Obama zeroed in on what he termed "that perennial, quintessentially American value of optimism; altruism; empathy; tolerance; a sense of community; a sense of service...."
Obama goes on to list myriad ways that people have "served," from joining the military or the Peace Core to starting a career in business or the Arts. He urges the graduates to "choose a cause that you care about in your life and will fight like heck to realize your vision." By this, Obama does not mean that graduates should pursue their own happiness:
There is a word for this. It’s citizenship. And we don’t always talk about this idea much these days — citizenship — let alone celebrate it. Sometimes, we see it as a virtue from another time, a distant past, one that’s slipping from a society that celebrates individual ambition above all else; a society awash in instant technology that empowers us to leverage our skills and talents like never before, but just as easily allows us to retreat from the world. And the result is that we sometimes forget the larger bonds we share as one American family.
Obama wants the America's young to choose based upon what is good for the country, not themselves, implicitly discounting the possibility that joining the military or starting a business or helping out after a disaster could be consistent with "individual ambition"; i.e., rational, selfishly chosen values and goals. Indeed, if their goals are selfishly motivated, they are by definition not morally valid. From the perspective of his Kantian ethical worldview, he is right: If your goals are not altruistic--i.e., self-sacrificial--they are ipso-facto selfish and thus immoral.
Obama wants these kids to subordinate what's good for themselves as individuals to what's good for others as the collective. What better way to condition kids for an eventual, undiluted authoritarian state?
Stephen Bourque has a great rebuttal to Obama's message at The Objective Standard blog titled Obama's Un-American Call to "Service" and "Duty." Here is an excerpt:
In saying “this country cannot accomplish great things if we pursue nothing greater than our own individual ambition,” Obama dismisses the purpose and history of the United States, and the very concept of liberty. America was not formed so that “this country” could accomplish great things; it was formed so that individuals could accomplish great things.I urge you to read the whole thing.
The idea of the individual as subordinate to the country is as old as totalitarianism, because "the country" or whatever name you want to ascribe to the collective necessarily means the state; a collective or group, as such, does not exist in concrete reality. Only the legal apparatus of the state and the individual exist. Obama's message is the same old sugar-coated poison that has been spouted by statists since time immemorial.
No wonder Obama urges us to "reject these voices [that] warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner." He doesn't want anyone to discover where he wants to take the country that we are to subordinate our individual ambition to. But why would he even bring attention to "these voices?" Perhaps he is telling us that we are starting to have an impact.
Obama's Way vs. the American Way
Obama's Collectivist Manifesto, Parts 1, 2, and 3