As protesters greeted President Obama's supposedly controversial commencement address at Notre Dame, Politico pronounced the "speech critical for Obama with Catholics." But little discussed in the coverage of the manufactured outrage is Obama's overwhelming support among Catholic voters that has continued from Election Day forward. They not only support his appearance at Notre Dame, but express views on social issues including abortion and same-sex marriage which differ little from the overall electorate that put Barack Obama in the White House. And its turns out, Notre Dame University has a long tradition of featuring pro-choice figures from both parties among the ranks of its graduation speakers and medal recipients.
In a nutshell, despite Michael Gerson's bogus claim, there is no "war on Catholics." Whether there is a war within, however, is a different question altogether.
Here, then, are the 10 things you need to know about President Obama, the Notre Dame speech and Catholic voters.
1. Obama Carried the Catholic Vote Nationally
Four years after George W. Bush beat John Kerry 52% to 47% among Catholic Americans, Barack Obama comfortably carried the same group by a 9-point margin over John McCain.
2. Obama Won Notre Students and Community, Too
Barack Obama didn't merely win the backing of Catholics nationwide, he won the battle for heart and minds locally as well. In winning the Hoosier State, Obama handily carried St. Joseph County, home to Notre Dame's South Bend campus, by 68,710 votes to McCain's 48,510. He also easily won an October straw poll among Notre Dame students, thrashing John McCain by 53% to 41%.
3. Catholics Strongly Approve of Obama's Performance
Despite the best efforts of former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson and anti-abortion extremists like Randall Terry and Jill Stanek, President Obama continues to enjoy the overwhelming backing of Catholic Americans. A Pew Research survey released on April 30 revealed that 67% of Catholics approve of President Obama's job performance, compared to 63% of Americans overall.
4. Catholics Support Obama's Notre Dame Speech by 2-1 Margin
That support extends to Obama's Notre Dame invitation itself. Catholics by a 50% to 28% margin believe it was right for the University to invite President Obama to address the school's graduating students. A poll by Quinnipiac University similarly showed that 60% of Catholic voters believe Notre Dame should not rescind its invitation to Obama, the sixth sitting president to address its graduates.
5. Catholics' Views on Social Issues Mirror Nation Overall
Underlying Catholic support for President Obama and his appearance at Notre Dame is the surprisingly similarity of views on social issues shared with the American electorate overall. That was among the findings of a recent Gallup poll which examined the attitudes of Catholic Americans. On abortion (40% versus 41%) and embryonic stem cell research (63% vs. 61%), the Gallup study found "almost no difference between rank-and-file American Catholics and American non-Catholics." As it turns out, across a broader swath of issues, Catholics are at least as "liberal" as their non-Catholic counterparts.
It should be noted that response vary dramatically for regular churchgoers. On social issues as well as on the Obama invitation itself, those Catholics attending church weekly were far more conservative than their brethren overall (closer, in fact, to evangelical Christians.) Again, if anything, the data suggests not a war on, but a war within, the Catholic community.
6. Notre Dame Has Long Featured Pro-Choice Speakers...
Lost in the frothing at the mouth by right-wing partisans is Notre Dame's long history of featuring pro-choice figures from both political parties as commencement speakers. These include Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1992 and 1975 South Bend graduate Condoleezza Rice in 1995. (Rice famously told the Washington Times that she was "mildly pro-choice.") Rice's address to the students, by the way, was titled, "The Role of the Educated Person."
7. ...and Highlighted Them in an Official Notre Dame Book
The elite Catholic college's proud tradition of exposing students to the political leadership of their nation, regardless of those leaders' views on the abortion issue is reflected in a 2003 book published by the University of Notre Press titled Go Forth and Do Good: Memorable Notre Dame Commencement Addresses.
Compiled by the Rev. Wilson D. Miscamble, C.S.C., professor of history at the University of Notre Dame and rector and superior of Moreau Seminary and with a foreword by Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., (who delivered the 1987 commencement), the book includes 24 notable graduation speeches from presidents of both parties as well as a litany of figures who no doubt found themselves on opposite sides of the abortion issue:
Among other featured Commencement speakers are: Joseph Kennedy, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Andrew Young, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Condoleezza Rice, Kofi Annan, and Presidents Eisenhower, Carter and Reagan.
8. Notre Dame Has Awarded Laetare Medal to Pro-Choice Recipients
In April, Harvard professor and former Bush ambassador to the Vatican Mary Ann Glendon turned down the university's prestigious Laetare Medal over the growing Obama imbroglio. But while she proclaimed, "I have always felt honored that the commencement speech I gave that year was included in the anthology of Notre Dame's most memorable commencement speeches," she was silent not just on the pro-choice speakers highlighted in that book, but those were past recipients of the Laetare award itself.
As it turns out, the 130 recipients of what Notre Dame itself deems "the oldest and most prestigious honor given to American Catholics" includes Senator Moynihan, whose 1992 address with Glendon's in the Go Forth and Do Good book she so praised. And the 2008 Laetare winner was none other than West Wing star and liberal activist Martin Sheen. (Sheen in 2003 declared, "I personally am opposed to abortion, but I will not judge anybody else's right in that regard" and included among his political heroes Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee and Howard Dean.)
9. Conservatives Silent on Pro-Choice Republicans at Catholic Universities
As it turns out, critics of President Obama's appearance at Notre Dame today weren't merely silent when President Bush addressed graduates there in 2001. (Despite his pro-death penalty stance and Iraq war condemned by the Vatican, none suggested Bush was persona non grata at South Bend.) Many of the same voices of outrage on the right offered escape clauses for pro-choice Republicans speaking at other of the nation's premier Catholic institutions.
As FireDogLake noted, the National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez had no issue when Condoleezza Rice, the pro-choice saleswoman of the Iraq war opposed by the Vatican, received an honorary doctorate from Boston College in 2006:
"I don't think BC is compromising any fundamental values by having her [Rice] speak."
10. When the Thrice Married, Nouveau Catholic Newt Gingrich...
...is the defender of the faith, the Church's problems are more profound than any could have imagined. The twice-divorced serial adulterer turned Catholic hasn't merely proclaimed himself the arbiter of the sanctity of marriage, but even days prior to his own conversion called the invitation "sad" and denounced Obama's "anti-Catholic values."
UPDATE: The text of Obama's address is now available.