When a few protesters interrupted President Obama’s speech at the Notre Dame graduation by shouting: “Stop killing our children!” the student body replied by chanting, “Yes, we can.”
This inadvertent message juxtaposition was, perhaps, not the best way to placate traditional Catholics.
President Obama gave a good speech at the Notre Dame University graduation if rhetorical skill is the measure of speaking excellence. Graduation speeches are notoriously tricky. Most people will little remember, but only resent the length of anything said there. Obama navigated those waters, but he did so by missing the point of the entire controversy surrounding the visit.
Notre Dame aided that misunderstanding, but watching the ceremony made it obvious why their better judgment was clouded. It was moving to see civil rights leaders in Notre Dame’s history honored and live to applaud the nations first African-American president. Given University leadership in the cause of civil rights, it is understandable that Notre Dame would wish to honor this President.
It was still a mistake to give him a high honor, though not to let him speak. Anybody thinking there would be wide spread disruption at the ceremony or a lack of courtesy knows nothing about Christian higher education. If he had to come and be honored, Notre Dame students were right to give honor to the office of President by politely hearing him out even if they do not respect the abortion views of the man.
Besides, anyone who thinks traditional Catholic views represent some vast majority of the Notre Dame student body also does not understand the state of Catholic higher education!
President Obama’s speech was a very bad speech for pretending to be one thing when it was something else. I predict it will be hailed for boldly confronting the “controversy surrounding his appearance,” but he was not bold and he did not confront the controversy.
The President spoke as if the controversy centered on his appearance at Notre Dame and speech when in reality it was his being honored despite his views.
Traditional Christians in the academy were not concerned that the President was invited to speak at a Christian university. Who wouldn’t welcome the chance to hear the perspectives of the single most powerful political figure in the world? President Obama’s views on abortion are wrong, and morally wicked, but listening to an argument on them is not.
President Obama “bravely” defended civil dialogue in his speech when civil dialogue was not the question. No reasonable academic, and no patriotic American, questions the right of our President to speak his mind. All of us are in favor of civil discourse and few see any reason to question the motives of our opponents.
Those who do not want to listen to their opponents are wrong. We should all charitably read opposing views on the great issues of the age and treat our opponents with tough-minded respect. If we still disagree, we should charitably believe for as long as we can that they are misled and not wicked.
The sad truth, as our own lives demonstrate to us, is that we often have noble motives for wicked acts. We did not mean to hurt anybody, but we do. Our positions are not sanctified by our sincerity. This is as true of the proponents of segregation, many well-intentioned men, as advocates of abortion.
Notre Dame did not just listen to the most powerful abortion advocate in the world, but loudly and publicly honored him. He is a man, perhaps with noble motives, who is sending their tax money to pay for abortion. If the University attacks those who opposed this honoring of an abortion advocate, as opposing free speech or hearing other points of view, then the University will be guilty of grossly distorting the basis for opposition.
Perhaps, the President’s speech will persuade Notre Dame to avoid this tactic. As a warning to college administrators not to slander their critics, the President’s speech may have some good effect.
What of abortion?
About abortion, the President “bravely” said nothing at all to defend his view that it should be legal to take the life of a child in the third trimester or that experimentation on humans (or potential humans) is licit. He said nothing at all to show why the Catholic papacy and bishops are wrong to say that support for abortion is a sin so grave that it overshadows other goods deeds in politics.
In short, Notre Dame and the President talked about what they agreed on and ignored their differences. Any pretense that the President was brought to the campus to give all points of view is laughable. Perhaps well-intentioned academics are so skilled at dialogue that they are apt to ignore actions. While President Obama invites Notre Dame to talk, he governs outside of the culture of life.