White Coat Underground

Obama terrorizes Notre Dame

So, President Obama is getting an honorary degree and giving a commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, and some folks aren’t too happy about that. Why? The stated reasons is his support of limited abortion rights. Let’s examine why this stance is hypocritical and nonsensical, then examine the real reasons for the protests.

Beliefs of a speaker

Notre Dame has a reputation as a good university, and I’m quite certain that classes on campus include ideas not part of official Catholic belief. I’m willing to bet that not every student, professor, and employee hold to every letter of Catholic doctrine. Still, one could argue that honoring a commencement speaker is a larger act than allowing a professor to teach and research (although I’d disagree with that, too).

So Obama holds an opinion about an important issue that is different that the opinion of the Church. So what? Has every speaker held to the NIcene Creed? That’s some pretty important stuff there. Must a speaker hold to all Catholic beliefs? If not, which ones must the believe?

After all, if “life” is the primary test here, then Bush and Reagan should have been turned away for their support of the death penalty and of war. Or are some lives more important that others?

Purpose of a speaker

Is the purpose of a commencement speaker to support all the beliefs of the school’s sponsoring faith? Well, that would rule out many Catholics, so clearly the purpose of the degree and the speaker is not to come as a pure cheerleader for the Faith. Perhaps the purpose is to invite a prominent, successful person, and hear their views, their story. Obama is certainly a good speaker and a successful person. Seems like a good choice.

Content of speech

I’m sure that the university doesn’t limit what a speaker can say—that would be antithetical to the purpose of a university. So they are of course taking a risk when they invite a speaker. But does anyone really think President Obama is going to choose the one issue on which he and the Church most disagree and speak about it? And if he did, is the faith of the students so weak that one speaker could eradicate four years of education?

The degree

What is the meaning of a degree from ND, honorary or otherwise? Does it mean that in addition to your successful education you agree with the Vatican on every single letter of doctrine?

Motivation of protesters

We should take at their word protesters who say they feel Obama’s abortion beliefs, and his ability to influence policy make him a poor choice. It’s clearly hypocritical and narrow, but why would they lie?

But are they recognizing all of their motivations? After all, plenty of other influential speakers have had no trouble coming to Notre Dame. Protesting a president’s policies is a good thing. It’s a sign of a healthy democracy. But what does it mean to try to deny him a platform based on a single issue, while offering that platform to people like Bush with similarly “offensive” views?

Protesters say that Obama’s principles are strongly opposed to Catholic beliefs. Oh, really? Besides abortion, which beliefs would those be?

I know that my more conservative friends will think this is ridiculous, but Obama represents something fundamentally different than the Bushes and Reagans. If Obama were coming to the University to give a speech on abortion rights, this would be problematic (although not that problematic). But every president in the last 50 years has been invited to speak at ND without a litmus test. What makes Obama different?

To state the obvious, he is Black, has a Muslim middle name, and is liberal. He is different, and here in the Midwest, he makes many people uncomfortable.

As this presidency continues, I hope we will get past this and focus on real policy disagreements rather than fake issues. There are real problems in this country, affecting real people, and there are real disagreements on how to fix things. Let’s go there.

Comments

  1. #1 Joanne Kennedy
    May 17, 2009

    It plain and simple, the Catholic Church asks us to accept the life, and the culture of death.
    When I think of of all the babies who might have born and wonder if within the past 3o years, if we lost a great scientist who has found the cure for cancer and aids, a great peacemaker, theologian and most of all good citizens, and people who just existence would have made a difference.
    The question I am asking the pro choice, do you feel your live has made a difference?

  2. #2 T. Bruce McNeely
    May 17, 2009

    Joanne:
    By your logic, every one of us between 15 and 45 should be conceiving as many babies as we can. After all, one of them could make a difference…

  3. #3 Ramel
    May 17, 2009

    @Joanne

    For every great and wonderful scientist or peace maker we may have lost we probably dodged 3 Stalins and a Pol Pot, murdering tyrants are sadly more common than either. The theologians aren’t much of a loss, and the good citizens are usually balenced by the bad.

