“Excellent speech,” said Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA), on Tuesday as he entered a House Democratic Caucus meeting featuring White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. Bishop was quick to respond positively on what he thought of the President’s commencement address at Morehouse College.
Bishop graduated from Morehouse in 1968 and heard President Obama’s speech on Sunday in person.
“If people want to have something to critique that’s fine. I thought it was an excellent speech — one of his best speeches,” Bishop elaborated. As the first Black President of the United States continues to walk the tightrope of being in that role, some say he has “talked down” to African Americans in a way he would not do with others.
Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO) watched the speech on Sunday in its entirety. Clay wasn’t interested in the flap involving Rev. Kevin Johnson or any other criticisms of Obama’s message to the Morehouse graduates.
“We need to stop. Please let’s stop pontificating and BS-ing,” Clay added.
“The speech was uplifting. It talked to our community about what we need to do and what we need to address in order to get us on course to be successful and be progressive. He hit all of the salient points about what the ills of our community are. If we can’t talk about those problems well then who can?” Clay added emphatically.
“Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) who was at the Morehouse graduation in person. Johnson flew on Air Force One from Washington with President Obama as did Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), who graduated from Morehouse in 1995. Several members remarked that a graduation was not the place for detailed policy pronouncements but rather a day that should be focused on the graduates.
Rev. Kevin Johnson, a Morehouse alum who wrote a critical article on President Obama regarding cabinet picks and policy to assist Black Americans, said yesterday on MSNBC that he felt some of what President Obama told Morehouse grads may have been better said in private.
Johnson generally praised the President’s speech. But he wondered out loud whether, “should we have kept this in a closed door setting. As I look at the headlines out here I ask should we have talked about this in a closed setting verses an open setting.”
“I don’t think it should be private. I think it’s the role of every single one of us,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) commenting generally on that question as she made her way to question Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at a House hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.
“If we don’t do it who’s going to do it? Why would we be ashamed of a problem that is so clear? Everyone knows it?” Wilson said.
“I think that he said everything that needed to be said — he spoke to hearts and souls of those young brothers,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). “Anything that the President of the United States says it’s not going to be private. You can’t sweep the issues confronting Black America under the rug or in some dark corner. They need to be out in the light for all of us to deal with it. For white and black — we’re all in the same boat,” Lewis said.
Lewis was asked about whether the President should in general be more focused in the needs of Black Americans. “He has three more years,” said Lewis. “We’re all in the same boat,” Lewis added. “We’re not going to make any progress together in American unless we make it together,” Lewis concluded.
There are currently 45 Black members of the 113th Congress. Several members have been critical of the President over various policy issues over the last four years. But on the specific question of the President’s Morehouse commencement address, those who have seen the address in its entirety have had positive reactions.