I work in DC, a town steeped in the great tradition of thoughtless bullshittery. Most people here make their money swapping, repackaging, and peddling bullshit. DC is sustained on other people's capital--some given voluntarily, most taken coercively--the latter being redistributed according to political will. An honest living, this ain't.
But, every now and again--in spite of the most recent election cycle reminiscent of a hundred year stint in purgatory--the folks in DC decide to export the sole Beltway product to the rest of the country. Most recently, the president decided he was going to take a steaming pile of excrement to the American Mecca of Catholic Academia--and erstwhile home to the greatest team in college football--the University of Notre Dame.
There was much hullabaloo about this trip, given his stance on abortion and the Catholic church's less-than-flexible position on the issue. Personally, I thought it was blown out of proportion, but whatever. Coming from a church that has yet to excommunicate Ted Kennedy, who apparently prefers his abortions in two-for-one auto-aquatic specials, I don't see why extending an invitation to the sitting POTUS is such a big deal. (And I'm going to guess there won't be protests when the Pontiff himself meets with him.)
And while I admire Obama's preference to take controversy head on--or at least to appear to do so, whereas the last administration tended to cover its ears and scream loudly "LA LA LA LA CAN'T HEAR YOU LA LA LA LA!"--the decision to make an overtly political statement during any graduation ceremony, let alone bringing up the A-word at a Catholic ceremony, was just tactless.
The only thing worse than his decision to address it directly was the manner in which he did it. Using his trademark and insincere conciliatory rhetoric, Obama spoke of finding a "common ground" between the pro-life and pro-choice movements and refrain from "demonizing" their respective oppositions. (The word choice was apparently borrowed from a Catholic priest, but still probably not the best idea given that Catholics believe in demons)
If you were to approach the speech knowing nothing of the debate--which, among other things, has poisoned our federal judiciary selection process to an absurd degree--such a comment sounds reasonable, diplomatic, and thoughtful. But really, how much "common ground" do you think exists between those who believe "abortion" to be another word for infanticide and those who believe it is none other than a constitutional right? (FWIW, I subscribe to neither of these positions.) Such a nonchalant treatment of what is a fundamental debate--not of nuance, but essentially of whether or not the government should sanction legal murder--would be laughable if not so obscenely insulting. Again, this isn't my position, but (ostensibly) by addressing a Catholic audience, cutting slack to baby-killers is what he was suggesting.
He can no more bridge this gap in so careless a manner than he could solve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict by buying the world a Coke and singing Kumbaya. More and more, (and I admit, this may be a speechwriter issue) Obama seems less to be a thoughtful man dedicated to confronting serious issues than he does a well-trained actor taught to "feel my pain" while pursuing an inflexible agenda entirely divorced from the sort of administration he campaigned on.
Graduation ceremonies are not the time or place for political speech. What Notre Dame probably wanted, and should have received, was an apolitical and vacuous speech that Obama usually excels at. It is, after all, a ceremony whose musical theme is quite literally Pomp and Circumstance.
It isn't a matter of picking sides in the abortion debate--and not at all because I believe both sides are deeply flawed. And I know presidents have explicitly talked about policy at graduations before, but THIS ideological stance at THIS instiution was simply an exercise in poor judgment. If he wants to engage the Catholic Church on abortion, that's fine with me--but he shouldn't have broached the subject, and in such a cavalier manner to add insult to injury, at a graduation ceremony.