  4. #4 Richard Massman
    May 17, 2009

    Thank you for this opportunity to ask a question or two.

    Why not invite osama bin lodin he has a different view point.

    Why not invite the president of iran he to has a different approach to life.

    As a ND trained mine most likely one can go into the enviroment an get a different opinion. At ND lets firm up the ND way of life. There will be ample time to get opposition.

  5. #5 wazza
    May 17, 2009

    It’s been shown that there is a possible link between the availability of abortions and a reduction in crime. That is, babies that would be aborted if the possibility were there tend to be born into environments (socioeconomic and familial) which predispose them to being criminals. Therefore the argument that we’re missing out on all those babies actually tends slightly towards being an argument in favour of choice.

    However, Ms Kennedy, I am quite glad that you used the term “pro-choice”, since that is exactly what our side of the argument is. We want the choice to be available, even while wishing that circumstances were such that it need never be made in the direction of the distasteful but sometimes regrettable option of intentionally triggering a miscarriage.

    In any case, as noted, ever president has been invited to speak at this college. Mr Obama has accepted, and will surely give a speech even more inspiring than that PZ made. There’s really no reason to complain at all.

  6. #6 PalMD
    May 17, 2009

    Did i misread my own writing? I didn’t write a piece about abortion, but about Obama’s ND speech. The fact that anyone is conflating the two is emblematic of the problem here.

  7. #7 daedalus2u
    May 17, 2009

    Wow, Richard, I suggest you go back for a refresher course if you have difficulty telling the difference between Osama bin Laden and President Obama. Hint, it is more than the spelling of their names.

    On the other hand, there seem to be a lot of ND “trained” minds that are having the same difficulty. That perhaps calls into question what type of “training” an ND education provides.

  8. #8 Frank
    May 17, 2009

    And yet, as you probably know, Arizona State University foolishly won’t grant President Obama a degree due because he had not accrued a “body of work” sufficient for the honor. The Daily Show had a lot of fun with this.

  9. #9 mxh
    May 17, 2009

    I agree with Pal (#6), it’s nearly impossible to have a rational discussion about anything that even remotely touches abortion without it quickly becoming a screaming match.

  10. #10 Infophile
    May 17, 2009

    I’m not quite convinced this is for the reasons you stated, Pal, at least solely. Rather, I’d look back at how vicious the Presidential campaign was. This brought up a lot of anger and left many people convinced that Obama would bring about the end of the world. These sentiments haven’t dissipated yet, and they’re lashing back in any way they can.

    Or maybe it actually is just about abortion. Back before the election, many priests told their congregations that it was their moral duty to vote for McCain because of Obama’s stance on abortion. Perhaps the growing power of the religious right encouraged them to do so.

  11. #11 dean
    May 17, 2009

    I think this “To state the obvious, he is Black, has a Muslim middle name, and is liberal. He is different, and here in the Midwest, he makes many people uncomfortable.” might be a key point. It would be foolish to believe that every person protesting is, at his or her core, uncomfortable about these characteristics, but to think none are would be equally foolish. Proof – no, simple anecdote: My wife is catholic; several people from her church are traveling to take part in the protest – certainly their right. When we asked why, they gave the abortion issue first, then went on to state that they were just as concerned about “the obvious lies about his muslim heritage, foreign citizenship, and links to terrorism”.

    Clearly these folks would be on the extreme of any group of protesters, but the fact that the set of people with such views is non-empty is depressing.

  12. #12 Orac
    May 17, 2009

    I don’t remember, but did Bill Clinton ever give a commencement speech at ND?

  13. #13 Katherine
    May 17, 2009

    Thank you for your piece on this silliness with Obama/Notre Dame. I am pro-choice (access unlimited in the first trimester, limited after that) and oppose capital punishment mostly on practical grounds (what do you do if you find out too late that the person executed was innocent….). Problem is, that the wingnuts of whom you speak think it’s okay to sacrifice a few innocent KNOWN people to the DP but not to believe that embryos without the neural hardware to even be sentient are not persons yet. What suits THEM is to be the law of the land, but when others disagree, it’s to be suppressed, legislated against, and stigmatized.

