The controversy over Notre Dame inviting a pro-abortion President to deliver the 2009 Commencement Address and award him an Honorary Degree has not abated following the President’s remarks over the weekend. In his typical way, the 44th President used his rhetorical skills to defuse the controversy and to seem to be “all things to all men.” He admitted that the two polar opposite points of view about abortion are “irreconcilable” and that while many people want to “fudge” the differences, our President believes that the nation can find “common ground” by reducing the “need” for abortion and the “number of women” who seek abortions. In short, he very skillfully turned the occasion into a political event to launch his 2012 re-election campaign.
The president of Notre Dame, Father John Jenkins, declared that the invitation to President Obama was “not a political statement or an endorsement of policy.” The stage, then, was set for President Obama to “seal the deal” with the nation’s Catholic voters and the pro-lifers who voted for him in 2008. Mr. Obama was there to let those voters know that it was okay to have voted for him in 2008 and to continue to support him. The President used the occasion and his remarks to solidify his political position with those voters and to provide an “intellectual” rationale – using sufficiently obscured rhetoric – for pro-life people to support a radically pro-abortion President.
This is how it went: President Obama was a smooth-talking man of reason and eloquence, in contrast to those extremist right wing zealots who stir up trouble. He touched all the bases of “common ground.” He was the one with the “open mind” and “open heart;” he was the “fair-minded” one. He argued for “bringing people together” and “respecting” those with whom we disagree. He was the generous one, quieting those who tried to squelch the protesters interrupting his speech. After all, enlightened people don’t stoop to arguing with those who cling to convictions – “progressives” are “so” beyond such sincere, but misguided and outdated simplemindedness. Thus, Notre Dame was right to bring the wolf in among the sheep. After all, the university is the appropriate place for a rational discussion of people’s differences. Besides, those differences are not really a big deal. Well, at least they wouldn’t be if we would “all just get along.”
The media seemed to imply that the fact that President Obama received a standing ovation at the end of his speech indicated overwhelming endorsement of his ideas. I remember well the 1992 Commencement Address at Notre Dame given by the first President Bush because I wrote that speech. President Bush talked about the American family being “an institution under siege” and that many of America’s problems stemmed from the disintegration of the family. Just as the graduates’ “blood is in the bricks” of Notre Dame, the President challenged the graduates to be the ones who meet the challenge of re-building the nation’s family infrastructure. That speech was interrupted 28 times by enthusiastic, sustained applause and was given a resounding standing ovation.
The current President’s goals were more political. In a sop to Planned Parenthood and other hard left groups, the President said he will stress “pregnancy prevention,” which translated means megabucks for condom-based sex education and “reproductive health services” around the world. The President stressed the importance of “sound science” when talking about his approach to “pregnancy prevention,” which means he will buy into the scurrilous attacks on abstinence-based programs.
In short, the speech was a campaign event designed to win over cultural conservatives for 2010 and 2012. Even his nod about a “sensible conscience clause,” offers him lots of political and philosophical wiggle room. His acknowledgement of the “moral and spiritual dimensions” of abortion will be enough for some people to grant him points on the issue, even though he provided no substance for the meaning or application of those “dimensions.”
By appearing at Notre Dame to discuss a profoundly moral and spiritual issue, the President ostensibly set the terms of the debate, grabbed the “high ground” on the issue of abortion and set himself up as the standard for rationality and authority. Anyone who dares to disagree with his “reasoned” stance is, by inference, a close-minded, harshly judgmental reactionary. But a close reading of his speech manuscript shows his acknowledgment that confrontation was necessary for the civil rights cause to succeed; further, the President’s personal history includes years as a community organizer mobilizing grassroots people to demand change.
Sadly, the American public – especially the typical college student – may be too distracted to listen with discernment. So, an address that is carefully crafted to appear reasonable and thoughtful on a very controversial issue glosses over decisions and policies that are profoundly pro-abortion. After his election, President Obama immediately lifted the Bush administration restrictions on funding for abortions and destructive embryonic stem cell research. Once again, this President’s actions are inconsistent with the words that describe the Administration’s values and intentions. He talks the talk, but while he is saying one thing, he is doing another.