Commencement Address, Georgetown University

19 May
May 19, 2012

The greatest commencement address ever is now more than three decades old. And it’s safe to say it will never be surpassed or even equaled. It belongs to the ages.

In 1979, its author summed up the condition of modern man by noting that, quote, more than at any other time in history, humanity is at the crossroads: one path leads to despair and utter hopelessness; the other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly. Unquote.

Bang. That’s all she wrote. With that one paragraph, Woody Allen, filmmaker and philosopher-king, made Graduation Day his bitch for all time. No point in any of us trying to bring anything new to this game; Woody has killed it dead. That he never actually gave the remark at any commencement is beside the point. True, it appeared only as a column in the New York Times, but so what? Linked as it is to no actual college or university, Allen’s address is now the preserve of graduates everywhere. It was mine when I slipped the surly bonds of the University in Maryland in 1983, and it belongs to you all now, here today. And if this forlorn little planet is still spinning when your children roll up and smoke their diplomas a couple short decades from now, it’ll be theirs as well.

Now, I can hear you out there muttering. What’s so great about Woody Allen’s words? What is there to admire, save for a nice one-liner, delivered with all the pitch-perfect neurotic self-doubt that Allen made famous.

Well, for thing, it is a funny line. And marching out into this beleaguered world of ours – you suckers are gonna need all the laughter you can get. Take solace in humor, people. As much as you can.

But more importantly, Allen was entirely, exactly and permanently right. He was right thirty years ago. And he’s right at this very moment. And if we’re lucky – if the odds don’t catch up with us and the human race continues to stagger forward into fresh decades of a new century, then he’ll be right thirty years from now.

We do indeed live at the brink of extinction – nuclear, or ecological, or epidemiological. Technology and Malthusian population scenarios – tethered as they are to man’s innate potential for inhumanity – all of this may indeed be conspiring at this very moment to bring about a sudden apocalypse. That’s true now and it’s going to stay true for all of the foreseeable future.

On the other hand, if we are lucky, we will endure and fight on, never vanquishing any of the fundamental threats to society but never capitulating either. Our problems will remain our problems, our solutions will always be incomplete. War will come again, famine too, and for every half-step forward, for every careful and reasoned moment of maturation in the human condition, there will be another moment in which greed or brutality prevails.

Okay, now you’re starting to get a little restless. You’re out there under those mortarboards, trying to enjoy this day. You did the work, you got the grades. Your parents are out there with you, prouder than hell. This is your day. And theirs. And who the hell is this lumpy white guy to come here and drip doom and despair all over the lawn in front of the Healy building. For the love of God, he’s sucking the life out of the big moment.

Well, okay. Maybe so.

But the thing of it is, thirty years ago, when I sat where you now sit, my generation made the mistake of reading Woody Allen’s words as a function of wit only. We got the joke. We were in on the joke. But we were pretty sure that it was, after all, only a joke.

After all, thirty years ago the darkest days of the civil rights struggle were behind us, or so it seemed. Race relations were improving. Our nation seemed to be moving closer to a just and inclusive society. And, too, our country seemed to have learned some painful and tragic lessons about America and the limitations of overseas interventions. The Cold War was ongoing, true, but two decades removed from the Cuban Missile Crisis, it was becoming increasingly clear to most sensate observers that the Soviet Union was even more overextended than we were, that for our Vietnams, they had their Afghanistans. The stalemate was just that, and with détente, there was a growing sense of thaw.

Economically, the American middle class remained ascendant. In the post World War II years, industrialization and collective bargaining had created the greatest consumer class the world had ever seen – once-poor laborers were working jobs with union scale and benefits. Many became homeowners and middle-class, pushing their children toward college and something more then they had.  Income was often rightly called discretionary, and worker wages were used to power the greatest economy in world history. We sold each other not just the things we needed, but the things we didn’t need. We were the fuel for our own unrelenting economic engine.

With all that going for us, how could it not get better? How could tomorrow be anything but more than today?

