President Barack Obama made the commencement address today at the University of Norte Dame. The university’s invitation, and the president’s appearance, have been the subject of much controversy both inside the Church and in the pro-life community. President Obama, in four short months, has established himself as the most radically pro-abortion president in U.S. history, and many in the Catholic Church – including a large contingent of bishops – have been critical of Notre Dame for giving the president a platform and bestowing upon him an honorary law degree.
But President Obama’s decision to accept the invitation, and to keep it in the face of the growing controversy, is worthy of examination as well. President Obama may not have thought that his acceptance of the invitation to speak at Notre Dame would be controversial when he confirmed it. However, as the controversy surrounding the speech grew from an online petition drive to angry comments from the Vatican, President Obama should have realized that his presence at the school on graduation day had become a distraction for the graduates and their families, and placed his host in an awkward situation. As a guest has an obligation to avoid placing his host in embarrassing circumstances, President Obama should have found a way to gracefully extricate himself from the speech. That he did not is evidence of a fundamental lack of decency in the President of the United States.
A decent man is aware of the impact of his statements and beliefs on others. President Obama certainly knows that his beliefs on abortion run counter to the teachings of the Catholic Church. He knows, too, that Notre Dame is taking pointed criticism over his appearance. If the president harbored any respect for Notre Dame, the Church, or the beliefs of pro-life alumni and friends of the university who have been so agitated over the school’s actions, he would not have appeared today.
And it is not the first time the president has shown a marked disrespect for a Catholic institution. Last month, the White House requested that Georgetown University cover Christian symbols so they would not appear as a backdrop to Obama for a planned speech there. Georgetown, sadly, complied. The request, however, was insulting, and could have only come from an Administration hostile to religious tradition and values.
But this president is a man possessed of a deep and abiding respect for himself before all others. This is evident in his speeches and actions. Obama famously claimed that his nomination as the Democratic Party’s candidate for president would be looked back upon as the moment when the seas stopped rising due to global warming. That is no ordinary conceit. It is the conceit of a man who believes entirely in the rightness of his positions, and by implication the wrongness of his opponents’. He is also said to believe strongly in his ability to convince others of the merits of his position. Doubtless these qualities played a role in President Obama’s stubborn insistence on speaking at Notre Dame today, and bringing a raft of protests, media, and condemnation with him.
In the end, the ultimate fault lies with the university for turning its back on its Catholic heritage and inviting the foremost advocate for the continued killing of the unborn within its walls. But President Obama should not be excused for trampling on that tradition. There are lines that, yes even a president, should not cross. And there is a basic decency that even presidents must display. Barack Obama clearly believes that the high office he temporarily occupies relieves him of the need to follow basic tenents of decency. That is as big a shame as the university’s refusal to live up to its heritage.