Pur­due has the pres­i­dent Amer­ica needs

Cecil Whig - - OPINON - Ge­orge Will

— Mitch Daniels, for­mer gov­er­nor of In­di­ana and cur­rent pres­i­dent of Pur­due Uni­ver­sity, knows that no one in the au­di­ence is there to hear a com­mence­ment speaker. When, how­ever, he ad­dressed his in­sti­tu­tion’s class of 2016, it heard him dis­till into a few lap­idary para­graphs a stance to­ward life that il­lu­mi­nates this po­lit­i­cal sea­son.

A rite of spring in Amer­ica is, Daniels noted, the dis­pens­ing of diplo­mas that are sim­i­lar in what they an­nounce but dis­sim­i­lar in what they ac­tu­ally de­note. They all pro­nounce the re­cip­i­ent to be a bach­e­lor of this or a mas­ter of that. There is, how­ever, ev­i­dence, as abun­dant as


it is de­press­ing, that there are enor­mous dif­fer­ences be­tween the se­ri­ous­ness of the cur­ricu­lums stu­dents study and the rigor with which their mas­tery of them is mea­sured: “As em­ploy­ers have come to learn, many diplo­mas tell lit­tle or noth­ing about the holder’s readi­ness for work or for life.”

This mat­ters, be­cause diplo­mas of­ten are cre­den­tials that are not cred­i­ble, and be­cause am­ple stud­ies of hap­pi­ness demon­strate that the most im­por­tant pre­dic­tor of it is, Daniels said, “earned suc­cess.” This in­volves sus­tained, dif­fi­cult ef­fort to sur­mount set­backs. And yet, said Daniels, per­haps the most dan­ger­ous of today’s many per­ni­cious ideas is that “life is more or less a lot­tery. That we are less mas­ters of our fate than corks float­ing in a sea of luck.”

Daniels spoke six days af­ter Barack Obama told Howard Uni­ver­sity’s class of 2016: “Yes, you’ve worked hard, but you’ve also been lucky. That’s a pet peeve of mine: Peo­ple who have been suc­cess­ful and don’t re­al­ize they’ve been lucky. That God may have blessed them; it wasn’t noth­ing you did.”

Noth­ing. Hence the pro­gres­sive agenda: Gov­ern­ment must com­pre­hen­sively reg­u­late, re­dis­tribute and gen­er­ally fine-tune so­ci­ety in order to en­gi­neer “fair­ness” to counter life’s per­va­sive and per­ni­cious ran­dom­ness (“luck”). Obama’s words at Howard were, of course, con­gru­ent with his 2012 cam­paign state­ment that “if you’ve got a busi­ness, you didn’t build that. Some­body else made that hap­pen.” So so­ci­ety did, with you con­tribut­ing a bit.

Daniels was not re­spond­ing to Obama, but he could have been when he told his grad­u­ates, “I hope you will tune out any­one who, from this day on, tries to tell you that your achieve­ments are not your own.” He con­ceded the ob­vi­ous: “I’m not say­ing that luck never plays a part; of course it can.” But un­less it is trag­i­cally bad luck, “it al­most never de­cides a life’s out­come.” Although you can­not elim­i­nate luck from life’s equa­tion, “you can tilt the odds in your fa­vor” by com­mon­sen­si­cal be­hav­ior — mak­ing healthy choices, get­ting and stay­ing mar­ried, and, es­pe­cially, work­ing hard.

Daniels quoted Thomas Edi­son: “Op­por­tu­nity is missed by most peo­ple be­cause it is dressed in over­alls and looks like work.” And movie pioneer Sa­muel Gold­wyn: “The harder I work, the luck­ier I get.” And Fred­er­ick Dou­glass: “We may ex­plain suc­cess mainly by one word and that word is work.” And Daniels cited this anec­dote about Hall of Fame base­ball player Ed­die Mur­ray:

“Once, af­ter his wrong­field bloop double had scored a win­ning run, Mur- ray was yelled at by an op­pos­ing fan who shouted, ‘You must be the luck­i­est hit­ter in base­ball.’ To which Mur­ray po­litely replied, ‘You must not watch bat­ting prac­tice.’”

Pro­gres­sives un­der­stand that their pro­gram for a gov­ern­ment-cen­tered so­ci­ety be­comes more plau­si­ble the more peo­ple be­lieve that work — in­di­vid­ual striv­ing — is un­avail­ing. Gov­ern­ment grows as fa­tal­ism grows, and fa­tal­ism grows as pro­gres­sivism in­cul­cates in peo­ple the de­mor­al­iz­ing — make that de-mor­al­iz­ing — be­lief that they are vic­tims of cir­cum­stances.

With­out ex­plic­itly men­tion­ing the para­noia cur­rently con­vuls­ing many cam­puses, Daniels iden­ti­fied its ori­gin. He said that “even more ab­surd” than the idea that life is a lot­tery is the idea that “most of us are vic­tims of some kind, and there­fore in des­per­ate need of oth­ers to pro­tect us against a world of preda­tors and against our own gulli­bil­ity.”

Daniels’ words to the class of 2016 clar­ify why the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of­fers an echo, not a choice. The pre­sump­tive Demo­cratic nom­i­nee is a pro­gres­sive com­mit­ted to gov­ern­ment am­bi­tious enough to iron the wrin­kles of luck out of life, and to dis­trib­ute eq­uity to life’s vic­tims, mean­ing to ev­ery­one. The pre­sump­tive Repub­li­can nom­i­nee is a world-class whiner (a vic­tim of de­bate mod­er­a­tors who are mea­nies, and most re­cently of a “rigged” ju­di­cial sys­tem) who is telling Amer­i­cans that they are com­pre­hen­sively vic­tim­ized (by wily Chi­nese ex­porters, man­u­fac­tur­ers mak­ing Oreo cook­ies abroad, freeload­ing al­lies, etc.). Pur­due has the pres­i­dent the na­tion needs.

Ge­orge Will is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at georgewill@wash­post.com.

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