- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2016

In his most extensive attack yet on presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, President Obama said Sunday that “ignorance is not a virtue” in politics.

Speaking to graduates at Rutgers University in New Jersey, Mr. Obama also criticized the real estate mogul’s proposals to keep immigrants and Muslims out of the U.S. The president never mentioned Mr. Trump by name, but his lengthy assault on the ideas promoted by the likely GOP nominee gave a preview of how Mr. Obama intends to inject himself into the presidential campaign.

The president told the Class of 2016 that reason, logic and an understanding of science “are qualities you want in people making policy.”

“If you were listening to today’s political debate, you might wonder where this strain of anti-intellectualism came from,” Mr. Obama said. “So, Class of 2016, let me be as clear as I can be: In politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue.”

As the crowd in the Rutgers football stadium roared its approval, Mr. Obama continued, “It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about. That’s not ‘keeping it real,’ or ‘telling it like it is.’ That’s not challenging political correctness. That’s just not knowing what you’re talking about.”

The president also took a shot at Mr. Trump’s lack of government experience, often cited among the Republican candidate’s supporters as an important part of his appeal to voters. Mr. Obama, who served in the Senate for four years before winning the White House, ridiculed the notion that a lack of elected experience is a plus.


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“If we get sick, we actually want to make sure the doctor’s gone to medical school,” the president said. “If we get on a plane, we say we really want a pilot to be able to pilot the plane. And yet in our public lives, we suddenly think, ‘I don’t want somebody who’s done it before.’ The rejection of facts, the rejection of reason and science, that is the path to decline.”

Building walls around the U.S., he said, “won’t boost our economy and it won’t enhance our security, either.”

“Suggesting we can build an endless wall along our borders and blame our challenges on immigrants [runs] counter to our history as the world’s melting pot,” he said.

“That’s how we became America. Why would we want to stop it now?” Mr. Obama said.

As he has previously, Mr. Obama said proposals to bar Muslims temporarily from immigrating to the U.S. would harm national security.

“Isolating or disparaging Muslims, or suggesting that they should be treated differently when it comes to entering this country, that is not just a betrayal of our values, that’s not just a betrayal of who we are, it would alienate the very communities at home and abroad who are our most important partners in the fight against violent extremism,” he said.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who has been picked by Mr. Trump to head his presidential transition team, stayed away from Mr. Obama’s speech in his state. He said he had to attend his son’s baseball game instead. Andrew Christie is a catcher for the Princeton University team, which was playing Yale for the Ivy League championship.

Mr. Obama was the first sitting president to speak at Rutgers‘ commencement, on the school’s 250th anniversary. His appearance, coupled with extensive security, resulted in many of the nearly 12,000 graduates and 40,000 guests lining up five hours or more before the ceremony. Some of them missed the ceremony.

As Mr. Trump has closed in on the GOP nomination, the president has been sharpening his criticism of the billionaire businessman. In an interview two weeks ago, Mr. Obama said the Republican candidate isn’t “equipped to deal with the problems of this office.”

In his commencement speech, Mr. Obama repeatedly turned to the theme of building walls and isolating the U.S. to implicitly criticize Mr. Trump’s candidacy.

“If the past two decades have taught us anything, it’s that a the biggest challenges we face cannot be solved in isolation,” Mr. Obama said. “When overseas states start falling apart, they become breeding grounds for terrorists and ideologies, nihilism and despair, that ultimately can reach our shores. When developing countries don’t have functioning health systems, epidemics like Zika or Ebola can spread and threaten Americans too, and a wall won’t stop that.”

He said the U.S. needs cooperation from other countries “to close loopholes that allow large corporations and wealthy individuals to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.”

“To help ourselves, we’ve got to help others, not pull up the drawbridge and try to keep the world out,” the president said.

Two years ago, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice backed out of a commencement address at Rutgers in the face of protests on campus over her support for the Iraq war. On Sunday, Mr. Obama criticized the school’s treatment of Ms. Rice and the trend on college campuses in general to stifle dissenting voices.

“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,” Mr. Obama said. “I don’t think that’s how democracy works best, when we’re not even willing to listen to each other. If you disagree with somebody, bring them in and ask them tough questions. Don’t feel like you’ve got to shut your ears off because you’re too fragile that somebody might offend your sensibilities.”

Rutgers bestowed an honorary law degree on Mr. Obama at the ceremony. The president, who spoke at Howard University’s commencement earlier this month, also will deliver the graduation speech at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on June 2.


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