Patrick Deenan of "What I Saw in America" offers some cautiously optimistic observations:
The President's speech - as could be expected - was quite masterful. He is a wordsmith of first order, but more, has a remarkable rhetorical ability to call for forms of higher reconciliation and transcendence of division that has otherwise been fomented by so many other politicians and opinion leaders of our age. While most on the Right either suspect him of bad faith, or impute such bad faith to him for political advantage, I believe he honestly desires to heal some of the worst divisions of the nation. His call yesterday both to include a "conscience clause" to protect professionals who object to the practice of abortion (and gay marriage?), and his call to reduce the number of abortions - including the commendation of adoption as an option - appeared to have been enthusiastically greeted by nearly everyone at the ceremony.
Yet, actions have too rarely accompanied the best words articulated by Obama. The call to "openness" will quickly be seen as an invitation to join him where he stands, not to reach out to others with whom he disagrees, if he does not act firmly and with determination in these areas that could go some distance to narrowing some divides.
George Weigel, writing about "Obama and the 'Real Catholics'", makes some excellent points about the strategy employed by President Obama at Notre Dame:
What was surprising, and ought to be disturbing to anyone who cares about religious freedom in these United States, was the president’s decision to insert himself into the ongoing Catholic debate over the boundaries of Catholic identity and the applicability of settled Catholic conviction in the public square. Obama did this by suggesting, not altogether subtly, who the real Catholics in America are. The real Catholics, you see, are those like the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who are “congenial and gentle” in persuasion, men and women who are “always trying to bring people together,” Catholics who are “always trying to find the common ground.” The fact that Cardinal Bernardin’s undoubted geniality and gentility in bringing people together to find the common ground invariably ended with a “consensus” that matched the liberal or progressive position of the moment went unremarked — because, for a good postmodern liberal like President Obama, that progressive “consensus” is so self-evidently true that one can afford to be generous in acknowledging that others, less enlightened but arguably sincere, have different views.
Whether or not President Obama knew precisely what he was doing — and I’m inclined to think that this politically savvy White House and its allies among Catholic progressive intellectuals knew exactly what they were doing — is irrelevant. In order to secure the political advantage Obama had gained among Catholic voters last November, the president of the United States decided that he would define what it means to be a real Catholic in 21st-century America — not the bishop of Fort Wayne–South Bend, who in sorrow declined to attend Notre Dame’s commencement; not the 80-some bishops who publicly criticized Notre Dame’s decision to invite the president to receive an honorary degree; not the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which explicitly and unambiguously instructed Catholic institutions not to do what Notre Dame did. He, President Obama, would settle the decades-long intra-Catholic culture war in favor of one faction — the faction that had supported his candidacy and that had spent the first months of his administration defending his policies.