The Notre Dame Speech

I read the text of President Obama’s Notre Dame graduation speech, and as usual it was a fine speech.

I’m glad he spoke directly to abortion, and that he made it clear that when he speaks of reducing the number of abortions he means to do it primarily by reducing the number of unintended pregnancies. So often “abortion reduction” and “common ground” are code words for “we’re going to nibble Roe v. Wade to death with stupid abortion restrictions.”

Frances Kissling writes,

By stressing a long-standing Democratic Party commitment to preventing unintended pregnancy and supporting pregnant women who continue pregnancies under a new name — “reducing the need for abortion” — he got most of these Catholics to vote for him in 2008.

Still, Obama yoked the strongest possible feminist affirmation of the right to choose abortion to his message of abortion reduction — and many pro-life Catholics voted for him anyway, a sign of how disgusted they were with the Republicans. At an April 29 press conference the president explained why he is pro-choice in terms that most feminists would applaud. “The reason I’m pro-choice is because I don’t think women take [abortion] casually. I think they struggle with these decisions each and every day. And I think they are in a better position to make these decisions ultimately than members of Congress or the president of the United States.” A feminist theologian might tweak the language, but the bottom line is that the president’s theology is feminist. Women are moral adults and agents; they think about abortion in complex and thoughtful ways and they should be trusted to make the decision. The president has not waffled on abortion.

I’ve said many times that what really separates people who want to criminalize abortion and those who don’t is not whether they think a fetus is a person. It’s whether they appreciate that a woman is a person. “Women are moral adults and agents; they think about abortion in complex and thoughtful ways and they should be trusted to make the decision.” Exactly. To me, terminating a healthy pregnancy is a sad thing, but reducing women to the status of brood animals is a lot sadder.

Peter Baker wrote in the New York Times that the President “appealed to partisans on both sides to find ways to respect one another’s basic decency and even work together to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.” Baker also said,

Anti-abortion leaders protested his appearance at the University of Notre Dame and he was heckled four times during a commencement address by protesters yelling slogans like “abortion is murder.” But the audience shouted down the hecklers and cheered Mr. Obama as he called for “open hearts, open minds, fair-minded words” in a debate that has polarized the country for decades.

Meanwhile, Randall Terry was seen on campus pushing a baby carriage occupied by a doll covered in blood.

Peter Baker mentioned a recent Gallup poll that shows a rise in the number of people calling themselves “pro-life.” Ed Kilgore and Matt Yelgesias explain why the poll is misleading.

Personally, I liked this part of the President’s speech, even the “G” part:

But remember, too, that you can be a crossroads. Remember, too, that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It’s the belief in things not seen. It’s beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us. And those of us who believe must trust that His wisdom is greater than our own.

And this doubt should not push us away our faith. But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, cause us to be wary of too much self-righteousness. It should compel us to remain open and curious and eager to continue the spiritual and moral debate that began for so many of you within the walls of Notre Dame.

Reinhold Niebuhr, big time.

Update: See E.J. Dionne:

The thunderous and repeated applause that greeted Obama and the Rev. John I. Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president who took enormous grief for asking him to appear, stood as a rebuke to those who said the president should not have been invited.

4 thoughts on “The Notre Dame Speech

  1. At last, a sane Catholic response to the abortion issue! Isn’t it interesting that it came from a protestant US President. His image of the lighthouse urges everyone to proclaim what they believe and to sincerely honour other’s beliefs. His image of the crossroads calls us to meet each other and TALK, not yell at each other. Together we will all build the reign of God among us. We must honour and respect each other. The catholic faith is inclusive. That means all are respected and loved as God’s children. Your president did a fine job. (I do not live in the States.) You must be proud of him. (People of all faiths.)

  2. Meanwhile, Randall Terry was seen on campus pushing a baby carriage occupied by a doll covered in blood.

    Was he crying in anguish like he did at Terry Chiavo’s departing?

    Well. Obama and Bush both have one thing in common when it comes to making speeches…They both had captive audiences, except they weren’t captive in the same sense because a Commander’s Call is a mandatory formation.

  3. …I had the opportunity to watch Obama’s Notre Dame commencement address (after I got home from church, for anyone searching for a moment of irony), and the most powerful theme that I thought was expressed was the absolute failure of the Pharisee pro-life movement to express itself in any meaningful way in this venue. Obama took a head-on approach to many of the issues that stirred up the protest against his appearance, and efforts to highlight those objections (even on FAUX News) were abject and total failure…

  4. “efforts to highlight those objections (even on FAUX News) were abject and total failure…”

    I have to disagree, I watched FAUX’s coverage and found it to be completely one sided (the wackjob wingnut side). They overestimated the numbers at the alternate commencement (FAUX said “thousands” when in fact it was less than 50 students and a bunch of wingnuts bussed in by some “nut job church”). Just the fact that they would give that asshole Randall Terry a platform to spew his hate is biased alone. But what was most disappointing about the media coverage (CNN and FAUX, MSNBC ran their usual prison weekend programming?) was that for the hype about how they would cover the event neither network covered the speech by the valedictorian, instead FAUX ran hate speech by Randall et-al and CNN had similar pro-religion rhetoric. Fortunately for me I live in Indiana and was able to watch the students speech on local TV, it was a good speech, the president even made reference to it in his own. I’ll bet her parents were quite proud even if she did open for a “baby killer”.

Comments are closed.