Obama's heckler moment

At the president's Notre Dame commencement address, the old "abortion is murder!" protest scene gets a new twist.

By Sarah Hepola
Published May 18, 2009 1:32PM (EDT)

Obama spoke eloquently on a divisive topic this weekend. After weeks of protest that included such over-the-top tactics as an abortion plane circling the campus, the president's commencement address at the University of Notre Dame was a call to avoid the cheap and easy stereotypes of the culture wars even as he acknowledged that, "at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable." And so he spoke of lowering the number of unintended pregnancies and drafting a sensible conscience clause, all the while making it clear that he is unabashedly pro-choice. Outside, 39 protesters were arrested

But is "common ground" through "vigorous debate" really possible? Or is that a bunch of feel-good hokum at a time when our country is hopelessly split over the issues of abortion and gay marriage?

I don't know the answer, but a moment of hope can be found in the commencement when, not far into his speech, Obama was interrupted by a protester. It's a scene we've witnessed countless times -- not just in abortion protests but in satires of abortion protests, the rageful voice slicing through the decorum: "Abortion is murder! Stop killing the children!" (You can watch a video of the protester here.)

Even those who did not watch the commencement know about this heckler because the exchange was included in the official transcript. And I suspect it was included in the official transcript not merely to remind us how charged this event was but also of how the moment was diffused. The audience booed. The president coolly persevered. And the audience began to chant, not merely championing Notre Dame but our country, with that good ole rallying cry of unity: "Yes, we can! Yes, we can!"

Sarah Hepola

Sarah Hepola is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir, "Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget."

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