Obama at ND — Or, Everyone Is Wrong

Joining the fray late, but better (I hope) than never, and probably nowhere near the end of this tortuous, torturous, obscene debate, I feel, if only to keep promises that I have made, that I need to say something about the matter of President Obama’s presenting the commencement address at my alma mater and receiving an honorary degree.

First, Fr. John I. Jenkins, c.s.c, president of Our Lady’s University and, by most measures, I think, a let-down to those many of us who thought that he’d represent a shift back toward “conservatism” — by which we, or at least I (I doubt, actually, that this is true of some of the partisans of the Catholic Right), meant orthodoxy — deserves a good scolding. This I say not necessarily (at least yet) because he invited a president — invited anyone — whose beliefs, comments, and policies on such fundamental issues of life stand in such stark contrast to the Teaching of the Holy Mother Church, but because he lacked the foresight and compassion to realize that such a controversial choice, no matter how it may further Notre Dame’s prestige (at a cost, no doubt), would so inundate the University and the student body — especially the seniors — precisely when they ought to be granted at least so brief a reprieve from the weight of the world to be able to enjoy their last week and ceremonies as undergraduates. Maybe, notwithstanding the obvious reasons to challenge the president’s presence at and participation at commencement, this is a great choice, insofar as, doubtless, Obama will offer some wise words worthy of consideration and, maybe, his experience at Notre Dame will have some positive impact on him as a human being, however seemingly immeasurable it may be. Nonetheless, the benefits, I submit, are simply not worth needlessly furthering the divide between more conservative and more liberal students and alumni/ae or between the University and the Church’s hierarchy; most definite, it is not worth burdening the senior class (and all students) with such divisive tension. Shame on you, Fr. Jenkins.

For accepting the invitation, then, President Obama and his people deserve to be excoriated, too. Surely, a man who has spent time in academia, who is purportedly so very attuned to the concerns of this generation, and who, through his work as a community organizer — and an alleged common-ground-seeking candidate —, understands the need for unity, rather than division (He is, after all, the new Lincoln! United we stand, y’all.) — should have recognized how much unwarranted consternation his involving himself at an ostensibly Catholic University’s commencement would cause and, in as elegant a manner as possible, have declined.


Now, what about the decision to invite someone whose positions on abortion and stem-cell research place him opposite the Roman Catholic Church to address the audience at commencement in violation of a prohibition on granting a platform for pro-choice individuals to speak, even if on matters wholly unrelated to abortion? Well, I think it was a poor choice on the part of Fr. Jenkins, et alios. We pride ourselves on being a Catholic University par excellence, even nonpareil, and Fr. Jenkins has found himself having explicitly to assure the world that welcoming the president to speak, and awarding him an honorary degree, does not mean that Notre Dame endorses or approves of his views on abortion, et c.. Something dreadful, perhaps portentous, inheres in this. On the other hand, President Obama, as Fr. Jenkins has noted, has displayed a concern for the poor, for the maltreated (except for those not yet born), that echoes the Church’s social teaching (even if he’s more reliant on heavy government intervention than many who have embraced Catholic social teaching have historically been). Moreover, it would be disingenuous to suggest that the president of the United States of America, a man with an impressive academic background and more than enough interesting “real-world” experience, has nothing worthwhile to offer a batch of the world’s future leaders.

That being said, I’m still concerned that the University made a decision in direct rejection of the Church’s prohibition, whether or not that interdiction is appropriate or short-sighted. Universities, Catholic or otherwise, need to be places — or, at least, this has become so, perhaps without the necessary boundaries — for sensible, dispassionate discourse, open to opposing points of view. However, an institution purportedly loyal to the Holy Mother Church needs to be just that, too. It raises a fundamental question that, I contend, no one seems to be willing to admit underlies this entire debacle, to wit, whether “Catholic University” has not become a contradictory term, an impossibility in the modern world. (More on this later. I promise.)


Now, having said all of that, I have two things to say. First, the Catholic Right needs to shut the eff up. I sympathize, as I think I’ve made clear, with their cause, at least in part. I’m all for tilting at windmills (as the banner on this humble Weblog suggests), certainly when something as big as this is at stake. But knowing that nothing is going to change, can’t they (including students who, admirably as much as annoyingly, are leading the charge) admit defeat and let the students have their graduation in peace? Let Bishop D’Arcy, Cardinal George, et alios, have their say as members of the hierarchy; let Fr. Jenkins and other University leaders and the hierarchy enter — at least I’d like to see this happen — into constructive, productive debate, muchly needed, over questions about balance and the Catholic identity of Notre Dame — and, really, Catholic Universities, period — away from the limelight and under the light of the Holy Spirit.

