President Barack Obama, our very own no-drama Obama, seems unable to avoid controversy lately, especially, it seems in regard to commencement addresses. Not long after giving his balloon-pricking address at Arizona, deflating the controversy stirred up there about not receiving an honorary degree because his “body of work still lay before him,” we have, in this case, not the university but some members of the faculty and student body, a minority, to be sure, but nonetheless a vocal minority, who seem to object to the choice of President Obama as commencement speaker. Their objection is based on the President’s stance in regard to abortion choice and stem cell research.
I am not sure what abortion and stem cell research have to do with graduation exercises, but it seems that University of Notre Dame senior Emily Toates is not only angry over Notre Dames’ decision to give President Obama an honorary degree, but she’s doing something about it: skipping the event. Her rationale is as follows: "I do not feel comfortable going and celebrating him as the university hands him an honorary degree -- in a sense honoring his policies."
She added that if Obama were invited to speak in a different context, there would be no uproar. "If he was invited to a town hall meeting, a panel discussion, something where we were discussing these issues ... then I wouldn't have a problem with it. I would go and hear what he has to say," she said. "The problem is, a commencement isn't the context for a dialogue. He's going to be standing up on the stage speaking to us in our seats. There isn't that opportunity for dialogue."
So, let me get this clear. Ms. Toate feels Notre Dame should not have Obama at graduation ceremonies because of his stance on abortion and stem cell research, but more importantly because there would be no dialogue on those topics. Forget that those topics have nothing to do with that special day. She says she would welcome him to the campus if the event were one in which abortion and stem cell research could be discussed. Does she mean that he is welcome to come only if she were able to argue with him on these topics? And if not, don’t come? I guess so.
To some, it would seem much more civilized and make more sense to have people who disagree on inflammatory subjects at an event that has nothing to do with those issues. Then you would not be there as contentious debaters. Must one always argue?
Yet the objection is expressed in another way by Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League. "I have no problem with Obama speaking on the campus. ... I have no problem with him addressing the law school, being involved in this symposium. ... I do have a problem giving him the honor."
Mr. Donohue seems to be inferring that the President of the United States is not worthy of an honor if he does not concur on abortion and stem cell research. I guess Mr. Donohue does not look further in evaluating the worth of a person, even if that person happens to be the president of his country.
I am glad to hear that most Catholics in this country do not feel like Ms. Toates and Mr. Donohue, and that a majority of them do not want the University to rescind the invitation. It is sad enough to hear that a graduating senior, after supposedly receiving a good education, is so narrow-minded and judgmental as to see people only in terms of such narrow issues, as if other aspects of character do not stand for much.
Hooray for Notre Dame for inviting the dynamic Mr. Obama. I am sure he would be happy to debate Ms Toates and Mr. Donohue at their pleasure, but I think neither he nor Notre Dame had that in mind when discussing the commencement program. It would be out of place and doesn’t belong on the agenda or in the minds of those who should be thinking of other things on that important day.