President Obama’s commencement address at South Bend, Ind., attempts to find common ground with abortion foes
President Obama delivered the second commencement address of his presidency at Notre Dame on Sunday. The build up to the speech saw fierce arguments about whether it was appropriate for a prominent abortion rights supporter to be honored at one of the nation’s premier Catholic institutions. Speculation about noisy off-campus rallies, student and faculty boycotts and other disruptions occupied cable TV, the blogosphere and the Twitterverse.
Controversial and difficult situations can bring out the best in a speaker. Historic speeches are often given in times of dissention and revolt. Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and JFK delivered memorable lines in the face of adverse circumstances. Winston Churchill was not commenting on a European soccer match when he said, “We shall fight them on the beaches.”
One suspects that President Obama might have relished the opportunity to discuss the controversial issues of abortion and stem cell research at this event.
His challenge as a speaker was to defuse the controversy and take the heat out of the moment. He did that by forging a bond with the audience. He bridged the divide after openly acknowledging that it exists.