Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Obama's speech

It was a beautiful day -- for me, a sad one, but also, strangely, a somewhat hopeful one -- at Notre Dame. 

There will be, in the days to come, a lot said and written about the various events and speeches at Notre Dame this weekend. (Try to find the text or video of the remarks given on the South Quad, at the event sponsored by ND Response, by Fr. John Rafael, of St. Augustine High School in New Orleans,  Moving stuff.)  I was not able to attend the main ceremony, so I had to follow President Obama's and Judge Noonan's remarks online. 

UPDATE:  Here is the video of the ND Response event. 

I admire Judge Noonan immensely, but wish -- on this particular occasion -- he had been a bit more direct.  For the careful listener, intimately familiar with Noonan's work and American history, there were some powerful thoughts.  I worry that the commencement audience, though, did not hear the challenge to President Obama's unfortunate embrace of injustice that, in my view, Judge Noonan's remarks contained.  

The President said, almost word-for-word what I expected he would be advised to say, and what was politically astute for him to say, and he did so well.  To my regret, he did not say "by the way, I've been a doofus when it comes to school choice, and I hereby resolve to put my popularity and charm to good use -- helping kids and promoting religious freedom -- and to appreciate the fact that I don't actually have to kow-tow to the teacher-unions.  Oh, and I also now understand -- having come to Notre Dame -- that it really is not such a good thing to constitutionalize a right to private violence against the most vulnerable human beings."  Maybe next time.

Over at America, Michael Sean Winters has this review of the President's address:  "[t]he speech handed the President’s opponents plenty of ammunition and showed the extent to which the Obama White House is tone deaf to Catholics and our concerns."  Fr. James Martin's take is more glowing.

So . . . what next?  Will Notre Dame do some honest self-assessment, and ask whether it really has done the kind of things that would make true what we were assured was true, namely, that Notre Dame is entirely and unswervingly pro-life, and "everyone knows" this, so there is no danger of the public getting the wrong idea that the honors accorded the President (the thunderous, sustained applause, the rhapsodic tributes, etc.) indicate an indifference on Notre Dame's part to the seriousness of the injustice involved in our abortion-law regime?  Perhaps.  I hope so.

UPDATE:  Amy Welborn has some thoughts and good questions, here

In particular, and for those who are inclined to welcome, and take as sincere, the President's stated interest in "dialogue", "common ground", "civility", etc.:  At some point, it is inescapable:  either the unborn child is a human being, and therefore entitled in justice to the protection of the laws, or (s)he is not.  The possibilities for, and parameters of, "dialogue" are, it seems to me, closely connected to the answer given this question.  Another point, about the relevance of law to all this.  For some of us, calls for "dialogue" and "working together" rings a bit hollow, when these calls take place in a context where the Roe / Casey regime has made it impossible for one side to secure any gains -- even "compromises" -- in politics.  It is one thing to say, "let's compromise on the abortion question", and then to work out the details of that compromise in politics.  In fact, President Obama's position is that "the Constitution permits hardly any regulations of abortion, and the government ought to subsidize abortion; that said, I'd love to work with you on securing increased funding for social welfare programs that I'm perfectly willing to hope will reduce abortion."  For some of us, though, meaningful dialogue would have to include consideration of the possibility that law is a part of the package of abortion-reduction measures.


Garnett, Rick | Permalink

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