The President of the United States came to Georgetown University yesterday to deliver a speech.
The sky did not fall. The Catholic identity of the university does not appear to have changed. Last night’s midnight Mass at Dahlgren Chapel (the Mass actually starts at 11:15 p.m.) went on as usual. The theology department remains open and students will still be sitting in their chairs listening to Father Ray Kemp lecture in his class "Struggle and Transcendence." The Jesuit community at Georgetown continues to live and pray together.
Georgetown’s president, Dr. John DeGioia, welcomed President Obama with fulsome praise and said it was an honor to host him on campus. The students who filled Gaston Hall, with its magnificent murals, shouted and applauded wildly when President Obama entered the room and when he finished the speech.
Outside the gates of the university, a smattering of protesters organized by Randall Terry tried their best to cast aspersions upon the proceedings within, on the soul of Georgetown, on America herself for electing such a President. They did not garner any press coverage either from CNN at the time nor in this morning’s Post, not even the Metro section. If Randall Terry screams and no one hears it, is it still a scream?
In his speech the President tried to give an update on the state of the economy and what his administration has done so far to improve it. Seventy years ago, it would have been a fireside chat but not enough Americans have firesides anymore, and given the vast diversity of media, giving a speech at 11:30 on the morning is as effective a way to communicate to the American people as a nighttime address over the radio. But, like Roosevelt, Obama tried to explain where we were and where he intended to lead us.
I can’t believe his speechwriters have spent enough time with FDR’s speeches. Obama’s lack the moral vigor of his predecessor’s rhetorical efforts. Still, there was one passage where he turned to the Scripture that was effective: "Now, there’s a parable at the end of the Sermon on the Mount that tells the story of two men. The first built his house on a pile of sand, and it was soon destroyed when a storm hit. But the second is known as the wise man, for when ‘the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.’" Obama said his administration would rebuild the nation’s economy on rock. He should not be afraid to continue to cast the economic decisions facing the nation in such religious and moral terms.
The President did not make reference to Georgetown being Catholic or Jesuit. Still less did he reference the controversy surrounding his upcoming speech at Notre Dame. One wonders what he makes of that controversy and hopes that he understands how deeply felt are Catholic convictions about protecting the unborn and understands, too, that deeply felt convictions sometimes lead to excessive rhetoric and irrational political postures, that determination can blind as easily as it can enlighten. The President is smart enough to know that such excesses should not allow anyone to dismiss the underlying moral concern, that Randall Terry may not speak for the Catholic Church, but that Catholics remain and will always remain concerned about the unborn.
Yesterday, at Georgetown, no one spoke about these matters. But, they need to be addressed by this administration, elected as it was by Catholic swing voters in Ohio, Florida, Nevada and Colorado who believed the Obama was going to be attentive to Catholic concerns. No one expects Obama to suddenly become pro-life. But he held out the possibility that there was a distinction between being pro-choice and pro-abortion, and we are waiting for him to bring forth policies he promised to reduce the abortion rate. Maybe he can address that issue when he goes to Notre Dame.