When I sat where you now sit, I simply assumed that my generation couldn’t help but seize the reins and deliver a great society. And later, when the Berlin Wall fell – when Cold War ideology no longer dictated American behavior around the globe, when our worst ideological fears were at last overcome – my, didn’t the future seem bright indeed for a moment or two.

Well, here we are. And here you are.

And every day, it seems, the headlines offer fresh examples of the greed and selfishness with which my generation has laid waste to its own possibilities.  And it doesn’t end with Wall Street’s kleptocracy. In the world at large, we have proclaimed ourselves to be a peace-loving nation, yet we wage prolonged wars of choice. We declare our devotion to free and open markets, yet time and again unrestrained capitalism, while an effective tool for generating short-term profit, proves itself a useless metric for calibrating a just and inclusive society. We insist that we are still a great people, that an American Century is still to come, yet many of us feel no call to citizenship if citizenship has any actual cost. Even during wartime, with our armies afield, we whine about paying taxes, though our tax rates are the lowest in modern American history. Meanwhile, though less prone to overt racism, we have nonetheless abandoned the precepts of upward mobility for all Americans, conceding the very idea of public education, of equality of opportunity. And as our society further stratifies, as the rich get richer and the poor become less and less necessary to our de-industrialized economy, we wage a war against our underclass under the guise of drug prohibition, turning America into the jailingest society on the face of the earth.  And as to reform? As to the political leadership and responsive government? That hardly seems possible when our high court permits capital to purchase our electoral process at wholesale prices.

Am I’m bringing you down with all of this stuff? Am I bumming you out? I can’t help it. I’m sorry. But hey, if you watched The Wire, or Generation Kill, or Treme – then you knew I was gonna go there, right? Those are angry narratives. They are saying angry things about the American future.

And now, forgive me, that future is yours. And Woody Allen’s clever turn-of-phrase, once played for laughs, now has a real and ugly echo, doesn’t it?

For starters, my generation probably owes yours an apology. Because, hey, we definitely shanked it. We choked. We let ourselves get distracted with greed, with gloss, with the taste of the bread and the glitz of the circuses. We took our eyes off the prize – which was always this:

There cannot be two American experiments, one for the fortunate and another for the rest. All of us must share the same future – like it or not. For the republic to long endure, there must be a real American collective and all of us must have some stake in that collective.

For you, emerging now from this university, the question is what you will stand for, what you will assert for. Your America, as viable and verdant as this beautiful campus? Or the other America, the one that got left behind? Will you argue for your future? Or a collective future? Your tribe? Or an America that isn’t tribal, that truly carries all of us forward, as a society? Are you for yourself? To a certain extent, we all must begin by being for ourselves. But if we are only for ourselves, or only for our families, or our friends, or our own class or interests – if empathy never reaches beyond our own backyard – then who the hell are we, really?

Right is right and wrong is wrong and you all don’t need those diplomas to know the difference. Will the right choice make it easier? Of course not. Will the right choice vindicate us? Doubtful.

Albert Camus, a great humanist and existentialist voice, pointed out that to commit to a just cause with no hope of success is absurd. But then he also noted that not committing to a just cause is equally absurd.  But only one choice offers the possibility for dignity. And dignity matters. Dignity matters.

Stripped of all platitude and illusion, Camus was saying we still have to fight. So for God’s sake, fight. And get angry if you need to get angry. A little anger is a good thing if it isn’t on your own behalf, if it’s for others deserving of your anger, your empathy. And if you see the wrong around you getting bigger and uglier, then speak up, and call that wrong by its true name. Learn to refuse, to dissent. And in demanding something more from yourself and from your society, you may be surprised to find that you are not entirely alone. That other voices are saying the same things, that others want the same things.

It’s been said that no man is a hero to a newspaperman, and I spent too many years as an ink-stained wretch. So, yeah, I have few intact heroes left. Fact is, I’m down to I.F. Stone, Curtis Mayfield and Woody Guthrie – and sometimes, I’m not even all that sure about Woody Guthrie. Admittedly, we would all do better with few less heroes and villains and a few more ideas in our dialectic.

But I.F. Stone was a great dissenting voice in this country and one of the people who made me want to be a journalist – and he echoed Camus. He said that sometimes the only fights worth having are the ones that you know you are going to lose.

