On his initial road to the White House, President Obama sold himself as "change we can believe in." A day after Mother's Day this year, he ran with that terminology in a commencement speech at Barnard, an all-women's college in New York. That he spoke at Barnard and not his neighboring alma mater of Columbia was, of course, by design. For the "change" at heart of his reelection campaign relies heavily on claiming that a war is being waged on women by those who oppose his radical, menacing health-care legislation.
During the commencement, it was made clear that he was among believers. This is a world where men are not to be considered as reliable helpmates in the journey of life, because if they were, it would implicitly acknowledge the ideologically unthinkable: that men and women are complementary, not meant to be carbon copies in the workplace or anywhere else.
That the president's speech, which included predictable rhetorical flourishes of the imaginary "war on women," came in May, the month during which we honor our moms, was particularly laden with irony.
Our celebration of mothers in May is the stuff of marketing genius, a boon to restaurants and florists, and a staple of Hallmark's sales calendar, but it deserves more. What is motherhood? What is woman? What are the states of the relations between men and women and why would the government ever try to get involved?
The Department of Health and Human Services mandate that some of us are concerned about -- because it seeks to drive religious individuals and institutions out of the public square -- is Orwellian in its claims. It purports to be an issue of women's health, when, in fact, it's an attack on fertility, as is so much -- most especially the contraceptive pill -- that is packaged sold as women's liberation. It's also an attack on pregnancy -- the mandate addresses "preventative services." In the Federal Register we've declared women's fertility an impediment, pregnancy a disease to be prevented.
"They claim that the Church is at war on women because we won't treat motherhood as a disease and children as cancers to be prevented and then killed through pharmacological means similar to how chemotherapy kills tumors," one Catholic priest said from his Massachusetts parish that same Sunday. "In reality," he continued, "it's radical feminism that is really at war with women, because it has declared war on motherhood and the maternal meaning of a woman's existence."
In his Mother's Day homily, my parish priest friend explained what too few Catholics have heard in recent decades. That "the Church teaches that the true good of woman is not found in a 'raw freedom' understood as the ability to do anything a woman wants, including killing her own children and trying to run away from her maternal nature. The true good of woman is found, rather, in an authentic understanding and use of freedom. God has made us free precisely so that we may love, so that we may love him who loves us first, so that we might love others as he has loved us. The real fulfillment of woman is not found in a distorted understanding and use of freedom but in love."
Now be honest. That's not so bizarre, really, is it?
It's the most personal of issues, and you're free to disagree with me on it. And isn't that the point? We are free here -- even to do things as crazy as respect the procreative nature of sex, and to value, not oppress, the genius of the anatomy of woman and the life-giving power of the sexual act. But for how long?
At Barnard they were applauding as speakers hailed the president as a "reproductive rights" savior, a key constituency delighted to see their cause made government edict.
The women of Barnard are free to be the Obama reelection cheerleading squad, but freedom deserves some attention from the rest of us. And good sense, too.