This commencement address surprised me, then, in its defense of talent, skill, production, and rationality, grossly uncharacteristic of a politician's speech. Here are a few of my favorite snippets:
"Amid grade inflation, dumbed-down SAT tests, and stagnant academic performance across most of American education, you chose the harder path. Your self-esteem was hard earned, not conferred as an exercise in social work. If any graduates in America today are ready for the tough world of a prolonged recession, you are."
"The Marines once had a recruiting slogan: "No one wants to fight, but somebody better know how." Today as never before, winning the world economic combat depends on someone knowing how to do the hard work of innovating, enhancing, designing and redesigning new goods and services, creating the kind of value some purchaser is willing to pay for."
"In case that's not already too heavy a load to lay on you, here's more. Even while you're designing, devising, and deploying the innovations that make tomorrow better, I hope you will make time to be active, vocal citizens. Our nation can no longer afford the luxury of its best scientific minds tending to their technical knitting and leaving major public decisions to the lawyers and career politicians.
The U.S. Congress contains eight times as many lawyers as scientists and engineers. In the Indiana General Assembly, only five of one hundred fifty members have a technical background. There is an endearing, but risky tendency for people of science and engineering to concentrate so passionately on the work of invention that they absent themselves from major debates on which their expertise is sorely needed.
I had a dream. A revolution erupted and the mob took all the most talented people to the guillotine. They put a banker in the stocks, but the blade didn't drop and, under the prevailing custom, they had to let him go free. Then they put a star athlete under the blade, but the same thing happened. Then they brought a Rose-Hulman graduate to the scaffold, and as he put his head beneath the knife he looked upward and said "Wait! I think I see your problem!"
We have passed the time when our best scientific minds can devote themselves solely to their chosen work, or to solving huge, avoidable problems after others have caused them. The issues that now face our country often require a technical understanding, or a grasp of statistics, or cost-benefit analysis, or an appreciation of the scientific method with which the general public is not equipped, and which our politicians neither understand nor particularly want to. People like those Rose-Hulman produces must increasingly challenge not just the design of the guillotine but the policies that would put it there in the first place."
Pretty nice, huh? Finally, he went on a screed about the pseudo-science behind global warming:
A relentless project has inundated Americans for years with the demand that we must drastically reduce the carbon dioxide we emit as a society. It is asserted that the earth is warming; that this warming would have negative rather than positive consequences; that the warming is man-made rather than natural; that radical changes in the American economy can make a material difference in this phenomenon; and that utility bills in Indiana must double because no better, less expensive alternative to this policy is discussable.
Well. All these contentions may be correct. It may be that they will all be borne out over the coming decades. But the average citizen has no way to be sure of that for now. Although there are scientists, and scientific studies, that are deeply skeptical of all these claims, they are rarely heard in what passes for public debate. The debate, so far, has been dominated by "experts" from the University of Hollywood and the P.C. Institute of Technology.
Joining this discussion will require more than technical competence; it will take courage, too. In what has become less a scientific than a theological argument, anyone raising a contrary viewpoint or even a challenging question is often subjected to vicious personal criticism. Any dissident voice is likely to be the target of a fatwa issued by one Alatollah or another of the climate change theocracy, branding the dissenter as a "denier" for refusing to bow down to the "scientific consensus."
Ayatollah Gore. I like it.