From the beginning, the feigned outrage among social conservatives over Barack Obama's invitation to deliver the commencement address at Notre Dame was a political device, a manufactured controversy designed to create a rift between the President and the American Catholic community which overwhelmingly supports him. As the data showed, there was no conflict between Obama and Catholic voters, but perhaps instead a reflection of turmoil within the Church itself.
Now that the speech, which Andrew Sullivan deemed "deeply Christian," has been received to great acclaim, I'll leave it to two others to provide perspective on the political fall-out and meaning of the faux imbroglio.
Writing in the Washington Post, E.J. Dionne summed up the blowback from the counterproductive crusade by Obama's foes:
By facing their arguments head-on and by demonstrating his attentiveness to Catholic concerns, Obama strengthened moderate and liberal forces inside the church itself. He also struck a forceful blow against those who would keep the nation mired in culture-war politics without end. Obama's opponents on the Catholic right placed a large bet on his Notre Dame visit. And they lost.
If the rapturous reception hich greeted President Obama at Notre Dame wasn't sufficient to humble his opponents, the words of Trinity Washington University President Patricia McGuire should be. Addressing the graduates of her Catholic college, McGuire decried the ugly "religious vigilantism" of a small minority of her brethren:
"The real scandal at Notre Dame today is not that the president of the United States is speaking at commencement," McGuire said. "The real scandal is the misappropriation of sacred teachings for political ends. The real scandal is the spectacle of ostensibly Catholic mobs camping out at Notre Dame for the specific purpose of disrupting the commencement address of the nation's first African American president. This ugly spectacle is an embarrassment to all Catholics. The face that Catholicism shows to our new president should be one marked with the sign of peace, not distorted in the snarl of hatred."
McGuire continued, "The religious vigilantism apparent in the Notre Dame controversy arises from organizations that have no official standing with the church, but who are successful in gaining media coverage as if they were speaking for Catholicism. . . . They have established themselves as uber-guardians of a belief system we can hardly recognize. Theirs is a narrow faith devoted almost exclusively to one issue. They defend the rights of the unborn but have no charity toward the living. They mock social justice as a liberal mythology."
After the commencement ceremonies in South Bend concluded Sunday, the front page of Huffington Post announced, "Obama wins over Notre Dame." (Of course, polls rarely mentioned by the media showed he had long since won over Catholics nationwide.) As for the right-wing and its Republican agit prop machine that tried to derail the graduation, as E.J. Dionne noted, they lost.
UPDATE: For more background, see:
"10 Inconvenient Truths for Obama's Notre Dame Foes."