Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Obama at Notre Dame: Why not?

This seems to be a spicy issue in the Catholic blogosphere (e.g. this one from Vox-Nova and this one from Pro-Ecclesia) so, I'll take the bait.

Here is the main problem, as I see it: Commencement addresses in the U.S. have become mired in the politics of the modern academy and the propagandist relations of academia to the bought-and-paid-for dynamics of Washington.

If this were simply a public lecture, then, there would be little room for outrage. After all, dissenting views and rigorous debate ought to be a hallmark of any healthy university. However, this in one of "those" lectures, or should I say, after-the-fact stump speeches.

I feel that commencement addresses by presidents and other politicians, CEOs and other executives, and TV personalities, ought to removed altogether. But, certain politicians, execs, and TV personas may also have a contribution to offers to the academy. And, this may (and I give a very shaky 'may') be the case with this president.

One of the oddest things to me about Obama's campaign was the omission of his decorated academic career. If his speech were limited to an academic discussion of whatever subject is his expertise, then, that would be wonderful. But, sadly, I highly doubt that. He will be there as "Mr. President."

In that case, I think it is the wrong choice to make. I know for a fact that inviting G.W. to say anything at a University is an academic abomination. This is a different case, but, still, nonetheless, it seems like a bad idea to me. Notice, that the brand of ideas the person brings has very little to do with my evaluation of what is appropriate at a university. Much less a catholic university. As far as I'm concerned, any university that is not catholic, isn't really a university to begin with.

One major factor I chose to leave out of this discussion is the implication of giving someone an honorary degree. I still cannot get the bad taste out of my mouth from puking after witnessing Raymond Arroyo get an honorary degree while selling his book on Mother Angelica in his speech at my undergraduate commencement ceremony. Yuk.


Rocco said...

First, let me express my disappointment with RIMA, as I affectionately call her, as of late. I'm not sure what your intent is with this blog at all. It seems that it is to have no intent. Very cheeky. A Seinfeld of the blogosphere. I hate that word. I would rather propose a different agend for Rima: entertaining me. She used to be delightfully entertaining. Even if I disagreed with much of what was said, as an internet addict I added Rima to one of my 6 routine compulsory logs (I won't bore you with the other five, Rima was as exciting as it gets). But since Lent started, the well ran dry. Sure, people are busy, but why wet an addiction only to soon take away the goods if you know you can't supply in the first place. This is a grave injustice.

What I'm saying here is, dance clown. I have procrastination to attend to. Recruit some recontributors, delegate, assign topics or request topics. Don't leave me here hanging, only with old posts and tejano-quasi jazz silly man's music to listen to.

As for your post. Boring. Everybody knows commencement speeches are a joke. It's nothing but a mutual ego stroke between the school and the speaker. The bigger the school the bigger the name, if you get to speak at a big school you're a big name, if you get a big name you're a big school. As Mr. Bender once pointed out to me, Bill Cosby has more honorary degrees than any human being in the world. Pope John Paul II had one (from Franciscan). This is clearly a great big joke.

Next, I don't want to get into defending GWB or picking on Obama. Also, very boring. It's all been done before. But if you're going to suggest that it's possible that Obama is a worthy candidate for an academic speech then Bush is just the same. He had a unique philosophy, which I will not defend, on government management that was rooted in nowhere else than Harvard. Applying best practices from successful business management to government management, including performance management systems. These originated in Harvard's Business School and Kennedy School of Government. His big policy folks all came from there, with the exceptions who went to other prestigious Ivy League school. Sorry to break it to you gents, there are plenty of Republican Ivy Leaguers out there. We're not all Glen Becks. Both Obama and Bush have advanced degrees. Sure, you'll mock Bush's dubious acceptance to those schools. This is as stupid as the rightys who claim Obama only got into top schools because of Affirmative Action. So spare me.

Once again, this is not a defense of Bush. I think he and Obama both make terrible academic choices for a University to choose as commencement speakers. But both equally so.

There. That should make this exciting. Blast away hippies.

brogonzo said...

First, let's hope Rocco doesn't wind up on a hiring committee any time soon. "Both of these people went to some sort of school, which means they must be about equally qualified." Brilliant.

Second, I'm not falling for your silly small-C catholic/universal word game, Sam. So you'll have to pull that trick on readers who aren't aware of the joy you get out of correcting people who "misunderstand" you when you're deliberately misleading.

And third, the furor over Obama speaking at a Catholic (large-C) school rings hollow for several reasons. First, as far as I'm aware, the Church is in principle also against capital punishment. Somehow I seriously doubt the same uproar would have resulted if candidate supporting that were slated to speak. Second, Notre Dame is not exactly known as a bastion of traditional Catholic teaching. One of their faculty, Theology Professor Fr. Richard McBrien, is vocally pro-choice in the essays he's written for, among others, the National Catholic Reporter. So inviting a pro-choice politician to speak is not even internally inconsistent.

samrocha said...

