I’ve found the conversation on Mary Ann Glendon very interesting, and wanted to follow up on some of the points made. Hopefully my comments will clearly respect the points of view of those who shared them; that’s certainly my intent.
I completely appreciate Professor Glendon’s right to withdraw, and as I said, I think Notre Dame made some serious blunders in the way it treated her. I guess my question is, what does she add to the conversation through her withdrawal? Her principled voice against President Obama’s position on abortion? Ok, yes; though she expresses the same set of arguments any number of others have taken, her stand brings new momentum because it's her doing it.
Yet in refusing to be present to the occasion, she tacitly accepts the us vs. them mindset that dominates the issue. And I wonder whether there wasn't another way of proceeding in which she could have embraced the plight she found herself in, rather than rejecting it, and brought the conversation to a place where some sort of progress could be made. The lady is a former ambassador and a Harvard professor of law, after all. As we used to say as kids, she's got skills. Maybe the circumstances weren’t right, or Notre Dame just went too far; but it's a disappointment, I'd say.
And my question to those who disagree: if you think the conversation is really “getting somewhere” through the ongoing litany of condemnation, what is the progress you see being made?
A number of commenters thought I was arguing semantics when I said President Obama has not been uncompromising on abortion. Yet I find much evidence to support my claim. Despite being pro-choice Mr. Obama has actually been critical of the pro-choice movement, and has repeatedly spoken of abortion as a serious moral question. So at the democratic forum at Messiah College in April of 2008 he said: “There is a moral dimension to abortion, which I think that all too often those of us who are pro-choice have not talked about or tried to tamp down. I think that’s a mistake because I think all of us understand that it is a wrenching choice for anybody to think about.”
During the campaign he also argued that no one (including himself) thinks abortion is a good thing -- a position one hears almost no one in the pro-choice movement make; and he has spoken out against partial-birth abortion, saying as long ago as October 2007, “I think there is a large agreement that late-term abortions are really problematic and there should be a regulation. And it should only happen in terms of the mother’s life or severe health consequences.” He reiterated the point a year later at the third presidential debate. What's more he has spoken out in favor of abstinence, adoption, education and even the idea that people considering abortion should speak first to clergy -- which again, did not go over terribly well among some who are pro-choice.
I would suggest a more conciliar, balanced approach from a pro-choice politician would be hard to find. And that’s why I think Professor Glendon's comments are indeed unfair.
Since before he began his run for the presidency Mr. Obama has expressed a willingness to reach out to those whose points of view he doesn’t agree with. Indeed, many of his speeches during the campaign argued that the polarizing divides among us are not the last word, that beneath what seem intractable disagreements lie important but forgotten underlying sources of connection and agreement. So in his presidential acceptance speech, he could