Sunday, May 17, 2009

Mr. Obama Shines at Notre Dame: Disparate Reflections on the Commencement Address and the Occasion

Some thoughts about President Obama's commencement address at Notre Dame today, which I've just watched live at MSNBC:

  • The president was, as always, a master communicator. He manages to take a situation others have tried to load negatively against him, and masterfully turn it around.

  • His stress on dialogue, listening, collaborating for the common good, clearly struck many resonant chords with this audience, because that stress so strongly echoes important themes of Catholic social teaching.

  • This event was a big loss for the right-wing fringe groups who tried to leverage it into a loss for the president. They've come off looking like, well, fringe groups, and have succeeded in alienating further those in the center who took time to study their tactics this week.

  • Even though there were many strong indicators that these fringe groups did not represent anywhere near the center of American Catholic thinking on any issue, and had only minimal support on the Notre Dame campus, the mainstream media have done their usual shameful pimping job for the right all week long.

  • The mainstream media have given a voice to a handful of extremists who receive attention out of all proportion to their numbers, attention that their tactics and positions do not warrant.

  • Information about the sordid pasts (and therefore dubious credibility and motives) of some of the protagonists of the protests against Obama's appearance at Notre Dame has been nowhere to be found in almost all mainstream media coverage of the protests this week.

  • It's clear who owns the media and why media coverage tilts so grossly in one direction.

  • It's also clear that the owners of the mainstream media are going to keep on doing all they can to suggest to the public at large that American religious groups lean overwhelmingly right and resist movements for social justice and progressive change.

  • I'm also noticing in recent days how strongly the media coverage on the right is bashing women, as the right continues looking for useful wedges to undermine solidarity of progressive groups in the Obama era. Gays remain front and center in the wedge politics, of course, but the attack on Nancy Pelosi has been fierce and dirty, and I'm seeing right-wing news sites now throwing dirt at Diane Sawyer.

  • If we expect meaningful change, change that really makes a difference, under Obama, there needs to be a moment of fierce resistance in American culture to the influence of these right-wing fringe groups, whose primary purpose is to fragment progressives and keep the grossly rich in control. The fierce resistance needs to be directed, as well, to the apologists for the right (and their grossly rich lords and masters) in the mainstream media.

  • It would be far more to my liking if that movement of fierce resistance received stronger signals of support from the White House. I don't see that strong support coming, however. Mr. Obama and his chief advisors reflect the liberal philosophy that has come to dominate the Democratic party--namely, that the primary role of government is to balance competing interest groups.

  • If there is going to be a resurgence of progressivism under this administration, that resurgence is going to have to come from the public itself, insofar as citizens become fed up with the cultural, political, and religious stalemates the right has produced for us for too many years now, while liberals appease the right and refuse to stand up, or to imagine a truly democratic society.

  • Which is to say that the moral backbone of progressive change in the Obama era is going to have to come, I believe, from progressive groups themselves, and not from the president and his advisors. I believe the president himself has that backbone, though I also believe he is, in many respects, a classic liberal who is willing to ignore strong moral considerations as he engages in pragmatic balancing acts. And it seems increasingly evident to me that he has surrounded himself with advisors who, to an even greater extent, are tone-deaf to the moral underpinnings of the agenda of change they talk about, and willing at every turn to ignore those underpinnings as they tinker, try to anticipate the winds of change, and seek to remain on top through it all.