I absolutely cannot say all of this and then let the Catholic Left off of the hook. First, though many, I am sure, are sincere in their defense of bringing President Obama to campus in light of the issues where he does agree with the Church, I’ve grown rather weary of the loosely defined notion of “intellectual freedom” as a defense of this. Most important (at least to me), it’s ineffably painful to watch these leftists who objected to George W. Bush the warrior so vehemently defend Barack Obama the abortion-rights-supporting warrior. Blindness and ignorance, my “progressive” friends, is no monopoly held by the mainstream Right.


More on Why I’m not a Libertarian — Or, When Belief in “the Market” is just risible, sad, and disgusting

1. Sitting in peculiarly busy traffic in downtown Baltimore this afternoon, I read, on the news monitor wrapped around a trashily modern glass building, a headline from the Baltimore Sun that informed me that Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) has proposed a bill to create a new government agency “that could stop lenders from offering mortgages and other financial products deemed unsafe for consumers.”

Now, first, I’m wholly uncomfortable with adding yet another resources-sucking, power-grabbing, liberty-quashing entity to the behemoth known as the gummint. I love the ultimate sentence of the article: “Consumer protection is part of the Fed’s mandate, but Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the agency has been “asleep at the switch.”” So our answer is more gummint. Hmm, yep, I do agree with the libertarians here

However, the libertarian counter-argument, which, I confess, immediately flashed through my mind whilst I waited to move ahead in traffic, is equally absurd, to wit, that the market — properly unencumbered, of course — is the check on “mortgages and other financial products deemed unsafe for consumers” and a whole host of other yucky things. When corporations become as gargantuan as many of those at the center of our current economic perturbations are, they really exist beyond the controls of the market — sometimes because of the intervention of government, sometimes because they’re just “too good.” They’ve done so well that they outpace competitors to the point that no natural regulation hinders them. At this point, they fall asleep at the wheel, so to speak. Viva Distributism! Long live the small!

2. Though not a libertarian, I’m often sympathetic to many of their causes, I supported Dr. Paul quite passionately, I think that Young Americans for Liberty are doing some great work, and I wrote for the debut issue of Young American Revolution — as part of the conservative contingent of their Old Right coalition, of course. This post, regarding President Moloch’s desire to “shield” science from politics, on YAL’s Web-log, however, utterly terrifies me. Chet Butterworth writes,

Tabling the ethics of human embryo research for the moment, the only ethical way for any scientific decisions to be made is by the market. The market is unbiased and efficient. The market can determine the worthiness of the research and if it considers it worthy the market can produce it better. Through the market the only people who want stem cell research and do not care about any human embryo ethical questions pay. While people like myself do not.

One of the problems admitted by economic theory is the absence of perfect information. Sarah Palin rightly took flack for her brushing off of fruit fly research whilst on the campaign trail. (I’m not interested in debating the merits of such research here; rather, I seek merely to note that she obviously made her comment with no knowledge of why this research occurs.) If the lack of perfect knowledge is even remotely problematic in matters of everyday economic transactions, are we really willing to leave scientific research — the benefits of which often remain unknown until long into the processes — to the whims of people who lack any and all awareness of, let alone training and education in, particle physics, molecular biology, or gene therapy. (Yes, that’s my uncle in the Telegraph.) Maybe it hurts my “libertarian street cred,” but I’d rather have a living uncle than a realm of scientific research guided by the invisible hand.

The market is a good thing. But it’s also a tool of relativism. Matters of life and death seem, to me, to be beyond the very mere matters of supply and demand.

Elsewhere: Mark minces no words.

The Maryland Corner: “Redeeming Roger Taney”

(from the forthcoming issue of The Terrapin Times, the first installment of our new feature, dedicated to important political figures, past and present, on the Right from Maryland, tentatively called The Maryland Corner)

Americans have a way of spinning history to bolster our national mythology. JFK’s foreign policy was nightmarish — to speak nothing of his personal life —, yet we extol him. FDR attempted to pack the Supreme Court, interned Japanese-Americans in numbers that dwarf the count of unfortunate souls at Guantánamo, and eagerly collaborated with the murderous Stalin, but idolizing him as the conqueror of the Depression and scourge of the Axis powers is much more palatable than embracing the truth. 

Then there is Abraham Lincoln. Ignoring that he needlessly sanctioned the bloodiest war in American history and put the kibosh on the important question of whether states, sovereign when they entered into the great experiment in liberty, could secede and reassert their autonomy, we revere the sixteenth president as a great liberator, the savior of the Union. We relegate Maryland native and Lincoln antagonist Chief Justice Roger B. Taney to the deepest pits of Hell for his opinion in Dred Scott v. Sanford.

Yet, ironically, as we begin at least four years under our first Black president, a man esteemed as the new Lincoln, we ought to look for inspiration to no less a man than the estimable author of that loathsome Dred Scott decision.

