With his landmark speech on race last year in Philadelphia, Obama showed Americans he does not avoid facing controversial issues head on. Obama was put in a similarly difficult position this weekend when he was awarded an honoris causis degree from the University of Notre Dame, a legendary Catholic institution known for its academic excellence and famed football teams. His presence was not without controversy, as some members of the Catholic community questioned the appropriateness of honouring someone whose views on abortion and stem cell research don’t mesh with those of the Church. And just like he did with his speech on race, Obama did not shy away from expressing his views.
His speech at Notre Dame emphasized the need for respect and the finding of common ground on working to reduce abortions. Obama did not budge on his views and showed much courage in accepting the invitation and discussing the issue before a Catholic audience. By all indications, the president was a hit.
The speech reminded me of one delivered at the same university by the then-governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, on the subject of abortion. Then as now, there was controversy. The Catholic Cuomo argued that a politician can be faithful to the teachings of his Church, but must govern in a pluralistic society where those teachings can be at odds with the views of others. Obama essentially made the same argument and in so doing showed once again his presidential leadership.