President Obama's Speech at Notre Dame
Lately, I've been researching Abraham Lincoln as a writer.
I've also noticed how President Obama has drawn implicit parallels between Lincoln and himself, for example, by opening his campaign in Springfield, Illinois, where Lincoln practiced law.
Obama had a tough challenge in appearing at the Notre Dame graduation, due to controversy over whether he should receive an honorary degree because he is not in complete agreement with the official Catholic position on abortion. Before Obama's speech, I wondered how Lincoln might handle the situation. I believed Lincoln would confront the issue instead of dodging it, he'd try to bring people together, he'd use humor, he'd make some reference to God or the Bible, and he'd tell at least one story. Obama did all of these.
After receiving his honorary degree, Obama confronted the surrounding issues with humor. "These honorary degrees are pretty hard to come by. So far I'm only 1 for 2 as President. Father Hesburgh [former Notre Dame president] is 150 for 150." He then suggested that Father Hesburgh might give him some pointers.
Obama urged opposing sides to listen to each other, saying we should "open our hearts and out minds to those who may not think like we do."
There was a Biblical allusion to Jesus's command to love others, deftly tied to the tenets of other major world religions.
And Obama also told several stories. Two were particularly appropriate because they related to the Catholic Church. The first told how, when Obama was a community organizer, he worked with Catholics who influenced his decision to become a Christian. The second told of the crucial work of Father Hesburgh on the commission whose product led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which paved the way for Obama's presidency.
These devices were just the right touch to defuse the tension. Very Lincolnian.