I know how that sounds. I know that it seems morose and futile, that it scarcely seems appropriate on a day like this, a day so ripe with human possibility. But it does make sense. Trust me. And if you bring the fight you need to bring, if you walk that road, it will make more sense with every mile.

Congratulations to all of you today. This moment matters deeply to you, to your parents, to your classmates, to your teachers. And that’s more than enough dignity for one day. But tomorrow’s task is to make this moment matter to your communities, to your country, to the world. And to make sure that at the end of your run, you leave that world better than you found it.

Thank you for having me.

15 replies
  1. KatherineP says:

    I am currently a Georgetown student and appreiciate many of your insights. Please read this moving speech given by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in 1978. All of his commentaries are extremely relevant today and relate to your ideas: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/arch/solzhenitsyn/harvard1978.html

    Reply
  2. Adrian Parke says:

    Mr Simon,

    I agree with your arguments. Furthermore, I value your efforts to publicise the problems. Your narratives simplify many detailed arguments. Realistically, I would never get around to reading the less accessible books and documents. Media appears to be one of the last resorts for education.

    I am interested in how you resolve these issues in your everyday life. I feel like an armchair pontificator discussing these issues, because namely when I get home from work I want to play with my kids and watch my bluejays beat up on your orioles.

    As the previous commentator identified there does not seem to be much possibility for change. I agree that carrying on the fight has value, i.e. your dignity argument. I’m concerned though that it may be a charade to make myself feel better, like a demand characteristic.

    I feel uncomfortable talking about the abuse of the underclass over biscotti with other fortunate individuals. It’s like the discomfort I feel enjoying the culture of New Orleans through the safety of my television, but probably wouldn’t have the stones to go there because of crime fear. It’s kind of pathetic.

    Getting involved in change in terms of impotent protests, seems to me like Bono asking other to support charities.

    This is in no way a personal attack of your efforts- it is a critique of myself. I’m interested in how you personally resolve it.

    Reply
  3. Obamney says:

    Ah, Mr. Simon, between you and Derrick Jensen, I’m moving from utter despair to hoping for extinction.

    The romance of fighting back is powerful. I did a lot of it back in the day.

    I’ve watched the peaceful Occupiers get pepper sprayed, hit with sound canons, etc. Just going to a protest these days requires kevlar, goggles, and helmets and you can count on, thanks to the Supremes, being strip searched and detained indefinitely. Wow. Let me get right on that fight.

    When I was walking picket lines, there was respect for protest and being part of the grand experiment in democracy. Today, the NSA is building a giant complex in Utah, indefinite detention is the law of the land, assassination is AOK, and there ain’t much difference between the military and the police. The FBI spends more time infiltrating and entrapping than they do investigating Wall Street crimes.

    I just don’t see much difference between the Left’s call for dissent and protest and warmongers exhorting the poor to be cannon fodder in whatever war they decide needs to be fought. When you’ve got bail money and access to an attorney, it’s easy to suggest dissent to others.

    It’s a rigged game. It’s get played and get played.

    There has to be a healthier alternative. I just can’t figure out what it is yet.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Me either.

      “You are free to withhold from the suffering of the world. It is your right and it is in your nature to do so. But perhaps this withholding was the one suffering that you could have avoided.”

      That’s Franz Kafka, who knew more than most about rigged games. I think I have the quote right. I used to have it memorized.

      Reply
  4. Adrian Parke says:

    Excellent as always. I have more valuable contributions to make, but your arguments are so complex that to add substance would require too much time to commit in writing. So I’ll make some quick points.

    1) When my tax is taken from my salary I wince. I look at the £1200 every month I could use for supporting my family, hedonism etc. But equally I am willing to pay that cost to live in a society where you don’t have to step over homeless people to buy shit to amuse myself.

