Faculty, students, parents, security contractors, coalition soldiers, and -- above all -- graduates, thank you so much for choosing me as your commencement speaker. I'd like to congratulate the efforts of my rivals for this honor. While I realize that a majority of you voted for someone else to address you today, I applaud your decision to take a pause from the rioting that seemed to coincide with the decisive supervotes cast by the dean of students and academic department heads. Let this one-hour break serve as a glimpse of the healing that is sure to come to your campus and your obstinately shattered nation.
Graduates, they said this day could not come. They cynically said that Middle Easterners could not earn a Ph.D. in three months. They said Halliburton Democracy University's million-dollar-per-student cost could not be justified. Instead, today, thanks to you, HDU Baghdad has proved the cynics wrong. HDU today stands as a beacon for the future of global education.
Just three months ago some of you were firebrand clerics. Some were militia leaders. Others were extremists, insurgents, terrorist masterminds, smugglers, warlords. Today you stand before me as the future elected leaders of your country. But there is a pernicious threat to your destiny as elected peacemakers. That threat is democracy. Democracy, put simply, is the greatest obstacle to our dream of spreading democracy around the Middle East and around the world.
I hope you've learned in your studies here at HDU Baghdad about the unruly, unthinking beasts known as elections. Elections are all too eager to devour visionary leaders. Elections distort and distort and distort until an elaborate, self-aggrandizing, recurring misstatement can seem like a lie.
But there is hope. I'm here today to put you on the path to that hope.
I've entitled my remarks "Lessons From a Mature Democracy." Think of me as a big sister, sitting beside you on your bunk bed and telling it to you like it is.
We can't even start, though, until you look into your hearts and assess whether you possess the determination needed to run for office. You need, above everything else, to know that an election is all about you. The timid and the treacherous who litter your path will try to set up barricades. They'll use buzzwords like "rules" and "honesty" and "opportunistic." They'll put on grim faces and spew meaningless phrases like "for the good of the party" or "for the good of the country" or "Until this moment, Senator, I think I had never gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?"
I invite you to take inspiration from my own life. A rise to political office need not abide by the laws of physics. Gravity is inevitable. We're stuck with it. But only fools and cowards permit themselves to remain earthbound due to manmade forces such as pledged delegates or majority rule or unanimous decisions by supreme courts. There is always a way to win. So remember: An election is always, in the end, all about you.
For your sake, I am hoping that Arabic has a word for "disenfranchise." I don't know where I'd be without that precious word. Hear this. The language of democracy, inclusion, and fairness represents the most reliable way to overcome an unfavorable electoral outcome.
My own presidential election offers some excellent examples of this principle at work. I am living proof that "disenfranchise" can be employed to convince millions of people that it would be undemocratic not to count the results of an election in which mine was the only name on the ballot.
When my nomination was a virtual mathematical impossibility, "disenfranchise" gave me what I needed to persuade the voters in the last of America's primary states that it would be undemocratic if I dropped out of the race. That was when I learned the true power of the word. Every morning I'd rise expecting my fellow Americans to wake up to the fact that nobody had shrieked "disenfranchisement!!!" when the original Democratic field shrunk by half-a-dozen candidates several weeks before the voters of states like Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and North Carolina got a chance to cast their ballots. But nobody ever called me on it. And why would they? Come on. Show of hands, graduates. Raise your hand if you remember Chris Dodd. Joe Biden? John Edwards? Dennis Kucinich? Bill Richardson? Tom Vilsack? Yeah. Neither do I.
Another buzzword you'll hear is "divisive." Jam your fingers in your ears when they trot this one out.
If your opponent saves his candidacy by giving a speech that fills people with hope that they might overcome generations of ethnic strife, sectarian hatreds, or whatever, "divisive" is a word that can distract you from what needs to be done. "Divisive" will keep you from finding ways to re-open old wounds as often as is needed to make your opponent seem unelectable. This takes discipline and, of course, a steadfast mindfulness that the election is all about you. But as I look out on the smiling, hopeful faces of this graduating class, I feel inspired and confident that at least one of you will find a way to do what needs to be done.
Finally, a word about political snubs. Sometimes a longtime political ally will decide, for his own mystifying reasons, that he should endorse your opponent. When that happens, you'll want to stay silent on the matter. Don't give him the satisfaction. Most importantly, maintain your silence when one of your prominent supporters compares your former ally to whichever person is the most reviled traitor in the history of your own religious tradition. In my tradition, the comparison would be to someone called Judas. You'll have to work out the details of how to implement this principle here in Iraq. We've been briefed constantly on the Koran. So I haven't really seen the need to read it myself.
There's much more I could share. But I want to allow time for refreshments before you return to your rioting. Thank you so much for your attention. With luck, hard work, and total dedication to the ideas I've outlined here, someone in this graduating class will soon become the leader of this godforsaken place. I look forward to meeting with that person one-on-one. Without preconditions.
Congratulations, graduates. May God bless the United States of America.