Barack Obama couldn’t be Harvard Class Day speaker yesterday for obvious reasons. He was too busy preparing to reach out to his Muslim brothers and sisters.
Outreach to Muslims? This is affirmative action the U.S. can really use.
Policy-wise, Obama’s address could have been a speech George W. Bush would have given. The end goal of Obama’s comments essentially is a two-state solution exactly what Bush was pushing in the end.
But what a difference the messenger makes.
Would you say that Bush had a credibility problem? He only helped perpetuate the white stereotype that Obama referred to in his speech. Of course, it’s no different from the way Bin Laden feeds the Muslim stereotypes Americans know and love.
They all get in the way of communication.
But with a new messenger before them, the Muslim audience saw a new global leader in whom they could see a bit of a reflection of themselves. It was worth another look at the New America.
“I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” said Obama. “One based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”
With Obama’s background in Indonesia, his parentage, his cultural connection comes a new kind of diplomatic tone that may prove to be a more productive path to a lasting peace.
It’s a personal touch, the kind that comes with a new messenger. Denigrate Obama’s Muslim outreach as just a pretty speech. We are in a phase, amid war and terror, where one cannot make light of pretty speech.
Obama was plenty tough on both Israel and Hamas. Masked in pretty speech, it may help all sides see and value their common interests.
So Obama was at a university in Cairo and not Cambridge. Not at Harvard. But Matt Lauer was.
On the “The Today” show, Lauer talked about being the Harvard Class Day speaker: “Giving a speech to Harvard students and their parents and the faculty is just nerve-wracking and I admit it was intimidating.”
I can relate. I gave the student speech before the Class Day speaker in 1977 (George Plimpton that year). And it was intimidating. And exhilarating. It was a funny speech making fun of Harvard. So, of course, it got laughs. And one big one, I’ll never forget.
As I look back, I have given many speeches, but because of the setting the students, the parents, and the faculty that Lauer talked about, it was special.
I look to replicate that feeling every time I step to a podium.