    As you can probably see, I’ve had my fill of the hypocrisy :)

    Katherine

  14. #14 natural cynic
    May 17, 2009

    And most important of all, one of those aborted babies could have solved overpopulation, overcrowding and more rapid resource depletion. or not

  15. #15 daedalus2u
    May 17, 2009

    Pierre Trudeau gave the commencement speech in 1982. He was very much pro-choice.

    ”In 1969 Trudeau legalized abortion if so approved by a hospital board. However the Supreme Court in 1984 ruled that the requirement for a board to approve violated a woman’s rights, and so now there are no legal restriction on abortions.”

    http://www.conservapedia.com/Pierre_Trudeau

    I have cited conservapedia, not sure if it is actually true, but the right wingnuts believe it is true which is what makes them hypocrites.

  16. #16 Pierce R. Butler
    May 17, 2009

    Protesters say that Obama’s principles are strongly opposed to Catholic beliefs. Oh, really? Besides abortion, which beliefs would those be?

    Support of contraception, patients’ rights, sexuality education, effective prevention of AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections… maybe even prosecution for acts of pedophilia!

  17. #17 Pliny-the-in-Between
    May 17, 2009

    Your point is well taken. Any university that applies a philosophical litmus test in order for someone to be allowed to speak is not a institution of higher learning. Critical thinking skills require at least some exercise from time to time if they are ever to evolve.

    As a digression, I have a suggestion for the Catholic Church. In the interests of moral and ethical consistency, you could divest the church of its princely holdings, the Pope could lead by taking a vow of poverty and money raised and saved could be applied to the unconditional defense of all human life in any form. Use some of the money to combat those who would prey upon children. Talk about your moral leadership – I for one (as I suspect would many others) would at least then be able to accept the Church’s positions as something more than historical rhetoric.

  18. #18 R E G
    May 17, 2009

    Obama’s speech was mentioned during my catholic mass today.

    The priest’s view was that-

    The purpose of the church is to foster a relationship with God.

    The purpose of a government is to maintain order etc. etc.

    The purpose of a university is to ask questions.

    In his opinion, we would all lose if universties were ever restricted in their quest for knowledge.

  19. #19 Donna B.
    May 17, 2009

    The sad thing to me is the threat of being accused of racism if one disagrees with President Obama in any way.

    Plus, the idea that President Obama or anyone else should be able to speak without protest at Notre Dame or any other institution is just plain silly.

  20. #20 dean
    May 17, 2009

    @Donna: “The sad thing to me is the threat of being accused of racism if one disagrees with President Obama in any way”

    Did you read carefully? ” It would be foolish to believe that every person protesting is, at his or her core, uncomfortable about these characteristics, but to think none are would be equally foolish.”

    The comment was not that all who protest are doing so because they are racist – I said that was foolish. I also pointed out it would be foolish to believe none are.

  21. #21 Michael Simpson
    May 17, 2009

    Joe Biden gave a commencement speech last week at my alma mater (well, one of them), Syracuse University. He didn’t flub any words, nor did he tell the graduating class to hide in the basement until the swine flu passed. I’m disappointed that no one is talking about it. Sigh. (That was sarcasm for those who miss points on a regular basis.)

    Colleges and universities exist to train and test young minds so they don’t end up like Jenny McCarthy. A commencement speech probably does neither. I haven’t heard Obama’s speech, but I’m sure it was plain vanilla, with a couple of coy ND jokes, a “go get ‘em” statement, and that the “future is all yours” conclusion. He probably isn’t going up to the podium to debate abortion or condemn the Pope for his support of the return to the fold of Holocaust denying bishops and priests. And I’ll bet 90% of the young minds at ND have no clue about what I just wrote. Sigh again.

  22. #22 wazza
    May 17, 2009

    Did i misread my own writing? I didn’t write a piece about abortion, but about Obama’s ND speech. The fact that anyone is conflating the two is emblematic of the problem here.

