COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Sunday urged college graduates to participate in politics and said that without broad public involvement special interest groups can defeat legislation supported by the majority.
Obama, who said he is “obsessed with this issue” of inspiring citizens to engage with the political system, in a commencement address to Ohio State University was indirectly referring to the recent defeat of a proposal to expand background checks for gun purchases.
The measure enjoyed broad support among Americans but was defeated in the U.S. Senate.
Obama told students they need to vote and run for office and said that giving in to cynicism gives room for lobbyists and “the well-connected” to get their way in Washington.
“That’s how a small minority of lawmakers get cover to defeat something the vast majority of their constituents want,” he told the crowd of more than 57,000 at Ohio State University, including the 10,000 graduates.
Gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association have lobbied heavily against Obama’s gun control proposals made in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting.
Obama and his supporters have said that it is up to voters to hold their elected representatives accountable for the vote.
“Class of 2013: you can ultimately break that cycle. Only you can make sure the democracy you inherit is as good as we know it can be. But it requires your dedicated, informed and engaged citizenship,” he said.
The president said tragedies of the past year have shown how Americans can come together for the common good.
Obama said Americans have shown how citizens can help communities recover from disaster like Hurricane Sandy last year, the recent Boston Marathon bombings and the December school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
“In the aftermath of darkest tragedy, we have seen the American spirit at its brightest,” Obama said.
“We’ve seen courage and compassion, a sense of civic duty, and a recognition that we are not a collection of strangers.”
Obama’s remarks come as polls by the Harvard University Institute of Politics show that the “millennial” crop of students - an age bracket that supported him in his election campaigns - is becoming fed up with politics.
Obama usually delivers a few commencement addresses each spring. The Ohio State University address is his first.
He will also speak at Morehouse College in Atlanta on May 19, and at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland on May 24.
Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Cynthia Osterman