I am not now nor have I ever been a part of the Roman Church. I was raised a Methodist. I am not qualified to say whether inviting President Barack Obama to give ND's commencement speech and receive an honorary degree was a violation of Catholic protocol. But I gather that the Catholic Church has more rules than the Methodist Church, which is an easy call since the former has at least some rules and the latter, so far as I can tell, has none. I like having a lot of different kinds of religious communities in the neighborhood. That's diversity. But that means that each community has to insist on being what it is. If Obama's invitation was a violation of the rules, as some allege, that represents a threat to diversity. How's that for a politically correct defense of staunch Catholics?
I listened to President Obama's speech this morning, and commented on it on South Dakota Public Radio. I thought it was a fine commencement speech, as such things go. The issue of abortion was obviously the center of gravity around which the whole affair revolved. I thought President Obama's handling of that issue was very interesting.
He said one thing that needs saying, and said it well.
One of the vexing things for those of us interested in promoting greater understanding and cooperation among people is the discovery that even bringing together persons of good will, bringing together men and women of principle and purpose -- even accomplishing that can be difficult.
The soldier and the lawyer may both love this country with equal passion, and yet reach very different conclusions on the specific steps needed to protect us from harm. The gay activist and the evangelical pastor may both deplore the ravages of HIV/AIDS, but find themselves unable to bridge the cultural divide that might unite their efforts. Those who speak out against stem cell research may be rooted in an admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son's or daughter's hardships can be relieved. (Applause.)
Yes. There are people of intelligence and good will on both sides of these issues. I wish he had made that the central theme of his speech. I liked this part as well:
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.
So how do we deal with such irreconcilable differences on abortion? The President had some suggestions:
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 I liked one thing there: the "sensible conscience clause" part. I don't think that doctors or pharmacists who are opposed to abortion for religious reasons or reasons of moral conscience should be forced to choose between conscience and livelihood.
But it is also important to recognize that the President's position regarding people who disagree with him on abortion is one of tolerance. Tolerance was the mechanism by which the great politico-theological controversies of the Protestant Reformation were ultimately, if very gradually, resolved. The mechanism works like this: we, the people in power, will stop burning you guys at the stake; heck, we might even let you into the colleges. But in turn, you guys will accept that we are in power. It worked for Queen Elizabeth. Maybe it works for Obama.
The United States has a much more liberal abortion policy than most developed countries. A woman five days from natural birth can get an abortion if she has a doctor and a lawyer behind her. A healthy baby who survives an attempted abortion, well we know that Obama does not think that such a biological entity deserves protection. President Obama's bottom line is that this regime is no more negotiable than the Protestant Succession was for the Elizabethan regime. Accept that, and he will negotiate on other details. This is appalling. But for a political scientist, it is very interesting.