senator Chuck started out with a bit of grandiosity, declaring that he personally “passed the law to allow you to deduct college tuition on your federal income tax.” Next he described how proud he was when his daughter graduated from college and told the graduates how she, and they, were part of a new generation that was fluent in the new technology and that it was “in your blood stream.” He neglected to mention that his daughters attended Harvard, as had he, not one of the state schools or local colleges where he speaks.
Schumer’s main advice was that the new graduates, instead of settling for just any job, should try to find something that they really like to do. He remembered how his father hated being an exterminator, and that at the age of fourteen, while working on a summer job, he promised himself that he would only do the type of job that he likes. That is why after attending Harvard College and Harvard Law School, he went into politics instead of a prestigious law firm.
Senator Chuck seemed oblivious to the fact that few, if any, in the audience have his, or his daughters’, options. Many of my students, who plan to become social studies teachers, are tens of thousands of dollars in debt because of student loans, face steep competition for any teaching position in an oversaturated market, and have little prospect of buying a home in or near the communities where they were raised and their families still live. These young people worked hard, did everything that was expected of them, and now must pay for the malfeasance and incompetence of Schumer and the nation’s other political leaders.
Senators Clinton and Obama promise to be agents of change if they secure the White House. If Senator Chuck Schumer is an example of what the Democrats have to offer, we can expect very little real change from this party.
ALAN SINGER teaches at Hofstra University. He can be reached at: CATAJS@Hofstra.edu