Obama Defends Condoleezza Rice During Rutgers Commencement Speech

By Melanie Arter | May 16, 2016 | 10:24 AM EDT

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – During a commencement speech on Sunday at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., President Barack Obama said it was “misguided” for the students and school faculty to protest former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s planned commencement speech two years ago.

“And if participation means voting, and it means compromise, and organizing and advocacy, it also means listening to those who don’t agree with you. I know a couple years ago, folks on this campus got upset that Condoleezza Rice was supposed to speak at a commencement,” he said.

 



“Now, I don't think it's a secret that I disagree with many of the foreign policies of Dr. Rice and the previous administration, but the notion that this community or the country would be better served by not hearing from a former Secretary of State, or shutting out what she had to say, I believe that’s misguided,” he said. “I don't think that's how democracy works best, when we're not even willing to listen to each other,” Obama continued.

In May 2014, Rice decided against delivering the commencement address at Rutgers after protests from students and faculty over her role in the Iraq war.

At the time, Rice told Rutgers President Robert Barchi, “Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families. Rutgers’ invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time.”

“If you disagree with somebody, bring them in and ask them tough questions. Hold their feet to the fire. Make them defend their positions. If somebody has got a bad or offensive idea, prove it wrong. Engage it. Debate it. Stand up for what you believe in,” Obama said during Sunday’s commencement speech at Rutgers.

“Don't be scared to take somebody on. Don't feel like you got to shut your ears off because you're too fragile and somebody might offend your sensibilities. Go at them if they’re not making any sense. Use your logic and reason and words, and by doing so, you’ll strengthen your own position, and you’ll hone your arguments,” he said. 

“And maybe you’ll learn something and realize you don't know everything, and you may have a new understanding not only about what your opponents believe but maybe what you believe. Either way, you win, and more importantly, our democracy wins,” Obama added.

Also, in a commencement speech at Howard University in Washington, D.C., last week, Obama advised students not to try to shut down speakers who have a different viewpoint, because “every time a fool speaks, they are just advertising their own ignorance.”

“So don’t try to shut folks out. Don’t try to shut them down no matter how much you might disagree with them. There's been a trend around the country of trying to get colleges to disinvite speakers with a different point of view, or disrupt a politician’s rally,” he told graduates at Howard.

“Don’t do that no matter how ridiculous or offensive you might find the things that come out of their mouths, because as my grandmother used to tell me, every time a fool speaks, they are just advertising their own ignorance. Let them talk. Let them talk. If you don’t, you just make them a victim, and then they can avoid accountability,” Obama said at the time.

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