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Where’s the protest?

Ryan Williams | Thursday, September 16, 2010

On Monday, former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich will be on campus showcasing his new documentary, “Nine Days Which Changed the World,” which recounts the nine-day visit Pope John Paul II made to his native Poland in June of 1979, a visit that emboldened opposition to Soviet communism in Eastern Europe.

Now, for the most part, Gingrich has been considered a pretty smart guy — he was the intellectual force behind the “Contract With America” that helped Republicans win back control of the House of Representatives in 1994 after 40 years of Democratic control, and he has authored numerous books on history and politics. And while there are numerous issues on which I disagree with the former speaker, I was pleased to hear Notre Dame had invited him to come show his film and give his spiel.

This University ought to be a place where people of all political and religious persuasions can come to present their ideas and viewpoints in a respectful and constructive environment. Fr. Jenkins eloquently defended this notion when he invited the President to speak at Commencement in 2009, so it is no surprise that he is continuing to uphold this principle in inviting Gingrich.

What is a little more surprising is the reaction to the former speaker’s visit among those students, faculty and alumni who so vehemently opposed Obama’s presence on campus a year and a half ago. Or rather, the lack of a reaction from them. These people, who were so quick to yell and scream about how the President’s views were contrary to the teachings of the Church ought to examine some of the positions Gingrich has taken on those issues supposedly held dear by Catholics. Gingrich supports the death penalty, opposes extending health care coverage to all Americans, and has voiced support for waterboarding, a form of torture. He’s also been divorced twice and had his fair share of extramarital affairs.

What’s more, for as smart as Gingrich is cracked up to be, he sure has a knack for saying some really stupid things. Just in the past few weeks, the former speaker has compared the construction of a mosque in Lower Manhattan to Nazis “putting up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington,” and has claimed that President Obama is operating under a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” worldview — a not so subtle hint that Gingrich is aligning himself with the “birthers” who don’t believe the President was born in the United States (and if that doesn’t say enough about him, I don’t know what will).

Now all of these positions Gingrich holds are opposed by the Catholic Church, just as some of Obama’s were when he came to speak. So why is no one in an uproar over Gingrich coming to campus? Where are the handmade signs and the homemade t-shirts, the protests and the letters to the editor? Have we really all learned our lesson, have we realized just how ridiculous it was to protest the President of the United States coming to campus? I rather doubt it.

You may argue that the circumstances are different this time, because Notre Dame is not honoring the former speaker with a degree, as it awarded Obama. But the people who opposed his presence on campus were not just upset about the decision to award him an honorary degree, they were also upset that he was being given a highly visible platform on which to speak. And for those who would say that Gingrich is here to speak about his film, and not about his controversial views, I would suggest that Obama was as likely to speak about his position on abortion as Gingrich is to talk about how he cheated on his wife.

No, I think the reason why no one is going to show up to protest against Gingrich is because he satisfies what has become the basic litmus test for students on this campus (and for the Republican Party in general, but that’s another matter): Gingrich supports restricting a woman’s right to chose. It’s a shame that this complicated issue has come to be seen in such black and white terms by so many on this campus. In reality it is anything but, and we as a community would be better served by recognizing that.

 Ryan Williams is a sophomore. He can be reached at twilli15@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.