Obama’s Speech at Notre Dame and CitizenLink’s Common Ground

Posted on May 27, 2009


Focus on the Family, in a recent email update stated that they are “committed to exposing the deceptive rhetoric from today’s pro-abortion political regime and challenging the policies of abortion extremism.”

obama notre dame citizenlink

They were referring to President Barack Obama’s speech at Notre Dame’s Commencement, May 17, 2009. Stuart Shepard, the host of Spotlight and the infamous face of the installment entitled “Pray for Rain,” hosted a Focus Action Update segment where they were to “do their best to get at the heart of how Obama likes to talk about the life issue, and also how we can best understand his clever use of language.” They play a short clip, unpack and dissect it.

Tom Minnery, Shepard’s guest makes this statement:

The very thing that makes it heart-wrenching is the same thing that ought to make it illegal…It is heart-wrenching because it is the killing of an unborn living human being. That is the language that he must avoid. And when he talks about the necessity of using ‘fair-minded language,’ for pro-lifers, we have to say, let’s speak fair-minded at what is at stake here — it’s the ending of a life. That’s what’s at stake. That is fair-minded language.

On the question of whether or not there can be common ground? Minnery simply answers, “There cannot.” Minnery goes on to characterize the phrase “reproductive freedom,” as a “dodge; denying the obvious at what is at stake.” Regarding choice, “on the pro-abortion side, there is only one choice, and that is abortion.”

And so it’s disappointing because the rhetoric, although it is smooth, encompassing, drawing in the unsuspected listener, has no meaning to it.

For the record, here is what Obama said, or at least the clips that are pertinent to this discussion:

We must find a way to live together as one human family.

How do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?

When we open up our hearts and our minds to those who may not think precisely what we think, or believe precisely what we believe, that’s when we discover at least the possibility of common ground. That’s when we begin to say, maybe we won’t agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this heart-wrenching decision for any woman is not made casually, it has both moral and spiritual dimensions. So let us work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions. Let’s reduce unintended pregnancy. Let’s make adoption more available. Let’s provide care and support for women who do carry their children 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, not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women. Those are things we can do.”

— VIA —

While I find it a bit hypocritical of Shepard and Minnery to be making their evaluations about Obama’s rhetoric while using a similar kind of rhetoric, (which simply draws on a different demographic of unsuspecting listener), I have a sense of compassion and appreciation for their position. I do think that, generally speaking, all people on both sides want less abortions and less unwanted pregnancies. The problem is that Focus on the Family and their vocal representatives continue to wage the rhetoric war, instead of leveraging it. And while they do so, they continually lose traction, followers, and ultimately influence.

I suggest, (’cause I, too, would rejoice at the absense of abortions from our culture), that Focus on the Family first ought to concede and admit that their terminology is the very kind of inflammatory and demonizing discourse that is so disappealing to the general public that has embraced Obama’s “one human family” message. Then, rather than combatting Obama’s words suggesting that they “have no meaning,” (and calling “pro-choice,” “pro-abortion” and the “political party” a “regime” ), FOTF ought to concede that there really is great meaning and influence in his rhetoric, and their “relabeling,” simply makes them look foolish and disconnected with reality. Finally, they ought to learn some lesson regarding the art of persuasion, as the language they use simply bolsters the already convinced and does little to help others be more warmed to alternative viewpoints.