I guess I must repeat the question: What is it about President Obama that drives otherwise sane people crazy?
Our friends at National Review Online have run a "symposium" on the subject of Notre Dame’s decision to award the President an honorary degree and to invite him to give this year’s commencement address. Of course, the editor, in the header, refers to Obama as "our most anti-life president" without actually proving the point.
Most of the contributions to the symposium are, well, unbalanced. George Weigel shows his cosmopolitan touch by asking with Lenin, "What, then, is to be done?" and suggesting that alumni stop giving large gifts, a suggestion he claims is not really cynical. Tell that to the sophomore who will lose her scholarship because someone takes Weigel’s advice. In a funny aside, the Catholic News Agency called attention to the Symposium and referred to Weigel as "the biographer of Pope John Paul II" when, of course, he is "a biographer" of the late pontiff. There are others. All truly great men require several biographers because a jewel has many facets and no one historian can see them all.
Candace de Russy begins her essay by thoughtfully detailing the etymology of the word "perfidy" which she then applies to Notre Dame for its decision. In addition to calling upon students to boycott the ceremony she suggests:" Bishop John M. D’Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend should explore means by which to formally strip Notre Dame of its Catholic identity." Now, we all suffer from the occasional bad word choice, but I suspect Ms. De Russy really does think that Catholic identity is the kind of thing that can be so easily stripped off, like a set of second hand clothes. Alas, some intellectuals only spout second hand opinions, so this mistake is as understandable as it is common.
Patrick Lee compares the Notre Dame decision to a supposed offer of such an honor to a segregationist in 1960. Patrick Reilly of the Cardinal Newman Society, writes that "there’s more to the outrage. Beyond the matter of propriety, Catholics rightly suspect betrayal by a Catholic institution. With all of the possible honorees who could have been selected, Notre Dame chose the individual who is today the most dangerous proponent of the Culture of Death in the United States." Betrayal? Most Dangerous? Where is the evidence for these claims?
I was pleased to see that my friend and intellectual sparring partner Rick Garnett offered a thoughtful post which at least acknowledged that his opposition to the choice did not require the kind of judgmental jiu-jitsu his colleagues indulged. "It is not to question President Obama’s accomplishments or to deny that his election was, in many ways, historic." Garnett thinks the decision was wrong precisely because Notre Dame Catholic identity is so strong and this imposes a special obligation upon its decision makers. I think Garnett is wrong, but he is reasonable and you could sit down and have a scotch with him to argue the matter respectfully.
Alas, the ranters are in the lead on this one. Not only do they not persuade, but they do not invite the kind of dialogue that will change hearts or minds on the issues they claim to care about. But, they have created a caricature of the President that is simply not credible. I wish he saw things differently on an issue like embryonic stem cell research, but most of our fellow citizens agree with him, not me, and one of those fellow citizens, Sen. John McCain, had promised to take exactly the same course of action on stem cell research. Could any of these ranters acknowledge, as Garnett does, that the man’s election was historic, that perhaps African-Americans should be permitted to be especially proud of his victory, that on some of his policies, such as aid to the poor, immigration reform and promoting universal health insurance, Obama is closer to the Church’s positions than his political opponents? No. He is evil they say. Fortunately, they say so in ways that are quickly growing tiresome. Their echo chamber is getting more vicious but it is also getting smaller. That, I suppose, is the silver lining.