Even for President Obama, his speech at the USC Shoah Foundation was jaw-dropping. Surrounded by familiar Hollywood friends/donors, he demonstrated how utterly dismissive he is of human rights and, frankly, of history.
After properly commending the foundation’s work in preserving the oral histories of Holocaust survivors, he pronounced:
We only need to look at today’s headlines — the devastation of Syria, the murders and kidnappings in Nigeria, sectarian conflict, the tribal conflicts — to see that we have not yet extinguished man’s darkest impulses. There are some bad stories out there that are being told to children, and they’re learning to hate early. They’re learning to fear those who are not like them early.
And none of the tragedies that we see today may rise to the full horror of the Holocaust — the individuals who are the victims of such unspeakable cruelty, they make a claim on our conscience. They demand our attention, that we not turn away, that we choose empathy over indifference and that our empathy leads to action. And that’s not always easy. One of the powerful things about [Oskar] Schindler’s story was recognizing that we have to act even where there is sometimes ambiguity; even when the path is not always clearly lit, we have to try.
You wonder how he gets through lines like that after more than 150,000 are dead in Syria and Syrian rebels are still begging for assistance. You wonder whether the latest report — of some 30 chemical weapons attacks by Syria – doesn’t suggest he should “try” a little harder. But it gets worse:
We cannot eliminate evil from every heart, or hatred from every mind. But what we can do, and what we must do, is make sure our children and their children learn their history so that they might not repeat it. (Applause.) We can teach our children the hazards of tribalism. We can teach our children to speak out against the casual slur. We can teach them there is no “them,” there’s only “us.”
And here in America, we can celebrate a nation in which Christians and Muslims go to Jewish community centers, and where Jews go to Church vigils — a nation where, through fits and starts, through sacrifice and individual courage, we have struggled to hear the truth and live out the truth that Dr. King described — that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, that we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”
By keeping the memories alive, by telling stories, by hearing those stories, we can do our part to fulfill the mitzvah, the commandment of saving a life.
Actually, the way to fulfill the mitzvah of saving a life is to save a life, or better yet, thousands of lives. Obama, however, is but an onlooker, disengaged but worried, mind you. (“I have this remarkable title right now — President of the United States — and yet every day when I wake up, and I think about young girls in Nigeria or children caught up in the conflict in Syria — when there are times in which I want to reach out and save those kids — and having to think through what levers, what power do we have at any given moment, I think, “drop by drop by drop,” that we can erode and wear down these forces that are so destructive; that we can tell a different story.”) He not only has the title, but he also has the power to act, and yet he doesn’t. Still, we should commend him for waking up worried thinking of all the children he is doing nothing to help? A less servile crowd would have expressed some outrage.
But you knew where he was going to end this, right? Yup, he went there: “And because of your work, their stories, years and decades from now, will still be wearing down bigotry, and eroding apathy, and opening hearts, drop by drop by drop. And as those hearts open, that empowers those of us in positions of power — because even the President can’t do these things alone. Drop by drop by drop. That’s the power of stories. And as a consequence, the world will be a better place and the souls will be bound up in the bonds of eternal life. Their memories will be a blessing and they will help us make real our solemn vow: Never Forget. Never Again.” Never? How about right now? On his watch.