Alan Wolfe

Why Notre Dame Was Right To Invite Obama

Condi Rice spoke to the graduating seniors at Boston College in 2006. One of those seniors was my son. He was not particularly thrilled to have her as his commencement speaker and joined a very dignified protest against her. I disagreed with him. You should be thrilled that such an important and distinguished American is addressing you, I told him. He listened to his conscience, not to me.

I had some surprising allies supporting my position during our dinner time discussions. One of them was Kathryn Jean Lopez, the political conservative and devout Catholic who writes for National Review's blog, "The Corner." To be sure, K-Lo wrote in another NR blog "Phi Beta Cons" at the time, Rice is "pro-choice." But, Lopez went on, Rice calls herself only "moderately pro-choice" and in any case abortion "it is not an issue for her," odd comments, to be sure, if one believes that abortion is murder. (I am not sure how someone of Lopez's views can be so calm about someone who is only "moderately" in favor of homicide and spends most of her time thinking about more serious things like, presumably, piano playing.) In any case, K-Lo knew where she stood: "I don't think BC is compromising any fundamental values by having her speak."

You know what's next. Lopez, needless to say, is leading the charge against the decision by the University of Notre Dame to have President Obama deliver this year's commencement address. "The school does not owe any given president an honorary degree and a podium," she (now) believes. "The issue of life is of deepest importance and Notre Dame could have taught that lesson by withholding an invitation." Being pro-choice is obviously unacceptable--unless you happen to be a Republican, in which case it is moderately okay.

The entire political world can be divided into two categories: those who impose a litmus test on everything and those who do not. Barack Obama is president of the United States at one of the most difficult moment's in our country's recent history. He was duly elected by the people of this country and was supported by individuals from all faiths. He has so many issues on his plate that one wonders how he keeps his calm. He is a politician and a partisan and ought to be, and is being, subject to criticism. At the same time, he represents what the British conservative Walter Bagehot once called the "dignified" as well as the "efficient" aspect of governance; in his ceremonial role, he represents us all.

But none of this matters to those who are against Notre Dame's decision. The only things that really matter are his decisions to appoint Kathleen Sebelius to head the Department of Health and Human Services and his decision to move forward with stem cell research. (There are other reasons--according to another blogger at "The Corner," Peter Kirsanow, there are seven--but these two give you the flavor of the argument).

These are the kinds of people who once made a big issue about "political correctness" on the campus. Claiming to be adherents to something called "freedom of speech," they currently find themselves mimicking the campus left with their calls for boycotts and protests. In reality, they are proving themselves small minded and defensive. Their church, the Catholic Church, as Kenneth Woodward writes in today's Washington Post, "is not a sect that shuns the world as evil." It is because Catholics engage the world that Boston College honored Rice and Notre Dame invited Obama. Catholics should not choose wallets over voices, Lopez argues. If she had her way it would be choosing withdrawal over involvement.

One last thing. Boston College is also facing a controversy this week. Various organizations had invited Bill Ayers to speak on campus. The administration responded by rescinding the invitation and Ayers will speak by satellite later today. I detest Bill Ayers for his actions and for his lack of remorse. Nonetheless he was duly invited and he should have been allowed to speak on campus. My son agrees with me. In fact, he persuaded me.

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