Today, after much protest, controversy and hysterical outrage, Barack Obama delivered the commencement address at Notre Dame. In his speech to the Catholic school's graduates, Obama addressed growing concerns about his "respect for life" head-on.
According to the transcript of the speech, the President was only 241 words into his address, having just made a well-received joke about the elusiveness of honorary degrees, when a heckler screamed, "Abortion is murder! Stop killing children!" The majority of the audience responded by condemning the jackass responsible for the disruption with a loud chorus of boos that eventually morphed into a "yes we can" chant. Obama handled the disturbance deftly, as he always seems to do with an almost disgusting penchant for grace and humility under pressure, moved on with his prepared text, and then returned to the subject of his, in the words of protesting Bishop John D'Arcy, "long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred," about a quarter of the way into his address.
Let us work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions, let's reduce unintended pregnancies. (Applause.) Let's make adoption more available. (Applause.) Let's provide care and support for women who do carry their children to term. (Applause.) Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women." Those are things we can do. (Applause.)
Now, understand — understand, Class of 2009, I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. Because no matter how much we may want to fudge it — indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory — the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.
Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words. It's a way of life that has always been the Notre Dame tradition. (Applause.) Father Hesburgh has long spoken of this institution as both a lighthouse and a crossroads. A lighthouse that stands apart, shining with the wisdom of the Catholic tradition, while the crossroads is where "¼differences of culture and religion and conviction can co-exist with friendship, civility, hospitality, and especially love." And I want to join him and Father John in saying how inspired I am by the maturity and responsibility with which this class has approached the debate surrounding today's ceremony. You are an example of what Notre Dame is about. (Applause.)
This tradition of cooperation and understanding is one that I learned in my own life many years ago — also with the help of the Catholic Church.
From there Obama went on to discuss the role religion played during his formative years, mentioning how witnessing the good works of church-going people in his neighborhood led him to being "brought to Christ" as a youth, and concluded with some traditional commencement address words of inspiration for the graduates about to face the world, words which were the collective antithesis of this commencement address.
What Obama did not do at Notre Dame, courtly but also somewhat disappointingly, was make any effort to point out the hypocrisy laden in the outrage expressed by the legions of "pro-life" protesters of 2009 who were largely silent when George W. Bush delivered the commencement address at Notre Dame in 2001. At the time Bush, despite having the "pro-life" label woven deeply into his personal political tapestry, had recently assumed the office of the presidency following a stint as the governor of Texas in which he personally signed death warrants for 131 state prisoners, of which almost a third were later found to be represented by ridiculously incompetent defense attorneys, some working under the influence of cocaine and alcohol and sleeping in court during vital stages of their client's trials. Obama could have easily pointed out the towering jackassery inherent within such ideological tunnel vision, perhaps even going so far as to ask his audience to ponder a hypothetical question—-What would Jesus Christ, himself a man whose life was taken by the state through an excruciating execution, think of the decision to have Bush speak to the school's graduates? If you're going to have a man who personally ordered the executions of 131 human beings speak to a school affiliated with a religion supposed rooted in the teachings of Christ, well hell, you might as well just go the extra mile and rename the main administration building after Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who, according to the word of the Bible, ordered Christ's crucifixion.
Obama could have also very easily pointed out the hypocrisy in the Catholic Church's "pro-life" stance by recalling its long, storied, bloodstained personal history. Anyone remember the Crusades? The Inquisitions? Or how about the church's support of Hitler during the reign of Pope Pius XII? Not to be forgotten are innumerable instances of bigotry, sexism and intolerance, and oh yeah, widespread KID-FUCKING, perpetrated, condoned, and covered up by the church, its leadership and its flock.
So yeah, the Catholic Church, what with blood seemingly pouring from its hands, really hasn't a leg to stand on when it comes to promoting a "culture of life" and condemning those whose views on the subject differ from their own, but to Obama's credit, like a man who lives his life in accordance with the teachings of true Christianity, much more so than the righteous blowhards who have the Herculean audacity as to take regular shots at his moral compass, he shunned using rhetoric laced in the potential to alienate, and instead chose words that offered everyone a seat at the table, which is probably the exact way Jesus Christ himself would have handled the situation.
All told, if it were us who'd been challenged so furiously by righteous windbags about our "long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred," we probably would have just told them all to go fuck themselves, but we suppose that's why he's the President, and we're not.
Obama's Commencement Address at Notre Dame [New York Times]