    2) Perhaps, coming from a background of poverty has created a bias. But I am thankful that I lived in a society where meritocrasy exists in terms of education. Despite being poor I could use a well funded (by tax) education system to climb my way out of poverty with hard work. Call me an ignoramus but that is the essential foundation for liberty and freedom as I see it. Can disadvantaged children in the US really do this. With the risk of being overly reductionist it seems the biggest predictor of success is economic stability, and clearly children do not have control of this. I would like to think that my childrens’ successes wont be determined primarily by my very limited ‘success’, otherwise I must apologise to them.

    3) As an outsider to the US, it seems society is being indoctrinated to accept this. It’s amusing to find that Socialism is such a dirty word. For example, cue the responses to my points as anti-American rather than contemplating the issues. (For the record, I vacation in the US every year to sample the marvellous cities. I find the politics less marvellous and more of a betrayal to the multitude of the citizens).

    Cue shelling…

    Reply
  5. Jason says:

    First, congratulations to Mr. Simon on being chosen to address the graduating class at Georgetown. I always try to keep an eye out for any recent comments/remarks/articles from Mr. Simon. It is great to finding this website and I anticipate many vistis to it in the future.

    Full disclosure before I add my comments. I am Libertarian and Ron Paul supporter. My views of money supply and the economy are derived from the works of Murray Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises and Peter Schiff to name a few. In a nutshell I’m an avid believer in Austrian economics running opposite to the Keynsian idealogy that runs our society and world today.

    I am in total agreement w/ Mr. Simon regarding the drug war and our multiple wars & drone strikes abroad. Without getting into to much detail, it’s abhorrent what we as a nation have accepted and allowed our politicians & media to get away with.

    Two points I’d like to refute that Mr. Simon made in his speech.

    1) “We declare our devotion to free and open markets, yet time and again unrestrained capitalism, while an effective tool for generating short-term profit, proves itself a useless metric for calibrating a just and inclusive society”.

    -I’d have to totally disagree here. The United States has not had Capitalism for quite some time. What we have is a version of Fascism where the Government is picking winners and losers & in collusion w/ the big players of the “private sector” (i.e. Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, BOA, et. al.). The Federal Reserve backed banks and Wall St. players are making bets w/ taxpayer money and know that if they lose big on one or many of those bets, they can lean on the Fed & Congress to bail them out. All the while doling out millions to their lobbyists on K St. to make sure competition doesn’t threaten their positions at the top. That as I know it, is not Capitalism. If anything Capitilism in our country is regulated by the top 1%’s. This book by Richard Duncan highlights the issue -http://www.amazon.com/The-Corruption-Capitalism-Rebalance-Sustainable/dp/0615485928/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1338306114&sr=8-3

    2) “though our tax rates are the lowest in modern American history”

    -This is completely false. Until the 1914 we never had an income tax. After the creation of the Fed, the Gov’t (go figure) thought it was necessary to tax the top 1% wage earners to pay for our deficit spending. The income tax was soley created for this reason. Nowadays our income taxes (which btw are totally unconstitutional) hardly make a dent in deficit spending. The purcahsing power of the dollar has plummeted and lost 97% of it’s value since the creation of the Fed & the Oligarchs only solution is tax more. It is my opinion that taxing more only empowers the government to redistribute wealth as they see fit & steal from it’s producers. Restore the value of the dollar via a gold standard and do away w/ the hidden inflation tax that is pure theft by the government, and the middle class will grow & the lower class & fixed income class will be able to purchase goods w/o government assistance.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      This is a lot and the arguments against libertarian ideology are, to my mind, lengthy and substantive. More to the point, I’ve found that when adults embrace ideology to the exclusion of an issue-by-issue consideration of the facts on the ground, they end up in some ugly intellectual dead-ends. I am very liberal on some issues, moderate on others, and yes, notably conservative on some. And at points, true — as with the drug war — my views and those of libertarians coincide.

      But mostly, I am a human being and a citizen. And I try to keep my ears and eyes open.

      I will add only the following comments:

      1) With regard to your first point, are you seriously suggesting that if capitalism was even less restrained and less regulated than it was in 2008, that the global disaster of the mortgage-backed security bubble might have been avoided? Seriously? My every understanding of that dynamic is that it was deregulation and poor monitoring of our markets that allowed institutions to sell shit and call it gold until the bottom fell out on all of us. And selling shit for gold has been a fundamental of free markets for as long as anyone ever turned a shekel. Hard to imagine that some purer form of capitalism prevents that.

