June 24, 2024

Biden in Morehouse commencement speech warns of 'extremist forces' – USA TODAY

ATLANTA – President Joe Biden on Sunday warned graduates at one of the country’s most revered African American academic institutions of “extremist forces aligned against the meaning and message of Morehouse” College in a commencement address that sought to lay out the stakes of the 2024 election.
“Graduates, this is what we’re up against,” Biden said during a 27-minute speech that leaned heavily into themes of faith and democracy in an appeal to Black voters. “They peddle a fiction, a character about what being a man is about − tough talk, abusing power, bigotry. Their idea of being a man is toxic.”
“But that’s not you. It’s not us,” he said.
Biden’s remarks to the 414 graduates at Morehouse, an all-male historically Black college in Atlanta, came as he is struggling to unite Black voters, particularly Black men, around his candidacy. Many Morehouse students and faculty criticized Biden’s participation when it was announced because of his support for Israel’s war in Gaza.
“In a democracy, we debate dissent about America’s role in the world. I want to say this very clearly: I support peaceful, nonviolent protest,” Biden said on Sunday in response to the complaints. “Your voices should be heard. I promise you, I hear them.”
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Although there were no major disruptions during Biden’s speech, a few students walked out when Biden received an honorary Morehouse degree. More than a dozen graduates and at least three faculty members wore keffiyehs, while one student entered the ceremony draped in a Palestinian flag.
As Biden delivered his address, at least one female faculty member stood in the opposite direction, her fist raised, in a sign of protest.
Biden, wearing a maroon gown at the outdoor ceremony, said his administration is “working around the clock for more than just one cease-fire,” but also to “bring the region together.” He reiterated his support for a two-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians live in peace.
“This is one of the hardest, most complicated problems in the world. There’s nothing easy about it,” Biden said. “I know it angers and frustrates many of you, including my family, but most of all, I know it breaks your heart. It breaks mine as well.”
Biden added that leadership is about “fighting through the most intractable problems” to “find a solution by doing what you believe is right, even when it’s hard and lonely.”
About a mile away, pro-Palestinian protesters held a rally organized under the banner of “Say No to Genocide Joe Speaking at Morehouse.” Morehouse’s valedictorian also raised Israel’s war in Gaza during his remarks before Biden took the lectern.
“It is my stance as a Morehouse man – nay as a human being – to call for an immediate and the permanent cease-fire in the Gaza Strip,” graduating senior DeAngelo Jeremiah Fletcher said, with Biden sitting just steps behind him. Biden applauded in response.
Polling shows Biden is vastly underperforming his 2020 performance among Black voters, a reliably Democratic constituency, as some drift to Donald Trump, the former president and presumptive Republican nominee.
A New York Times/Siena College poll of six battleground states, including Georgia, found Biden has support from 60% of Black voters and Trump, while Trump is backed by 20% of Black voters. Biden won Black voters in the 2020 election by a 87%-12% margin, according to exit polls.
Ahead of Biden’s arrival, Anwar Karim, a sophomore studying film at Morehouse and a member of Atlanta University Center Students for Justice in Palestine, told USA TODAY he was disappointed in his school’s choice of commencement speaker. He also decried Morehouse’s decision to award Biden an honorary degree, which is typically awarded to the school’s commencement speaker after a faculty vote.
“Morehouse College is dedicated to producing men of consequence who lead lives of service and leadership, and I just have to beg the question, when it comes to Biden, what is an example of his leadership?” Karim said Friday.
In his speech, Biden touted his presidency as one that has delivered to Black Americans, pointing to efforts to invest in Black families and communities, cut child poverty, expand work opportunities, reduce prescription drug prices and cut student loan debt. He called out the “poison of white supremacy” and “systemic racism.”
He said he is committed to “show that democracy, democracy, democracy is still the way,” even in the face of inequality for Black Americans.
“What is democracy if Black men are being killed in the street? What is democracy if the trail of broken promises still leave Black communities behind?” Biden said. “What is democracy if you have to be ten times better than anyone else to get a fair shot? Most of all, what does it mean, as you’ve heard before, to be a Black man who loves his country even if it doesn’t love him back in equal measure?”
Biden railed against new voting restrictions in Georgia and the “constant attacks on Black election workers.” He also said those who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 “are called patriots by some,” a clear reference to Trump.
“Not in my house,” Biden said.
In the days leading up to his Morehouse visit, the White House focused on Black outreach. Biden met on Thursday with plaintiffs of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, on the 70th anniversary of the dismantling of the “separate but equal” precedent. On Friday, Biden met with leaders of the “Divine Nine” HBCU sororities and fraternities.
More:In a nod to history, Biden meets with Brown v. Board of Education families
In Atlanta on Saturday, Biden spoke to Morehouse alumni and others at a campaign event at Mary Mac’s Tea Room. “The fact is, this election, lots at stake, lots at stake. It’s not about me. It’s about the alternative as well,” Biden said. “My opponent’s not a good loser, but he is a loser.”
Introducing Biden, Morehouse President David Thomas said, “No administration in history, since the inception of historically Black colleges and universities, has invested more in our institutions than the Biden administration.”
“And if you look at his policies, it is very clear that those investments are not charity,” Thomas said.
Biden, 81, closed his remarks with a reference to his age, a liability that has hung over his reelection. When he started his political career, Biden said he was told he was “too young.” Now he hears he’s “too old.”
“Whether you’re young or old, I know what endures: The strength and wisdom of faith endures. And my challenge to you is to still keep the faith as long as you can,” Biden said. “Together we’re capable of building a democracy worthy of our dreams.”

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