    *shuffles feet* Sorry, Dr Pal…

    But yes, it just so happens that people argued against it on the basis of his positions on abortion, and we got a little too deep too fast. (also, did I see someone quoting Conservapaedia up there? Fantastic…)

  23. #23 Pierce R. Butler
    May 17, 2009

    What Obama said (if he followed the script released earlier by the White House).

  24. #24 nospil 1
    May 17, 2009

    “But does anyone really think President Obama is going to choose the one issue on which he and the Church most disagree and speak about it?”

    Don ‘t underate President Obama.

  25. #25 River
    May 17, 2009

    I graduated fifteen years ago from one of the top 10 public universities in the nation. I remember there was some highly esteemed person who gave our commencement address, but for the life of me I can’t remember who it was or even if it was a man or a woman. How I wish it had been Obama! My goodness! I may not agree with everything he espouses, but he’s brilliant, in a position of tremendous authority and power, and is one of the most significant people of the new century. If that doesn’t make him qualified to deliver the commencement address at Notre Dame — or any other US university — nothing does.

  26. #26 keith
    May 17, 2009

    Religions should not be allowed to run any higher learning institution because they are always bias toward anyone who do not shared their believed.
    In the Middle East, religions extremist brain washed young men and women to kill thousands of innocent people by blown themselves up in crowded places. In America, oh well, they bombed clinics. What is “pro-life” again?

  27. #27 Walt Jones
    May 17, 2009

    The Catholic Church is against capital punishment, too. Was that an issue when George W spoke?

  28. #28 Donna B.
    May 17, 2009

    @dean – I wasn’t responding to you, I was commenting on the original post by PalMD:

    “To state the obvious, he is Black, has a Muslim middle name, and is liberal. He is different, and here in the Midwest, he makes many people uncomfortable.”

  29. #29 PalMD
    May 18, 2009

    Discomfort is not the same as racism. I’m just stating a fact that.

  30. #30 catgirl
    May 18, 2009

    When I think of of all the babies who might have born and wonder if within the past 3o years, if we lost a great scientist who has found the cure for cancer and aids, a great peacemaker, theologian and most of all good citizens, and people who just existence would have made a difference.

    What if there was a brilliant woman in college who would have found a cure for cancer and AIDS, but she got pregnant in college? What if her church had shamed her so much that she couldn’t consider the possibility of abortion and she ended up dropping out of school? What if having an abortion would have allowed her to pursue her career as a scientist or doctor? Oh wait, I get it. You don’t care about women’s contribution to society other than to produce babies, half of which have the potential to do something valuable to society.

    What if I had had a child when I first able to, at the age of 11? That child might have gone on to cure cancer. Does this mean that 11 year-olds should be having babies all the time? What about any time any person practices abstinence? They are preventing babies from being born that could be curing cancer right now.

  31. #31 Juniper Shoemaker
    May 18, 2009

    Wait a minute.

    To state the obvious, he is Black, has a Muslim middle name, and is liberal. He is different, and here in the Midwest, he makes many people uncomfortable.

    Even if this were not an observation of “discomfort” vs. “racism”, this statement still does not comprise a knee-jerk accusation of either. It’s an observation. A valid one. Many people did not vote for Obama because they disagree with his policies. (This includes my black father, conservative Lt. Col. Shoemaker, who voted for McCain.) That’s fine. Meanwhile, many other people did not vote for Obama because he’s (half-) black, liberal and has a “funny name”. Even though that was their right, it is no less a ridiculous way to vote, and no less deserving of scorn.

    Donna B., do you really think that people like me should just shut up about our experiences as brown people? It isn’t offensive that you don’t want to be accused of being racist for not liking a black politician. It’s offensive that you frequently intimate that if people like me just shut up and never tell stories about our unsavory experiences as brown people amongst white ones, “race problems” will go away. Why does it bother you so much when people make uncomfortable observations about race? Why can’t you direct your disapproval toward INDIVIDUALS who unequivocally insist that you didn’t vote for Obama because you’re a racist, instead of getting upset every single time someone merely makes a statement of truth about race?

