President Barack Obama seemingly turned a potential political lemon into political lemonade in his controversial address to Notre Dame’s graduating class by using it as an occasion to stress the importance of adversaries seeking common ground on controversial issues — rather than indulging in exaggerated caricatures:
The 44th president, speaking at commencement ceremonies, directly addressed the split his visit had caused on campus and in the Catholic community. As he spoke, hundreds held a prayer vigil across campus in opposition to Obama’s positions on abortion and embryonic stem cell research, capping off a weekend of protests on and around the university grounds.
Protesters in the crowd sporadically interrupted Obama’s commencement address before they were shouted down by the rest of the graduates.
But Obama called for “open hearts, open minds, fair-minded words” in the midst of such lasting debates.
Obama pointed to the abortion issue as a prime example of a hot-botton issue that provides a chance to be respectful and seek comon ground.
He said the views of the two sides of the debate are “irreconcilable” but can be respected.
“I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. Because no matter how much we may want to fudge it — indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory — the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable,” Obama said.
“Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature,” he said.
Here’s the full text of his speech.
Obama accurately characterized the problem in American politics: the tendency because of the way 21st media is set up — fast-paced, “high concept,” where ideas and opinions are communicated in a way to be grasped within seconds, favoring controversy over serious discussion because it is the way to attract and hold readership/listenership — is towards an almost gleeful caricaturization of opponents. Common ground requires a little more time, more thought, and a lowering of voices and editing of adjectives.
Here’s some live Twittering of the speech…
UPDATE: Here’s the video of the speech:
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.