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Obama Wins One For the Gipper


Notre Dame, South Bend...

It wasn't exactly the miracle of the wedding feast of Cana. President Obama did not change water into wine.

But he almost did. Instead, Obama changed what protesters tried to make an ugly scene about abortion into a triumphant message about faith-based politics.

Here, in the Joyce Center, graduates and their families gave Obama a raucous welcome, greeting him like a rock star. In so doing, they rejected those small-minds from outside the university who protested Obama's appearance on a Catholic campus just because he happens to be pro-choice.

Proving that crackpots never disappear, the protests were organized by perennial loser Alan Keyes, who is still looking for a political race he can win, and Randall Terry, who admitted he only joined the Notre Dame protest in order to breathe new life into his moribund organization, "Operation Rescue." Sadly, they were able to persuade 74 American Catholic bishops to join them.

But they were all outgunned by Notre Dame President John Jenkins, who invited Obama in the first place, and then refused to back down. After all, Jenkins pointed out, every president since FDR has either received an honorary degree from Notre Dame or addressed commencement ceremonies, or both. They were invited, not because Catholic authorities agreed with them on every issue, but out of respect for the office of president.

Besides, Jenkins understands, even if those 74 narrow-minded bishops don't, that abortion isn't the only issue important to Catholics. The Catholic Church also opposes the death penalty and unjust wars. So why didn't those same bishops speak out when warmonger and death penalty cheerleader George W. Bush came to campus? Bishops, too, can be hypocrites.

Given all the controversy, it would have been easy for President Obama to duck this debate. Instead, he chose to meet it head-on. Making his critics, the Catholic bishops, look small by comparison, Obama said he came to campus in the spirit of any great university - "honest, thoughtful dialogue" - and in the spirit of Christianity - "finding common ground."

Even on the thorny issue of abortion, Obama dared suggest, common ground was possible: "Maybe we won't agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this is a heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make, with both moral and spiritual dimensions."

And on that issue, too, Obama called for honest, thoughtful, faith-based debate: "Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature."

One by one, even as Obama was urging people of different opinions to reason together, three lone protestors stood and tried to disrupt his remarks, shouting "Abortion is murder." But they were themselves shouted down by the audience, and all three white males were escorted out of the arena.

In the end, 2009 Commencement Exercises at Notre Dame ended up making a great day for America, a great day for the University of Notre Dame, but a sad day for the Catholic Church.

How ironic. In the end, it took a non-Catholic to tell Catholic bishops what their faith is all about.