    Not every white person didn’t vote for Obama because of his race. Guess what? Not every black person voted for Obama because of his race. Not every black person voted for Obama! Not every black person thinks that all white people are racist. Not every black person who refuses to remain silent on the racism she’s personally experienced thinks all white people are racist. Not every black person who talks about racism thinks she’s a “victim” and is incapable of appreciating what progress we’ve made as a nation. It’s really complicated, Donna. Life is, you know.

  32. #32 PalMD
    May 18, 2009

    Thanks, Juniper. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have said it that well.

    The discomfort here in the Midwest is real and palpable. I hear it every. single. day. In fact, sometimes I think I’m the only one who isn’t a raving paranoid lunatic.

  33. #33 Lynn
    May 18, 2009

    “Or are some lives more important that others?”

    Yes. There is a big difference between killing babies (fetuses for those who would rather not humanize this issue) because they are an inconvenience for your lifestyle like someone very dear to me did (and now regrets it every single waking minute of her life), versus executing murderers like the human waste that tried to kill my Grandmother. Your piece is ample proof of how little you understand about people opposed to abortion, as you’ve reduced it to nothing more than generalizations and of course, racism, despite your disclaimer–yes I did read the entire article.

    I can’t speak for Notre Dame, but abortion is one of the defining issues for Catholics and this is a Catholic University. You are entitled to your observations about race and I will concede there is *some* truth, but I call red herring.

    The tone of those commenting here in general is pretty snide. Yet no one challenges catgirl’s inability to infer some degree of common sense when reading? The eleven year old/curing cancer argument…laughable if it weren’t for the fact that it wasn’t made in jest. And keith, who speaks of bias yet lumps anti-abortionists in with the nutjobs who blow up clinics? Classic. What a burden it must be to know everything.

  34. #34 PalMD
    May 18, 2009

    I have always written that abortion is an issue about which reasonable people can disagree (although i’d say that they are making a very serious value judgment about the mother, as your wording implies, and this is left unacknowledged). But it is absurd to think that this imbroglio is only about abortion. Plenty of speakers, profs, students with views contrary to important catholic doctrine have failed to have such protest leveled at them (and once again, I emphasize that they have a perfect right to protest). Since Catholicism emphasizes reflection and introspection, it would be wise to question why someone like Bush, who favors the un-Catholic position of the death penalty, did not have the same vitriol hurled at him as Obama, whose diverse opinions are actually (other than abortion) very much in harmony with much of catholic moral and ethical teaching.

    Oh, and you can’t distance yourself from clinic bombers that easily. Every moral person who opposes abortion publicly must speak out against violence and misogyny, since these are so often linked to abortion (and similarly, we who are pro choice must think deeply about the consequences of our beliefs and speak them.).

  35. #35 daedalus2u
    May 18, 2009

    PalMD, sorry to link to this heinous story.

    http://scienceblogs.com/authority/2009/03/this_is_absolutely_completely.php

    Just to let Lynn know that not every abortion is done for “convenience”. But then, maybe one of these twins would have cured cancer; but probably not because their mom wasn’t big enough for twins to go to term. Likely all three of them would have died, the girl in considerable agony. But then suffering is good for the soul isn’t it.

  36. #36 Lynn
    May 18, 2009

    Clearly, this is an exception daedalus. Remember that thing I said about inferring some degree of common sense?

    I know three women who have had abortions–MULTIPLE abortions– because it was convenient for them. One had three, the last being late term with “no regrets.”

    I am not anti-abortion. However, the rallying behind it sickens me, touting it as women’s rights is beyond me, and the way people talk about it as though it’s just a no-biggie procedure is sad and pathetic to say the least. Your soul suffering comment…eh.

  37. #37 PalMD
    May 18, 2009

    No true Scotsman…

  38. #38 Lynn
    May 18, 2009

    PalMD, I think your point about Bush is valid. Point taken.

