A Step Forward, A Step Back
I had hoped that with the discontinuation of the Queer Film Festival and with the announcement of the Center of Ethics' new pro-life fund (as covered on the First Things web site) that Notre Dame was traveling the path of convincingly and publicly embracing its mission as a Catholic university. Given Obama's positions and recent actions in regards to abortion and embryonic stem cell research, that ND has chosen to award him an honorary law degree astounds me.
I have no objection at all to Obama being invited to speak at Notre Dame. I do have a rather stringent objection to him being awarded an honorary law degree. While I do not agree with Obama's policies in regards to the economy, taxation, or national defense, I would never cite these differences in opposition to Notre Dame bestowing an honorary degree on him. Indeed, he would be welcome to offer his views. Hell, even if he was somewhat wishy-washy on abortion and embryonic stem cell research, it wouldn't raise my hackles for ND to honor him: if Our Lady's University can stand having a clown like Richard McBrien on its Theology faculty for 30 years, having such a character receive an honorary degree isn't such a big deal. However, Obama's positions on life issues - and his actions as Illinois senator and now as President - are as callous and about as anti-life as one can get. His actions in regards to embryonic stem cell research are, as Charles Krauthammer recently wrote, "morally, ethically, and scientifically bankrupt". The same could easily said about his vote against the Born Alive Infants act and his support for FOCA (which would permanently enshrine the most specious and ill-supported court decision in US history as a fundamental right).
There is simply no logically sound method by which one can claim (as some Catholic writers have attempted to) that Obama's policies are somehow "pro-life". The argument that his economic policies will offer more economic opportunity to the poor (which is a dubious argument in and of itself), thus reducing the demand for abortion, is vitiated by the lengths he is willing to go to ensure that there is no impetus whatsoever for anyone that desires an abortion - at any age, at any stage of pregnancy, for any reason - to obtain one. I could not reasonably be thought of as pro-bank security if, in addition to addressing what I believed was the cause of bank robbery (lack of money), I removed all police, security personnel, and all security measures from banks, and required all bank employees to cooperate with (whatever their personal beliefs about the wrongness of robbery) and assist the robbers. Trying to convince oneself that Obama is really pro-life requires a similar suspension of reason.
Even claiming that Obama is merely "pro-choice" and not "pro-abortion" does not match either his rhetoric or actions. "Pro-choice" would imply that there is a choice to be made between the value of the unborn child's life and the degree to which a woman should have the authority to terminate that life. The death of a child is a greater imposition on the child than the carrying the child to term is on the mother. So unless the mother's life is in eminent danger, the life of the child must be preserved. Others would make exceptions in the case of rape or incest. Still others would weigh the value of the life of the child vs. the woman's autonomy to varying degrees. Obama, however, has given no indication that he thinks there is anything at all of value in regards to the unborn child's life worth weighing; in fact, his callous rhetoric and lack of any recognition that a life is being extinguished (or, in the case of embryonic stem cell research, being created in order to be stripped for parts) should trouble anyone with even an ounce of moral sense, as should his view that each person should be able to decide for themselves whether a human life has intrinsic value. Neither is a mark of a careful thinker, as the logical concluding point of these views is societal suicide.
President Obama speaking at commencement? No problem, and he's most welcome. Him receiving an honorary law degree? Completely inconsistent with an institution that values human life at all its stages.