      2) Did you cite the origins of the income tax in 1914 in response to my reference to “modern” American history? It will be the 100th anniversary of the income tax in two years. You might want to concede that any argument based on that duration is not really concerning itself with modernity. Frankly, and forgive me, the reluctance of citizens to pay their fair share is not ennobling or indicative of much that I can see as meaningful principle. It is about greed and selfishness; libertarians veil this very poorly, in my opinion. For my part, I am a citizen of a democratic experiment that provides me with myriad opportunities and life choices while at the same time exacting a communal and societal responsibility commensurate with the benefits. I am proud to be part of such a unique social and political compact, and I wish more people of affluence felt a connection to the society from which they draw such considerable liberty and extraordinary benefit.

      Behavioral scientists have, through experiment, noted that a majority of individuals, rather than arrive at positions of principle based on empirical evidence or, even less likely, the better angels of human nature, simply believe what they wish to believe and then set about constructing an elaborate and artificial justification for proceeding.

      In that light, I find the libertarian railings against income taxes or against any real or fundamental cost of citizenship in a republic to be among the most self-serving and shameful stances in that philosophy. I do not believe that government is the enemy, or that it is by definition venal. If it becomes such, then democracy itself has failed, collapsed, or perhaps, been purchased by capital, in which case government — and democracy — are in need of rescue. But the absence of a government that is of the people and of the law is no real answer at all. Government is not the problem; bad government is the problem. And government in which capital has free reign over the popular ballot is a particularly insidious dynamic. But good government — not an absence of government — is the only plausible answer. Is good government sustainable? Well, it certainly can’t be perfected or permanently achieved. It is struggle, certain and endless. And in the absence of endless struggle, bad things will certainly happen. But the struggle matters as few other fights do.

      Against those sentiments, libertarianism appears as a callow, prideless opting-out, in my opinion. For me, where government overreaches, where it is unjust, where it ceases to be utilitarian — these are the places for dissent, for argument, for change, for engagement. But representative government has also achieved some extraordinary things in this republic and in the last century; it did so by harnessing popular will and serving the many, sometimes at the expense of the few. If I ever heard a libertarian philosophize about anything beyond the rights of the self, if ever I heard a libertarian argue against something that was in his own personal interest, or argue for something that brought him personal harm, or argue with passion on behalf of the rights and needs of the most vulnerable in our American compact, I might be obliged to reconsider the core values that underlie the libertarian stance. Instead, they quietly avail themselves of those public initiatives that they find benign or helpful, and grow loud and petulant at that which thwarts their sense of their own place or mission. To me, that’s just too small a philosophy for our times.

      I am far more willing to engage in the tug-of-war over a flawed representative government that I believe should be and must be, in fact, my government. I do not expect to win every argument; in fact, I accept — as many of our representatives no longer accept — that compromise and consensus will be required. I would be even more willing to engage — and more hopeful for the American future — if the monetization of our electoral process could be reduced or eliminated so that ideas themselves could be heard over the paid-for tripe. That so many Americans no longer believe in their government is the problem, I agree. For that I blame not federalist notions of American governance, or the average American, or even the average political representative. I blame capital. And more precisely, how capital routes itself toward power through the wholesale purchase of our representative government. To offset that dynamic, given a Citizens United decision that seems to be the Dred Scott case of our generation, a prolonged, epic fight will be required. We may lose that fight. Shit, we probably will lose that fight given that a lot of money and power are already arrayed against our democracy. But it is about the only fight worth having at this point. Painting the government — our government — as some sort of external enemy is, to my mind, a smug and juvenile disconnect from the actual problem. I don’t want to untether myself from American governance. I want as many Americans as possible to assert within that governance. And I want their votes to be counted, more than money now counts in our political culture. If that aspiration is thwarted, then yes, I might be on a barricade standing next to a libertarian, or even a tea-party follower, and yes, we might all throw a brick. Our diagnosis of the problem might at points be similar, but I am certain that our prescribed therapies will be entirely different.

