The rain continues to fall in Churchill Downs as the colt Awesome Act hopes to make history in the 136th running of the Kentucky Derby.Â It will be a muddy affair, but then it will still be an awesome act.
Meanwhile, lost in the Kentucky Derby excitement is another awesome act - the extraordinary graduation speech given by President Barack Obama today at the commencement for the University of Michigan.Â Speaking to more than 90,000 people in the huge football stadium there, Obama addressed the rancor in Washington.
In part he reminded people of three things.Â First, that these were trying times, and that while the country is slowing pulling itself out of a severe recession, there were still challenges to face.Â Second, that change doesn't come easy, even after we voted for it.Â And third, that rancor in Washington wasn't really new.
So we are faced with making changes to the system.Â And the benefactors of the status quo don't really like change.Â And the people who do want change have a hard time doing something new.
These kinds of changes and challenges cause tension. They make people worry about the future and sometimes they get folks riled up.
In fact, this isn't a new phenomenon. Since the days of our founding, American politics has never been a particularly nice business - and it's always been a little less gentle during times of great change. A newspaper of the opposing party once editorialized that if Thomas Jefferson were elected, "Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced." Not subtle. Opponents of Andrew Jackson often referred to his mother as a "common prostitute," which seems a bit over the top. Presidents from Teddy Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson have been accused of promoting socialism, or worse. And we've had arguments between politicians that have been settled with actual duels. There was even a caning once on the floor of the United States Senate - which I'm happy to say didn't happen while I was there.
But yet, he offered confidence that we would find a path forward.
So before we get too down on the current state of our politics, we need to remember our history. The great debates of the past all stirred great passion. They all made some angry. What is amazing is that despite all the conflict; despite all its flaws and frustrations, our experiment in democracy has worked better than any other form of government on Earth.
On the last day of the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was famously asked, "Well, Doctor, what have we got - a Republic or a Monarchy?" And Franklin gave an answer that's been quoted for ages: "A Republic, if you can keep it."
Well, for more than two hundred years, we have kept it. Through revolution and civil war, our democracy has survived. Through depression and world war, it has prevailed. Through periods of great social and economic unrest, from civil rights to women's rights, it has allowed us slowly, and sometimes painfully, to move towards a more perfect union.
And now the question for your generation is this: how will you keep our democracy going? At a moment when our challenges seem so big and our politics seem so small, how will you keep our democracy alive and well in this century?
So America.Â Shall we choose to keep our democracy going?Â Shall we participate in government rather than toss it aside by spouting hyperbole?
Or shall we grow up and keep this country the greatest country in the world?
Wouldn't that be an awesome act!
That's my goal.Â Join me.