    My value judgment is not unacknowledged. I think I make it pretty clear where I stand. I think it’s wrong, with few exceptions. I also think it’s hear to stay, and rather than rally around it like it’s a football team, we ought to teach that it’s a last ditch effort, and this doesn’t appear to be the case.

    Years ago in high school, my friend told me he thanks God everyday his mother chose to give him up for adoption. That changed my pro abortion stance. If it weren’t for his mother, the wonderful person I sat there looking at wouldn’t have existed. He wouldn’t have the potential to cure cancer like the other poster suggests…

    I watched my 16-year-old friend have her baby as a sophomore when just about anyone would have opted the other route. She had a beautiful baby and doesn’t regret it, even though it made high school and college more difficult. That also changed my stance. At 21 my best friend took her baby to term and gave it up despite all the sorrow and difficulties associated with it, particularly from her family. That furthered my stance. I respect that. In most cases abortion is the easy way out and I make no apologies for making that judgment. Everyone makes “value judgments” just like you have about me. It’s silly to say otherwise.

    Your clinic bombing comment is wild and doesn’t really explain or say anything other than what YOU state is fact based on, I can only assume, your ideology. I can only guess I’m a misogynist because I don’t agree with a woman’s choice to abort/kill her baby? I’m a violent person because I share a view with some crazies? Or I’m violent because I condone the killing of people who have murdered and will continue to do so if not stopped? It’s like me saying you’re a baby killer because you’re pro-abortion. It also ignores the fact that I’m a woman, and that my family member was hastily aborted, so I have a very real opinion on this as does my family member who cries on my shoulder. It’s not something I write about to piss people like you off, or make people feel judged, it’s something I feel very strongly about because it has deeply affected my family. Yet, to you I’m just another clinic bomber. Openminded and “reasonable” indeed.

  39. #39 gopi
    May 18, 2009

    @Joanne:

    The what-if questions you ask are not really useful in this debate.

    How many scientists had the opportunity to go to school for longer, with less stress, because their parents had more time and money because they had fewer siblings?

    What if somebody only had another child because of an earlier abortion? The later child then turned out to be a cancer-curing world famous scientist…

    In that case, would you be pro-choice? I doubt it.

  40. #40 Nic Lamphear
    May 19, 2009

    I think we might be skimming over the greater issue here.
    If bible thumping right wing catholic nut jobs have a problem with a commencement speech that includes differing views than those that have been crammed in there skulls since birth.

    THEN DON’T INVITE A MAN WITH DIFFERING VIEWS TO GIVE A SPEECH AT YOUR COMMENCEMENT!

    that has always been one of the great successes of the church, alienate all outside influences. Jesus LOVES a captive audience.

  41. #41 Raging Bee
    May 19, 2009

    I know three women who have had abortions–MULTIPLE abortions– because it was convenient for them. One had three, the last being late term with “no regrets.”

    Quite frankly, I’m very skeptical of this claim. Either it’s a complete fabrication, or Lynn is grossly misrepresenting the decisions her female acquaintances had to make.

    I’ve read stories from people on all sides of the abortion debate who had either got or considered an abortion themselves at some time. And NONE of them, not even the most rabidly pro-choice feminists, was one-tenth as cavalier about the decision as Lynn’s aquaintances allegedly were. Furthermore, I’ve read other articles stating that women who get one abortion become VERY careful to avoid another unwanted pregnancy from then on; because what they may have THOUGHT was “convenient” turned out to be far worse than they had imagined.

    Either Lynn’s acquaintances are extremely ignorant and callous, or there’s something we’re not being told. But then again, those who pretend to be so concerned about the lives, rights and vital interests of the unborn, also tend to show absolutely ZERO concern for the lives, rights or vital interests of the women who are expected to bring them into the world and care for them.

  42. #42 khan
    May 19, 2009

    If it weren’t for his mother, the wonderful person I sat there looking at wouldn’t have existed. He wouldn’t have the potential to cure cancer like the other poster suggests…

    If your friend’s mother had kept her pants on, he wouldn’t be here to cure cancer.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.