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Monday, May 18, 2009

In the wake of the commencement at UND.

I didn't see the speech--we had lots of other things to do, frankly.

And I really didn't expect any substantial extension of the hand from the President, so why bother? In this, I was not disappointed.

Oh, sure--it reads nicely enough, and I have no doubt the delivery made it even more effective.

But there was no there there. Here's the "dialogic" part:

So let's work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term. Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women.

Here's the thing: he holds all the cards. It would have been a perfect moment to put his considerable clout behind Democratic Rep. Lincoln Davis' Pregnant Women Support Act. Instead, we get the increasingly-stale anecdote about changing his website in response to a pro-life reader's complaint. Great--not demonized and ignored--just ignored.

Super. Yes, we can.

And there was one subtle rhetorical burr:

Those who speak out against stem cell research may be rooted in admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son's or daughter's hardships can be relieved.

What's the problem with that, you may be asking? It's simple: it posits opponents of ESCR as heartless defenders of an abstract principle in the face of suffering. Despite, you know, the fact that the President himself closed off federal support for pluripotent stem cell research back in January, for reasons which remain unexplained. What possible principle sustains that decision?

Still, the President has his principles and non-negotiables, and it is difficult for me to get exorcised at him in the same way I would were he Catholic.

Which brings me to the students and administration at UND.

Some are deeply disappointed with the rapturous reception given to the President's remarks. I can understand that reaction, but I am at a loss as to why it should be surprising.

Here I'm going to come across as dismissive and high-handed, but I speak from experience: what can you expect from your college students at an expensive private university, even one that wears a Christian denominational label?

American colleges and universities are the best prolongers of adolescence western civilization has ever produced. You have an adult's frame, coupled with a teenager's know-it-all mindset and none of the responsibilities that will be thrust upon you until after you get the parchment. Those who manage to buck that trend and behave like actual adults are in a distinct, if laudable, minority. In the meantime, you've been raised in a celebrity-worshipping environment which encourages soundbite thinking and clever pop-culture references and one liners. There's a reason the alumni reacted much more coldly to the event--they've settled down, grown up, seen the ultrasounds and held their own children. Couple this with a university that genuflects before the idol of academic freedom (the most jealous of gods), and my advice is not to blame the students who cheered mindlessly, but to praise the ones who have grown up faster.

Which brings me to the management of UND, who acted like the institution was the South Bend Catholic Conference Center: with this trajectory, rest assured that if any of my kids want to go to UND, they'll be paying their own way. Better to go, say, to a Michigan State and fence with gleeful, open secularists than to get blackjacked by a nominal co-religionist with the same agenda.

The football will be better, too.

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