Roger Brooke Taney, of Calvert County, was hardly perfect; he was, however, more complex than many would care to admit. His opining that Blacks were “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race,” and thus ineligible for citizenship, is detestable. Nevertheless, he had personal qualms with the “peculiar institution,” and manumitted his own slaves. A dual-federalist, he stood firmly between ardent states’ rights champions and the advocates of centralization, proud of his Southern heritage and a lover of Maryland, but a loyal American who sought the preservation of the Union. 

Most important today, as our government continues to expropriate powers at the cost of our God-given liberties, Taney stood up to Lincoln’s antipathetic attitude toward the Constitution. After the mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland, to the president’s consternation, proclaimed that they would permit no more Union troops to transfer through their respective jurisdictions, Lincoln instructed General Scott to suspend the writ of habeas corpus within the area of the military line. 

Obeying the governor’s orders, Lt. John Merryman, of the Baltimore County Horse Guards, burned bridges to prevent additional Pennsylvania soldiers from entering Maryland; not long thereafter, he was arrested on charges of treason. Numerous Maryland legislators soon found themselves incarcerated for no obvious reason. 

Enter Roger Taney. Presiding over the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Maryland, Taney, in Ex parte Merryman, reaffirmed that the president lacks authority to suspend the writ of habeas corpus — a power expressly delegated to Congress in Article I of the Constitution. A defiant Lincoln persisted, widening the scope of the territory wherein the writ was held in abeyance. Employing arguments frightfully comparable to — but exceedingly more eloquent than — those to which we have grown accustomed in this tumultuous decade, Lincoln asked rhetorically of Congress, “Are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?” Orwellian reverence for the rule of law at its finest.

Taney’s comprehension of liberty was incomplete, perhaps unforgivably so. That President Obama intends to try to suspend the writ of habeas corpus is dubious. However, given Obama’s vision for expanding government’s role in the economy, embrace of the Pax Americana ideology, and, more relevant, support for the USA PATRIOT Act and the FISA “compromise,” one is right to fear for his liberty. If we look beyond his imperfections, in Roger Taney we see a Marylander of whom we should be proud and whose spirited defense of the Constitution we should aspire to mimic. 

Barack Obama and American maturity

Anyone who’s read this web-log, heard me rant about Mr. Obama as the second reincarnation of FDR (perhaps third, if we include the outgoing Mr. Bush), or knows anything about me recognizes that I have no interest in defending or desire to support our almost-president. I laugh, sadly, at those who have partaken of the “change” Kool-Aid, reminding them of then-Senator Obama’s support for, inter alia, the USA PATRIOT Act, the FISA “compromise”, and un-Islamabad-sanctioned raids, from Afghanistan, into Pakistan; I cringe at the thought of his Rooseveltian Fascism.

And yet, I recognize that his election might signify at least a partial maturation of the American electorate. I speak not of his race (Must we continue to wage the “Civil War”, one hundred and forty-some years after its ostensible Appomattox culmination — or must the penultimate and ultimate amendments in the Bill of Rights be eviscerated not only de facto, but de jure as well before we can finally call off the race-hawks?) Rather, reading, finally, Professor Bacevich‘s The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism — which, only forty pages in, I think might be the most important book that I’ve ever read —, I cannot help comparing President Carter’s unheeded, mocked call for Americans, in Bacevich’s words, “[to live] in accordance with permanent values. At least by implication, it meant settling for less” with Obama’s derided proclamation that “We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times … and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK. That’s not leadership. That’s not going to happen.”

Mr. Carter lost his campaign for re-election to the “Great Communicator”, of whom Bacevich ably writes,

Reagan portrayed himself as a conservative. He was, in fact, the modern prophet of profligacy, the politician who gave moral sanction to the empire of consumption. Beguiling his fellow citizens with his talk of “morning in America,” the faux-conservative Reagan added to America’s civic religion two crucial beliefs: Credit has no limits, and the bills will never come due.

That this particular comment — or the belief manifested therein — from Mr. Obama played any measurable role in his defeating Mr. McCain is unlikely. However, even as I doubt that, particularly as gas prices have again decreased, erasing from our collective short-term memory the notion that we must, as Mr. Carter advocated thirty years ago, sensibly break our energy dependence, Mr. Obama will having any lasting impact on a perhaps irreparably (save post-Depression?) degraded culture, one of consumption and hyper-individualism-cum-“friendly” statism, I hold on to a wispy, nigh immeasurably small strand of hope that we are, ever slowly, maturing, opening our eyes to the utterly meaningless — and potentially catastrophic — state of being that we have created for ourselves.

What’s this, a web-log? What’s this, change?

