Commentary on Bush Commencement Address
Daniel J. Moriarty 22may01
At the time of this commentary Daniel J. Moriarty was a candidate for a master's degree in arts and peace studies at Notre Dame
am a student in the masters program at the Kroc Institute for International
Peace Studies. During George Bush's commencement address at Notre Dame, I knelt
in the center aisle saying the rosary, back turned, during the president's
address. I did so because I feel the University was wrong to invite President
Bush, and to award him an honorary degree. I turned away in dissent. I prayed
because I felt it was also important to turn toward something - toward God in a
posture I hope was more consistent with the values Notre Dame exists to promote.
As protesters outside before the ceremony explained, George Bush's policies are
widely opposed to Catholic social teaching. On issues from the death penalty and
labor to the environment and nuclear proliferation, George W. Bush does more to
promote what Pope John Paul II has called "the culture of death" than
he does to counter it. I could not in good conscience be complicit in welcoming
his message and condoning the conferment of his honorar degree by the
I was facing the stage during the valedictorian address, in which Carolyn Weir posed the question to the world: "Why do you play God, by executing the guilty?" During the roar of applause that followed, Bush very visible leaned over, laughing, and made a joking aside to Notre Dame President Edward Malloy, CSC. Father Malloy did not join in the president's laughter at such a solemn question - one obviously aimed at Bush himself. But seeing the Notre Dame Commencement stage offered up for such public displays of callousness on the part of Mr. Bush symbolized, for me, all that was wrong with the invitation.
Later, as Bush gave his address, I prayed for the victims of Bush's policies. I prayed in particular for the people of Latin America. Having spent nearly 5 years as a lay missioner in Bolivia, I know the suffering caused by so many U.S. policies in the region. I am especially concerned about the proposed appointments of John Negroponte as U.S. ambassador to the UN, and Otto Reich as Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere. Both men were instrumental in perpetrating the abuses of the "contras" in Nicaragua in the 1980s. Their pending appointments in the new administration mark a return to dangerous days of U.S. disregard for human rights and sovereignty. Bush's support for President Clinton's Plan Colombia is also of grave concern.
President Bush's address did nothing to allay my fears. He used Notre Dame's good name to mask unchristian policies in the rhetoric of Catholic social teaching. Especially offensive was his reference to Dorothy Day. Bush's speech writers did a brilliant job, but I doubt seriously that the president even knows who Dorothy Day was. He is oblivious to the values she stood for. For example, Bush's call for more corporate help for the poor was a thinly disguised push for further supporting big business while abandoning government safety nets to the whims of a profit-driven market.
The commencement address was aired live on CNN and other television networks. It was the climax of a recent campaign by the president to consolidate the Catholic support he has done so much to squander. Notre Dame President Malloy allowed our great university to be exploited in this effort. I hope the community and the country see through the pomp and circumstance and choose the Catholic - and universal - values taught at Notre Dame over the harmful policies of George W. Bush.
Daniel J. Moriarty
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