Rocco is right. RIMA has been a bore these days, and, since I have been the one posting, I am at fault. Thankfully, pleasing Roc day in and day out is pretty low on my priority list.

Also, it is quite apparent that Roc cannot read--by this I mean reading and interpretation. So, he seems to find my post as yet-another tired, lefty spin on the issue. Let me be clear(er):

I don't think that Obama should be giving this speech because he will most likely be giving it as President Obama not Professor Obama. As far as I know, GW was never a tenure track faculty member at any University, much less The University of Chicago (who has some of the most interesting conservative theory in the area of law and jurisprudence for the past few decades). If we could count on him to give that professorial lecture, then, we might have something, but, alas, no such luck, as I see it.

Ian, I am tired of getting accused of not writing what I mean any time I employ a little bit of nuance. If you don't like nuance, then, yo should keep writing cheap knock off jokes of flight attendants and call it a win. Also, posting something interesting (which has happened before) here would be a good start too.

brogonzo said...

Punching up Rimatara is pretty low on my priorities list, Sam.

"As far as I'm concerned, any university that is not catholic, isn't really a university to begin with."

Tell me that's not a silly little word game designed to mislead people.

samrocha said...

Two things:

1. Roc is right about something. RIMA has no purpose or agenda, it is not about nothing (as people oddly say Seinfield was) but it is about lots of things, none of them decided in advance.

2. Ian: That's not a silly word game designed to mislead people.

brogonzo said...

Okay, Sam. Then tell me what you mean by that sentence. If you're actually saying that universities that aren't "catholic" (i.e. the church of Rome) aren't really universities at all, then you've made an even stupider statement than I thought.

samrocha said...

You clearly don't know what that word means, which, to put it harshly, isn't my problem (we both went to the university and were even members of the illustrious honors program). The word, coined in ecclesial tradition by Ignatius of Antioch, just means "universal". I take it to give a sense of serious pluralism--like that of the cosmos--that is a mark of any serious place of ideas no matter what you call it.

brogonzo said...

This is exactly what I'm talking about. I do know what the word means, and that's why I was accusing you of playing pedantic word games by using it.

Actually, it seems your understanding of the word is flawed. "Pluralism" has nothing to do with the word "catholic," even when used in the "universal" sense.

samrocha said...

nothing? please explain.

brogonzo said...

Oh wait, I forgot. Words mean whatever you want them to mean:


At any rate: "catholic" meaning "universal" (and I'd argue that if that's what you mean, then say "universal"), CAN indeed mean "broad in sympathies, tastes, or interests" (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/catholic ).

So I suppose you could be technically correct in that a university should be "catholic," or "broad in sympathies, tastes, or interests." Even on its own, I think it's a rather antedeluvian word to use, especially when there are plenty of ways to be a lot clearer. But I'll grant you a technical win - but I still think that it's pushing it to use "catholic" when you really mean "pluralist."

It's irrelevant in this case, though, because you've already invoked the word catholic at least implicitly by making the conversation about the "Catholic" university of Notre Dame. And that's what I was calling attention to, because the word "catholic" as used at the end of this post and the "Catholic" label for Notre Dame are talking about too completely different ideas, and equivocating between the two is disingenuous. The "Catholic" tag on Notre Dame is in no way meant to imply pluralism.

samrocha said...

Ian, please don't pull the old "you win--BUT". Mostly because I think you raise interesting points, and you know that. Nonetheless, I do parse words differently in their proper noun form and their generic form. This may appear to be too misleading or cryptic, but, at the very least, it makes for some hermeneutic fun. I know that doesn't wash like you want it to, and, to be honest, it works more like deodorant than anything else for me too. But, this is a fruitful discussion to have and I would love it if you took the time to publicly humiliate me on this forum. After all, me writing unfettered is never a good idea.

Rocco said...

I'm sitting on the sidelines waiting for my apology. For my part I apologize for picking on your music. I was merely jest but I did lay the mean on think didn't I? One thought on that though, listen to "Questions" then listen to the "Sex in the City" Theme Song. Not only am I ashamed to have identified it, but I'm sad that when I listen to your anti-modernist jingle, I can't help but see sad middle aged single ladies tripping over the boxes of pink shoes. Shudder.

Ian, you're right, I'd make a terrible human resources rep. As for my assertion, I was being deliberately provocative so you can forgive me for stretching reason a bit.

Sam I never took this for leftistism. Even if it was it wouldn't bother me if it was. I have no dog in that fight anymore. Rather, I think it would have been a bit more interesting if you did take some sort of ideological tilt rather than approach this issue as an affront to the sacredness of academia rather than a slightly interesting, if not played-out, moral dilemma. As for your assertion that I can't read, I'll leave that alone and continue to sit aside and await the apology before I lay into the hypocrisy of it all.
What you should have "read" and "comprehended" from my post was my friendly, locker-roomish, way of saying "Hey Sam, I like your blog, please post some more". @$$.

Rocco said...

I'd also like to congratulate Ian for using "antedeluvian" in a sentence.