Ben Sasse Bombs With Bigoted Dad Jokes In Open Mic Night Graduation Address

Barack Obama's stellar commencement address Saturday wasn't the State of the Union. Republicans weren't obligated to provide a response, but Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse gave one anyway, specifically to the graduating class of Fremont High School. It was terrible, condescending and mean-spirited.

SASSE: Congratulations, parents, teachers and coaches, not that there's really any meaningful distinction among those categories anymore at this point. If you're a parent, you're a teacher. Thanks a lot China. We're all teachers now.

Conservatives might think Sasse's speech is more patriotic because he blames China for COVID-19, and Obama blamed America's craptastic president for bungling the nation's response to the virus. However, there's nothing truly “patriotic" about racist scapegoating. You can believe the Chinese government misled the world about the coronavirus without dragging China as a whole. But Sasse went on like this and it reminds us that the rot within the Republican Party is greater than Trump or guys in MAGA hats. It's also prevalent in Sasse's clean-cut, corn-fed conservatism.

SASSE: You guys are gonna be the first generation in human history to actually have your high school graduations seared into your memories.

That doesn't seem like a true statement. What about people who graduated during World War II, Vietnam, or the release of the first Star Wars?

SASSE: You're gonna say stuff at your high school reunion in 25 or 30 years ... like, "Remember that time that China started a big global pandemic that created the worst public health crisis in over a century and brought the economy to its knees and we had to stay at home and everybody was hoarding toilet paper and we all watched this documentary about some weirdo dude who raised tigers?"

The COVID-19 outbreak started in China, but China didn't start it. There's a distinct difference. Republicans want someone to demonize and punch. It's how they roll, but almost one and a half billion Chinese people aren't responsible for our home confinements and incredibly shrinking 401k's. There was a chance to contain this virus and keep the death tolls relatively low. It wasn't China that ignored the best advice from medical experts. China didn't fail to develop a coordinated national response, which could result in what Dr. Rick Bright described as “the darkest winter in modern history."

Sasse acknowledged that graduates were entering a world during both a public health and economic crisis.

SASSE: It's hit our state hard. It's probably hit your family. It's hit our whole country and nobody knows exactly how we're gonna beat this thing. But, you know what? We're Americans. We're Nebraskans. We've got grit and we're gonna beat this thing. We are gonna bring the economy back. We are gonna beat the virus ... We're gonna have to have a serious reckoning with the thugs in China who let this mess spiral out of control by lying about it.

That's just dandy. We're gonna beat the virus and then we're gonna beat up China. Our “serious reckoning" should probably be with America's leaders who “let this mess spiral out of control by lying about" the pandemic when they weren't outright ignoring it. Sasse wants to divert attention from the Trump administration's failures. He repeatedly used the phrase “grit and determination," which he apparently defines as shamelessly blaming others for your problems. Mindless jingoism lacking in self-reflection isn't the “motivation" young people need right now.

Sasse's speech wasn't entirely racist. He also made fun of people named “Jeremy" and mocked psychology as a field of study. Bradley Whitford, who played personal hero Josh Lyman on “The West Wing," knocked the senator for choosing "to infuse young people with cynicism and misinformation." A global pandemic has the opportunity to unite the world through our shared suffering, but Republicans like Sasse are only interested in further division.

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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