Okay, so I have been dreadfully remiss in tending to Nathancontramundi. I’ve been busy receiving speeding tickets and enjoying time with the family and Christmas and not getting plastered on New Year’s Eve and applications to Ph.D. programs in political science (theory specifically) and trying to be a healthier person and trying to read more frequently and so forth. I have more excuses, but I’ll spare you the annoyance. What matters is that I’m back (or so I say!) and hope to get back to more regular posting. I’ve never been a particularly fantastic blogger, but I think that, once upon a time, I wasn’t too bad. Maybe I can return to that point, and perhaps surpass it, at some point.

For now, I just want to express my complete lack of surprise, and my utter disappointment, at President-elect Obama’s decision to name yet another Clintonista, Leon Panetta, to his administration.

Panetta was a surprise pick for [heading the CIA], with no experience in the intelligence world. An Obama transition official and another Democrat disclosed his nomination on a condition of anonymity since it was not yet public.

I’m actually starting to think that Mr. Obama suffers from some form of schizophrenia. Calling for “Change” and proclaiming himself an outsider one day, he then asserts that this is not the time for America(‘s government, that is) to be led by inexperienced individuals (save, of course, for himself). And then he appoints to lead the CIA a man with no experience in the intelligence world. Yet he wants, presumably, as his desire to “win” in Afghanistan suggests, to “win” the “War on Terror”? Perhaps his health care plan will provide free psychological help?

Gersonian Idiocy

In today’s Washington Post, Gerson offers a column titled “Closet Centrist: In Obama’s Cabinet, the Audacity of Moderation”. Can someone please tell me how something as unsurprising as the picks President-elect Obama has made for his Cabinet constitute anything audacious?

The Catholic Capitulation: Blame the Leadership, Part I

A few weeks ago, I conversed online with a friend from Notre Dame, a devout, knowledgeable Catholic (undeniably better than I), who is married and the young mother of two adorable children, whom she and her husband intend to raise, and already raise, in the Faith and traditions of the Holy Mother Church, when she inadvertently tested my knowledge of Catholic Teaching. I forget the particular context, but she made some comment about spoiling herself by consuming meat on Friday, remarking that she’d now have to confess her violation of Friday penitence-by-abstinence. I, who had been voluntarily abstaining from meat on Fridays to offer a minute sacrifice of penitence (I’m a professional sinner.) — and as a nod to old-school Roman Catholicism —, urged her not to be so hard on herself, reminding her that the Church long ago rescinded this Friday requirement outside of Lent. She quickly disabused me of this misbelief, as did Wikipedia

Specific regulations are passed by individual episcopates. In the US in 1966 the USCCB passed Norms II and IV that bound all persons from age fourteen to be bound to abstinence from meat on Fridays of Lent, and through the year. In September 1983, Canons 1252 and 1253 expressed this same rule, and added that Bishops may permit substitution of other penitential practices on Fridays outside of Lent only, but that some form of penance shall be observed on Friday in commemoration of the day of the week of the Lord’s Crucifixion. —,

which directed me to the USCCB’s “Penitential Practices for Today’s Catholics”, from 2000, which reminds us that

If we are serious about embracing the penitential discipline that is rooted in the call to discipleship, then we will identify specific times and places for prayer, penance, and works of charity. Growth in spiritual maturity demands a certain level of specificity, for it shows that we take seriously God’s call to discipline and are willing to hold ourselves accountable. In our Catholic tradition we specify certain days and seasons for special works of penance: Fridays, on which we commemorate the death of the Lord, and Lent, our forty days of preparation for the Easter mysteries.

Recalling our Lord’s Passion and death on Good Friday, we hold all Fridays to have special significance. Jesus’ self-denial and self-offering invite us to enter freely into his experience by forgoing food, bearing humiliations, and forgiving those who injure us. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, the principal agent of all spiri-tual transformation, this can be done—and done with a spirit of quiet joy. For Christians, suffering and joy are not incompatible. [My emphasis. – NPO.]

I, a professing, Mass-attending, doing-my-best Catholic had no idea that this very simple, evident, slackened obligation exists. Suffice to say I’ve continued, without lapse, to abstain from meat on Fridays; I suppose that I could proffer some alternate form of penitence (I’m trying to supplement my abstinence with Mass attendance on Fridays, but have yet to turn theory into practice.), but the connection, tenuous as it be, that this creates to the Church’s historical traditions has sufficient meaning for me that I’ll continue to substitute salmon for chicken — unless, you know, someone plops some prime rib on my plate.

I offer this silly little anecdote, and revelation of my own ignorance, not to indict myself, or my parents, but to offer a relatively minor example of a much greater problem: The Church’s hierarchy’s (and lay leadership’s) failure to sustain a rich, vibrant Catholic culture, one imbued with respect for the teachings — and spiritual significance thereof — of the Holy Mother Church; a real, deep appreciation of family and community — both spiritual and social, the latter within and beyond the parish; deep reverence for Christ and His Bride, and the many avenues available to us (e.g., Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament); and active political, civil, and social engagement rooted in and loyal to the Magisterium.

(Second page)