      The short answer, after all of this, I suppose, is that I’m really okay paying my taxes. Proud to do it, even though I don’t agree with everything that the government then does with the money. But I am a citizen of the American collective, and I believe in that collective. If it ceases to exist, I certainly don’t want to believe in whatever replaces it as a national ideal. And yeah, I should be paying at a higher rate as long as HBO keeps taking my stuff. Warren Buffett, like Franklin Roosevelt, is a traitor to his class. Which makes him a mensch in my book.

      Reply
      • Jason says:

        Mr. Simon,

        Thank you for the response. I found your comments enlightening & well put. Don’t agree with all of them, but I respect your opinion and am honored to have a dialogue with you.

        The 2008 housing bubble crash is a lot more complicated than just mortgaged backed securities. It was in my opinion the fuse that lit the fire of our 40 year credit bubble experiement of unbacked fiat currency. A very small portion of the finance/money supply crowd saw this coming well in advance, Ron Paul was the leading voice. We can blame Wall St. all we want, and justifibly so in many respects. But it was the Government’s meddling and pushing of Fannie & Freddie into the market that was so obvious to be at fault for it’s demise. I mean, just how in the hell could you possibly make such bad bets that you need $155 billion tax payer funded dollars to stay afloat? To me, it’s inconceivable. If politicians had just stayed out and let the free markets decide who could and could not purchase homes, we most likely would have softened the blow of that mess. The one caveat being, to let the greedy bastards that make those risky loans fall flat on their faces if they lose on their bets. However, looking past that short window of 2001-2007, all of this can be traced back to August 15, 1971 when President Nixon took us off the gold standard. It has allowed politicians, bankers, Wall St. et al. to print and pay for programs we cannot afford. We are nearing the end of what in my opinion will be the most catostrophic experiement in human history. While I am not fundamentally opposed to all of “government”, their self interests will never allow them to do what is right and correct the terrible policy that will lead to our ultimate demise. When the dollar dies, which I think it will in this decade, we will be living in a whole new world. I wish I could be more optimistic about it, but am not seeing a way out of this?

        Regarding the tax issue, I’ve never understood liberals viewpoint on this? I live in Baltimore City like you. I pay $6000+ a year in property taxes that go on top of every other tax I pay. What has the 10-15k a year in local taxes I pay go towards? I see a city that’s infastructure is crumbling. A police force that is disconnected from it’s community. A school system that is beyond broke and getting worse if that’s imaginable. A bridge in my neighborhood that is the size of my deck that takes 12 months to replace because it’s a union contract. Why are they so inept? How in the hell did the system get this broken & why am I responsible for someone else’s fuck ups? I do love my community, my favorite part of Locust Point is hearing my older neighbors talk about the “old days”. Their eyes light up, it’s nostalgic and infectious. I could talk to them for hours about it. The corner stores, the bars on every block, the german deli selling fresh sausage. Makes me think I grew up in the wrong decade and in the wrong place. I don’t necessarily mind paying 6k to live in a community I take pride in, but god dammit won’t they just pave my street, clean it every other week, place my trash cans down nicely instead of launching them like they’re trying to throw Derek Jeter out at home, and call me back when I have a question about a ground rent issue. Stop treating me like I’m some asshole. That’s my rant… a bit off topic, but needed.

        Thank you for your time Mr. Simon. The Wire is an inspiration to me and something that transcends television. The best compliment I can give it is that it inspired me to think outside of what was comfortable and ask questions that I never thought I’d ask. I also enjoyed your book Homicide. I’ve lent to my college friend who covers the crime beat for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Can’t wait to grab a beer with him and discuss his thoughts.

        Reply
        • Chris says:

          Freddie Mac and Fannie May did not cause the housing bubble:

          http://thelonggoodbye.wordpress.com/2010/08/12/the-myth-of-fannie-mae-freddie-mac-barney-frank-the-housing-bubble-and-the-recession/

          Relatively speaking, even the $155 billion hit that Freddie/Fannie took is a drop in the $7 trillion bucket of wealth that Wall Street destroyed with its failed mortgaged-backed securities Ponzi scheme.

