Despite the controversy leading up to Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame last month, to receive an honorary degree and deliver a commencement speech, we had no intention of watching it nor reading the transcript afterwards. We are still in “rhetoric burn-out mode” following the millions of words we had ingested— some toxic— during the odyssey that took us from the primaries last year, right through inauguration day.
Besides, Obama invariably gives a good speech, so what would be new here? It’s not as if the National Guard would have to be called in or anything like that.
The controversy, for those who might have just gotten back from a cruise through the Bermuda Triangle, (speaking of odysseys) is that Obama approves of a woman’s “Right to Choose.” Au contraire, the official Catholic position is “Pro Life.” Notre Dame is a very Catholic institution. Ergo, some folks, clerical and laity alike, were quite perturbed by the invitation that the college had extended to the President of the United States. And pretty vocal in their perturbation.
But when a friend, who is an atheist, a cynic and a self-described—only half facetiously—"Liberal bigot,” sends you an email that reads,"I'm not as you might guess a really big appreciator of speeches, but this one was dynamite” … attention must be paid.
So we read the speech in its entirety to see what made it, even by Obama’s standards, such a home run for our friend. And what we came away with—putting aside any personal politics and/or religious beliefs—were a dozen “rules” on How To Give A Great Speech:
“Thank you so much to Father Jenkins for that extraordinary introduction, even though you said what I wanted to say much more elegantly.” (Laughter)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: “Abortion is murder! Stop killing children!
OBAMA: “We’re fine everybody. We’re following Brennan’s adage that we don’t do things easily. (Laughter). We’re not going to shy away from things that are uncomfortable sometimes.”
(Note the absence of a wiseass comeback to the heckler. Also we recall how graciously Bush had reacted when that guy started throwing shoes at him.)
Noting Notre Dame’s elimination from the chance to go to this year’s NCAA tournament:
“So next year, if you need a 6’2” forward with a decent jumper, you know where to find me.” (Laughter and Applause)
“For all the major threats we face in the 21st century…no one person, or religion or nation can meet these challenges alone…
And yet, one of the vexing things for those of us interested in promoting greater understanding and cooperation…is the discovery that even bringing together people of good will…men and women of principle and purpose —even accomplishing that can be difficult.”
“Those who speak out against stem cell research can be rooted in an admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parent’s of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son’s or daughter’s hardships can be relieved.” (Applause)
“As I considered the controversy surrounding my visit here…I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away.”
“Because no matter how much we may want to fudge it—indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory— the fact is that on some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable.”
“A doctor said (to me) what bothered (him)…(was when) I said I would ‘fight right-wing ideologues who would take away a woman’s right to choose’….He (the doctor) wrote, ‘I do not ask that you …oppose abortion, only that you speak this issue in fair-minded words.’ ”
“I did tell my staff to change the words on my website. And I said a prayer that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others, that the doctor extended to me.”
“Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words. It’s a way of life that has always been the Notre Dame tradition.” (Applause)
“…a group of Catholic churches in Chicago helped fund an organization… the Developing Communities Project, and we worked to lift up South Side neighborhoods…”
“…and at the time, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was the Archbishop of Chicago.” (Applause)
“…in a world of competing claims…have confidence in the values with which you’ve been raised and educated. Remember too, that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It’s the beliefin things not seen.”
“…this doubt should not push away our faith. But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, cause us to be wary of too much self-righteousness.”
“There were six members of the Civil Rights Commission (appointed in 1954) …five whites and one African American; Democrats and Republicans; two Southern Governors…and your own Father Ted Hesburgh, President of Notre Dame…”(Applause)
“…President Eisenhower asked Father Ted how he was able to broker an agreement between men of such different backgrounds and beliefs. …Father Ted said…they discovered that they all were fisherman.” (Laughter)
“Remember that in the end, in some way, we are all fishermen.”
(Click here for the complete transcript)
And there you have it. Classic. Or just one man’s opinion?
This is what Gian Maria Vian, the Editor of L’Osservatore Romano, the Newspaper of the Vatican had to say:
His speech at Notre Dame has been respectful toward every position. He tried to engage the debate stepping out from every ideological position and outside every ‘confrontational mentality.’ To this extent his speech is to be appreciated.
Given the source…given the issue…that’s about as good as it gets.