Who’s in the right here?

As everyone who follows any sort of news has heard by now, President Barack Obama gave the commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame today. That seems pretty cool – the president speaking at your graduation – but it wasn’t that simple.

Starting weeks before the ceremony, protesters took issue with the selection of the president and the decision to grant him an honorary doctorate, mostly because of the abortion debate. Notre Dame is resoundingly Roman Catholic and, therefore, against abortion. Obama, obviously, sides with the opposing view. So yeah, there was controversy, and that’s to be expected.

What I found strange in the days leading up to the event was the selection itself. It seems that Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins should’ve known this would cause problems and wouldn’t really mesh with the university’s values. I’m not sure why he sought out Obama in the first place. But then again, if the president wants to come to your school, you’re not going to turn him down. On the other side, Obama should’ve known the appearance would draw negative attention to himself. He couldn’t have thought it would be inviting. But then again, he’s never backed out of a fight and probably saw it as an opportunity to make into something positive.

So today a bunch of students staged a protest before and during the commencement. Some got arrested before, some got thrown out of the ceremony, some put together their own graduation. In the process, they ruined their own graduations as well as others’. I appreciate conviction, but couldn’t they just sit tight and deal? The president was speaking at their college graduation, after all. Not many can say that. And again, on the other hand, Obama could’ve easily side-stepped the whole abortion issue and given a nice little graduation talk. But instead of accomplishment and success, helping others and going on to great things, blahblahblah, he spoke on abortion, fair-minded debate and dealing with things that make us uncomfortable. Sorry, but why’d he have to bring the controversy up at all? It was a college commencement, not a political forum.

So yeah, I think everyone kind of messed this up and made it a much bigger problem than it needed to be. But the thing to take away from it all is that the issue of abortion hasn’t gone away and won’t anytime soon. It may have been overshadowed by larger, more pressing issues during the election, but it’s definitely still a hot topic for Obama’s administration. What’s more, it’s an issue with pretty clear sides and complex implications, and most people know where they stand.

Obama will surely have to deal with this at some point during his presidency, and that’s going to be tricky. He’ll have to balance the actions of a Democratic president and Senate (one vote short of a filibuster-proof majority) with the view of a nation recently polled as 51% pro-life. At least in this case, that’s a government not reflective of its populace, and with his eye already on a 2012 reelection, Obama will be hard-pressed to play his cards just right.

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