          Anecdotally, I worked on an early mortgage fraud case in Baltimore back in 2004-2005. The defendants (including our client) were buying vacants across the city for fire-sale prices, making cosmetic changes on the very cheap, and flipping them for double the original purchase price or more. Which wouldn’t necessarily have been a crime if they hadn’t been using a appraiser to jack up the appraised value of the vacants when they applied for the loans to purchase them. If you could convince the lenders (and they did) that a $10,000 rowhouse was worth $50,000, that’s $40,000 profit for you. Until the subprime purchasers that you dump the “rehab” on with a usurious mortgage can’t make the payment. The lender forecloses on the property and realizes that, even with the de minimis improvements that your client made before they flipped it, it was never worth anywhere near the $50,000 they loaned your client to buy it. And this was even years before the market values *really* collapsed.

          All of which is to say, none of what I saw was being done under the auspices of Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, or the Fox News myth of those private banks being forced to make the usurious subprime mortgages with a government gun held to their heads. From the Wall Street brokerages all the way down to the flippers on Edmonson Avenue, everyone knew exactly what the game was and they all got fabulously wealthy (for a time) playing it.

          As for paying taxes in Baltimore City for services, it was probably easier back in the “old days” to balance budgets and deliver those services when the city’s tax base hadn’t yet cratered from the white flight to Baltimore County 50 years ago. The city lost 1/3 of its population since 1950. It would be one Marlo Stanfield’s “good problems” to have of serving an additional 300k middle-class taxpayers if they only still lived within the city limits.

          Reply
      • DGN says:

        As somebody who’s followed your career since the days of Homicide (both book and show), I’m somewhat surprised (neither pleased nor dismayed, but simply surprised) to hear you describe yourself as holding some “notably conservative” views. What are those?

        P.S. I will be receiving a graduate degree from Georgetown next May and am quite disappointed to miss your speech by a year. Thank you as always for an extremely stimulating discussion.

        -DGN

        Reply
  6. Anonymous says:

    It seems that so many are using words like collective and social justice today, both of which are simply words meaning that government should provide, and control, more such as health care, limiting the wages that people can earn and the ultimate power of making sure “wealth is distributed fairly to all”. While Progressives are in power it is easy to feel confident that they will take care of you, because you hold the same values and beliefs, you put them in power… they must take care of you right?

    The question I have is this, as the government continues to amass this control and centralize power, will you feel so comfortable when a conservative suddenly has control, deciding how the wealth is distributed and what health care you receive?

    If you answer no to this question, you find yourself with the ultimate dilemma, you must either limit government control over such things by voting against your own beliefs or do whatever is necessary to ensure that apposing beliefs are squashed, turning approximately 1/2 of Americans into a “less equal” voice of dissent using the full force of the government. Therefore, the progressive choice has dwindled down to two paths, one leading to despair and the other leading to utter destruction.

    Reply
  7. TheBearPaw says:

    Wow! Masterfully written! This very address should be handed to any student come his graduation day.

    Reply

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  1. […] Simon gave the commencement address at Georgetown: There cannot be two American experiments, one for the fortunate and another for the rest. All of […]

  2. […] David Simon, a former crime reporter who among other accomplishments created “The Wire”, delivered the speech at Georgetown University. After crediting Woody Allen for writing the best commencement speech ever (not ever given, as it was a newspaper column), he goes on to add his own life’s wisdom and realizations. Then, he urged them to do what his generation failed to: There cannot be two American experiments, one for the fortunate and another for the rest. All of us must share the same future – like it or not. For the republic to long endure, there must be a real American collective and all of us must have some stake in that collective. For you, emerging now from this university, the question is what you will stand for, what you will assert for. Your America, as viable and verdant as this beautiful campus? Or the other America, the one that got left behind … To a certain extent, we all must begin by being for ourselves. But if we are only for ourselves, or only for our families, or our friends, or our own class or interests – if empathy never reaches beyond our own backyard – then who the hell are we, really? […]

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