Barack Obama's graduation address at Notre Dame was a victory for the President and for the United States. From the moment he walked onto the platform, to when he was conferred the honorary doctorate, to during and after his speech, the applause for President Obama was overwhelming and continuous - apparently making up for the months of hype which gave much too much prime-time press to the most radical elements of anti-abortion movement.
At the announcement of Obama's address three months ago I guessed three interruptions of his speech, and I think I got it right. But those who did the interrupting were completely diminished by the spirit of reconciliation and respect exhibited by the President and the graduating class of Notre Dame. President Obama confirmed his approach which is sincerely aimed a creating a middle way for this most divisive of issues. In surrounding himself with both pro-life and pro-choice voices, the president is at least aware of the compelling arguments on both sides and he approaches them with respect. The President did not shy away from the difficult questions at hand but addressed them head on, reminding all of us (including Catholic voters) how fortunate we are as a nation.
The anti-abortion protesters who dominated the news running up to Notre Dame's graduation remind me of similar anti-abortion activists who came to Princeton University last year. They set up their massive photos of aborted fetus and began to scream invectives at students as they went to and from classes. This did not go over well. At one point the student president of the Princeton Pro-Life group went over to speak with them to tell them that their tactics were counter productive -- he was, in turn, called something akin to satanic.
While I am pro-choice, because I am at a University that values the free exchange of ideas and difference of views I have had the opportunity to have the anti-abortion position clearly laid out for me. This openness of debate has added to the subtlety of my thinking about the issue of abortion and made me more sympathetic to the passion exhibited by those on the other side. As President Obama said at Notre Dame, the pro-life movement is no longer filled with caricatures.
Ultimately, the biggest winner today was Notre Dame. I watched their entire graduation which showcased talented students, an exciting faculty, and the University President Rev. John l. Jenkins, C.S.C. whose speech equaled President Obama's and showed that he is encouraging an environment of academic and intellectual freedom rooted in a Catholic social conscience. Well done President Obama, well done Notre Dame, well done America.
Follow Paul Brandeis Raushenbush on Twitter: www.twitter.com/raushenbush