As mentioned before, David Plouffe will be speaking at this year’s Cornell commencement. Joe Biden will be only an hour north, at Syracuse imparting his wisdom to that college’s graduating class. Barack Obama is scheduled to be about 10+ hours west of Ithaca, in South Bend, IN speaking to the graduating class of Notre Dame. As soon as I found this out I called my friend from home who goes to Notre Dame and immediately made clear my excitement and envy for him (though I’ll take David Plouffe any day…seriously) to which he responded with sheer excitement…and frustration.
So I asked him about the protests, and he confirmed what a Cornell professor and ND alum had mentioned to me about a year ago: the division amongst ND alum and the ever growing size of the one camp that would like to see Notre Dame move towards a more conservative mission as an academy of higher learning. As a result, the President, Fr. Jenkins, who invited Obama to speak has been criticized and chastised by this group of alumni and a small but vocal contingent of the Notre Dame student body because of Obama’s pro-choice political stance. Now, many alumni are threatening to stop donating to the university if Obama comes to give the commencement address and some students are protesting consistently and one time shouted during mass to get their disapproval voiced.
As a Cornell student writing for a Cornell blog it is not my place to verbalize my opinions on Notre Dame’s issues. As a Catholic, I would like to say this ignorance and belief that Catholics hold an absolute hold on what is moral and the suppression of voices from those who disagree must stop. Barack Obama the man is pro-life; Barack Obama the politician is pro-choice for obvious political and policy related reasons (imagine the black market created with the illegalization of abortion). As a result, he takes the centrist approach (and responsible/moral one) of trying to prevent women from ever having to make the decision of whether to have an abortion by arguing for a more comprehensive sex education program, counseling services to explain the process of adoption, calling out absent men who abandon the women they once “loved” instead of focusing on a reactionary, short-sighted school of thought.
But let’s assume Barack Obama the man and politician where both pro choice. Let’s say he were the male version of Rosie O’Donnell. There is a universal right in America to think and say what one believes is right. And when one does it in a scholarly, intelligent, enlightening manner as Obama can do in his sleep, that paradigm of thought should be voiced on a college campus that’s liberal, conservative, Catholic, Jewish, all-female, etc. That is one of the driving principles Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers sought in creating the United States. In fact, without that belief, a Catholic university, like Notre Dame, would cease to exist. Instead, we Catholics wear blinders, looking at one topic and ignoring the big picture. There’s more to the sanctity of life than just abortion, like an unjust war or capital punishment, both of which the current Christian president opposes and former born-again Christian president supported. With Obama, there’s support for the poor through welfare programs, unemployment benefits, support for homeless policies that help those who have a place to live, a progressive tax system that tells the rich you have a responsibility to support those who aren’t as fortunate as you, a foreign policy that says talking and mediation are the best strategies, not violence. It would be near impossible for anyone to tell me these aren’t also Christian/Catholic teachings. So by prohibiting a President who supports these positions from talking to you, your children, your student body, your colleagues, coworkers, or fellow students, one is also making a statement about how much he/she values those stances and not just the most important American value of freedom of speech and thought. I support Fr. Jenkins’ invitation to Barack Obama. His actions (as well as both priests of the Cornell Catholic Community) remind me that not all clergy of the Catholic Church are as narrow as our leadership suggests.
And hey, President Obama, if you find yourself looking for a place to talk, come join your campaign manager at Cornell and pay homage to the only county in New York state that voted for you in the Democratic primary.