Monday morning when your Commander rose to a bright cool morning, I could almost hear a loud sigh of relief being expelled by the entire South Bend community. As many across the country know, President Barack Obama came to the University of Notre Dame Sunday, May 17th to give the commencement address and to receive a coveted honorary degree. Since the invitation was extended about two months ago, it has brought increased tension within our area, culminating with protests and the attention of the national media, including the major television networks and the 24 hour cable news channels.
I happened to be on the campus of Notre Dame a week ago and there were numerous demonstrators near the main entrance to the University proclaiming their strict positions on Abortion and Stem-cell Research. The university received a restraining order to keep protestors from setting foot on campus.
Our area has been inundated with airplanes flying around with anti-abortion banners and large trucks circling the region with graphic depictions of dead, bloody fetuses. Out of town advocates arrived several days before commencement and numerous arrests took place. Our local newspaper ran special features addressing the invitation’s controversy, and the television stations over worked every possible angle of the story for days.
On Sunday our local NBC television station (WNDU-TV) provided almost wall to wall coverage of events unfolding on campus from the early afternoon thru to the departure of Air Force One well after the originally scheduled time. The WNDU switchboard must have been buzzing, because its coverage of the day’s events and Obama’s speech overlapped the NBC network’s coverage of the Chicago Blackhawk/Detroit Red Wings hockey play-off game. The station had long promoted plans to join the game in progress at the start of the second period, but the commencement events ran well behind schedule presenting a dilemma. WNDU elected to stay with commencement and joined the hockey game in the third period. This was another no win situation just as the discussion has been on the Presidential invitation question.
My wife and I watched the entire television coverage and we were quite relieved to see that the graduation took place almost without incident, because this was really about recognizing the student’s achievements and receiving their diplomas. The brouhaha between Obama, the University, and the local Bishop was just a side issue to the abortion/stem-cell debate. Yes, there was a brief interruption during Obama’s speech, and yes there were numerous arrests on the campus, but fortunately there was no violence. Some activists on both sides of the debate spent the night in the slammer, but that did nothing to solve this debate.
We liked the president’s speech. Personally, I felt that Notre Dame’s President was somewhat fawning and obsequious, but considering the fact that he and his Trustees started this controversy I can understand his desire to bring a calming atmosphere to the event. The contentiousness of the subject was not solved, but no one expected it to be just by Obama’s appearance. Only time will tell if the university and our president were correct in creating the huge controversy with the invitation, and his acceptance.
University President Emeritus Theodore Hesburgh was in the commencement audience and was acknowledged several times. He will celebrate his 92nd birthday next week and is still a much loved and revered figure on campus.
In the interest of balance, it should be noted that in Monday’s Chicago Tribune there was an article praising the Reverend Father President John Jenkins for his compassionate, conciliatory introduction of President Obama. I suggest that the university would have been correct to invite the president to speak, but not now and that the awarding of an honorary degree was the real act that ignited the inflammatory debate.
I wonder why the University moved as it did when it immediately alienated a significant portion of highly supportive donors. Already there is local discussion as to whether the Rev. Jenkins reign as President of Notre Dame will be renewed upon its expiration next year. Unless there is some quid pro quo here I cannot see what the University gets out of this entire situation other than a warm and fuzzy feeling, because hard lines have now been drawn that will take years to heal, if ever.
The abortion question will not go away easily, because it is so emotional. The discussion on stem-cell research will linger too, but it may become moot with the developments in the scientific community to achieve equal results without destroying fetal material. The coming Supreme Court appointment will now become even more contentious as a result of this renewed abortion squabble.
The church will continue to function and I am certain the rift will ultimately heal, but not quickly. Rarely considered is the question: Was the expense of literally millions of dollars by the government and the University justified in order to have the president address the students at this time? The liberals and bleeding hearts are euphoric, and the ultra-right wingers remain firm in their position, so just what was really accomplished? If one says it is the development of dialog, I suspect that is just academic double talk and represents a typical naive position to reality.
The South Bend community has immediately shifted to the more pressing issue of the day, namely will Notre Dame’s football team win, and will Charlie Weis be retained as the Fighting Irish Coach. It is funny living here in quiet northern Indiana, where interests are sometimes quite different than those of the outside world. Even with massive unemployment due to the current problems in the recreational vehicle industry and the automotive parts business, core employers in this area, football is again the big discussion topic of the day.
Based upon what I observe your Commander suspects Washington is just as screwed up as we Hoosiers are in establishing appropriate priorities.