I initially wondered if the White House might not find a last minute emergency which prevented the President from going to Notre Dame. Now I am more inclined to the idea that this is a great opportunity to drive a wedge more deeply between ever more deeply polarized Catholics, especially between the less than sure faithful and their ever-stronger bishops.
White House reacts to critics of Obama’s Notre Dame honors
Washington D.C., May 14, 2009 / 05:12 am (CNA).- The White House has responded to opposition to President Obama’s appearance at the University of Notre Dame, claiming that only "one group" is organizing a boycott and pointing to other groups who support the president’s commencement speech and reception of an honorary degree. [I don't know that that is true, that there is one one group, but it is interesting that the WH is spinning this.]
"I think there’s one group organizing a boycott and, as best I can understand it, there are 23 groups that have formed in support of the president’s invitation," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, according to ABC.
The "one group," ND Response, is a coalition of 11 pro-life groups [Soooo.... it isn't one group anay more than than that other coalition is one group.] including Notre Dame Right to Life, the Notre Dame Law St. Thomas More Society and the Notre Dame College Republicans.
Gibbs’ reference to 23 groups concerned a letter written to University of Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins by groups such as the African Student Association, the College Democrats, the Notre Dame Peace Fellowship and the Spanish Club.
The letter criticized "those who would rather divide than work together for common ground and for the common good." [On the other hand, one might say the same about the choice of Notre Dame, right? Hasn't that divided Catholics?]
"We are concerned that [here it comes... the same mantra] in narrowing the focus to one aspect of life that has often proven polarizing and divisive many have lost the ability to recognize the other aspects of President Obama’s work that continues to uphold the principles of justice and solidarity," their letter said, according to ABC. [The same old talking points. The accusation of the left is that if you think it is not fitting for a Catholic University to bestow an honor on the most aggressively pro-abortion politician we have seen in the United States, then you are only concerned with one issue. Wrong. It is entirely possible to see the whole picture but still understand that what Notre Dame did was so wrong that it cannot be passed over.]
Gibbs claimed that 97 percent of the students supported the decision. [So?] However, ABC reported that this claim misstated an Associated Press story [I'm shocked!] which said that of the 95 Notre Dame seniors who wrote to the student newspaper The Observer, 97 percent were positive.
Gibbs also cited a Pew poll reporting that 50 percent of Catholics supported Notre Dame’s invitation to Obama, while only 28 percent opposed it. [Polls do not determine the moral probity of Notre Dame's decision.]
However, that poll also reported that 45 percent of those who attend Mass at least weekly disapproved of the decision, while 37 percent approved. [Again... we don't want to put too much emphasis on a poll, but this number reveals something about the need for a stronger Catholic identity. In order to have a greater effect precisely as Catholics in the public square, Catholics need a strong identity as Catholics. I suggest that those who do not regularly go to Church have a less sure identity than those who do. More below.]
"The president understands the right of anybody in this country to disagree and to exercise their disagreement in that way. [However, Catholics do not have the option or right as Catholics to disgree with the Church's teaching on the sanctity of life.] I think it’s important to understand it appears as if the vast majority of students and the majority of Catholics are supportive of the invitation the president accepted. [See what is happening?] And I know he’s greatly looking forward to seeing them," Gibbs said, according to ABC.
More than 2,900 students will receive degrees on Sunday, of whom 2,001 are undergraduate seniors.
This is a good opportunity to drive a wedge between Catholics who have a stronger identity as Catholics (the minority) and those who don’t (the majority).
The tactic here is to stress continually that the majority approve and then lead you to conclude that they are the nuanced, open, reasonable people who are merely exercising their rights in a pluralistic milieu.
The others are characterized (falsely) as unable to see that the President, for example, is also focused on other issues which dove-tail with the Church’s interests.
Leaving the land-o-spin for a moment in an attempt to bring some clarity to the issue… people who object to bestowing an honor on this President can also see those issues! They are even ready to give him praise and support if he does something helpful and good in regard to true social justice concerns.
The main problem here is not just criticism of this President’s aggressive pro-abortion position, but criticism of a Catholic University choosing not mere to have him speak (less of a problem) but bestowing an honor on him (a huge problem). The Catholics who are raising the objection are mostly concerned with the lousy choices of Notre Dame.
So, Mr. Gibbs, it may be time for the members of the administration who are spinning this to get over yourselves. Perhaps the time for preening came to an end with the first one hundred days.
UPDATE: 15:24 GMT
Not long after I posted, someone sent me a piece by George Weigel which makes the same point. GMTA.
Wiegel wrote (emphases mine):
There’s also a high-stakes “political game” here, though not the one Father Himes suggests. The Obama administration is full of very smart political operators. Reading last November’s electoral entrails, they’ve sensed the possibility of driving a wedge through the Catholic community in America, dividing Catholics from their bishops and thus securing the majority Catholic vote Obama received in 2008. And they’ve shrewdly judged that the soft underbelly of Catholic resistance to the Obama administration’s radical agenda on the life issues is composed of Catholic intellectuals, their prestige institutions (like Notre Dame and Georgetown), and their opinion journals—the very people and opinion centers who claimed last year that Obama was the true pro-life candidate. [the Kmiec Catholics, NCR types, etc.] It’s a clever move on the political chessboard, and barring extraordinary actions from the bishops, it will likely meet with considerable success.
This begs the question….
What would those "extraordinary measures" involve?
No matter what they would have in involve implementation of Ex corde Ecclesiae. They would have to involve decisions about who may not be admitted to Holy Communion because of public scandal.