Obama’s Education Quip in Northern Ireland: Sensationalized? Or Unabashedly Manipulative?

First of all, I want to say I’m sorry.

Earlier this week, I published a blog post regarding President Obama’s comments in Northern Ireland, on the subject of Catholic education.  That post seems to have drawn ire from some quarters; and even among those who agreed, it elicited a raw emotion which burst forth in the combox.

For the record:  I had relied on an early news report from the Scottish Catholic Observer.

Speaking to a crowd of some 2,000 young people, Obama said that having Catholic schools and Protestant schools was “divisive”, and he seemed to imply that the nation would be better off without religious education.  It’s easy to extrapolate from that speech, and to understand the American President as saying he’d like to see an end to Catholic education in the United States, too.

Anyway, the blogosphere exploded.  I had well over 100,000 hits on my article—and more than 250 of those readers took time to comment.  Even after I deleted all of the posts which relied on cursing and the *F* bomb to make their point, that’s still a lot of words in print.

Let me make it easy for you by paraphrasing the comments—first, from those who dislike and distrust President Obama:

  • Obama is a jerk.
  • Obama is a Muslim.
  • Obama is trying to undermine America.
  • Obama is a Muslim.
  • Obama thinks he can tell the whole world what to do, when he can’t even run this country.
  • Obama is a Muslim.

Some familiar accusations turned up, demonstrating the animus with which our nation’s leader is regarded by many:

  • “delusions of grandeur”
  • “idiot”
  • “fraud”
  • “shredding our Constitution”
  • “Alinsky”
  • “indoctrination”
  • “liberal bias”
  • “ignoramus”

And then, drawn from comments by people who took offense at my post:

  • “absolute rubbish”
  • “utterly hysterical”
  • “spurious accusations”
  • “enough with the paranoia”
  • “knee-jerk speculation”….

Well, you’ve got the idea.

So here’s my point:  Perhaps I was too harsh (or perhaps not).  But the readers, they were DEFINITELY too harsh.  The cumulative effect of the invective and ad hominem attacks, in my opinion, was to weaken the arguments and—even more important—to cause scandal among readers of a Catholic blog who expect people of faith to speak with the love of Christ.

Some reporters (Breitbart, for example, and Newsmax and Catholic World News) agree with the Scottish Catholic Observer and with me, that Obama was seriously overstepping his authority when he scolded Ireland for its parochial educational system, and that this is reflective of his attitude toward faith-based education in this country, as well.

Bill Donohue of the Catholic League disagreed, and took to task the conservative media for their criticism.

A friend of mine, blogger Bill Kassel, took a different view and sent me his post.  He is much more generous than I in second-guessing the President’s intentions; but what impressed me is that he spoke respectfully and analyzed carefully.  I’d like to share a bit of Bill’s post here:

Obama’s text should have been flown by some Catholic authority, although that might not have been the easiest thing, given his relations with the Church just now. Well, at least somebody who’s clued in to local sensitivities — his advance people should have taken care of that.

We can too-readily blunder into other people’s issues and say something that strikes a discordant note, even if our intention is to be positive or flattering. The risks are all the greater when it’s a government leader crossing national/cultural/religious boundaries.

The points I want to make, after all of this, are two:

(1)    I don’t know everything.  I still think my report holds up to scrutiny and the President, in speaking against the system in Ireland, was showing his hand, giving us a glimpse of the disdain in which he holds Catholic education here in the United States.  Other writers—whose opinions I respect, and with whom I frequently agree—think otherwise and think this was much ado about nothing.

(2)    The comments REALLY took a wrong turn, in my opinion, degenerating into verbal fisticuffs and name-calling.  People whose opinions may have been worth considering lost credibility because their message was gift-wrapped in angry rhetoric.

In all, I guess what I mean is:  Mea culpa.  And You-a culpa, too.




  • Noah Smith

    Obama was speaking about the system in Northern Ireland not Ireland. I’m from the U.K. and, as far as I’m aware, the consensus among both Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland is that the educational segregation has too end, not that the Catholic schools have to close. The issues in NI is very ancient and complicated, the origin of the educational segregation stems from the Protestant majority discriminating against the Catholic minority.

    • Dale

      I was wondering how President Obama’s remarks were received in Northern Ireland. The quote from Bill Kassel (who seems to be an American living in the US) suggests that Obama should have had his speech vetted for local sensitivities. But was there a widespread outcry in Northern Ireland against his remarks, or was the controversy simply here in the States?

      My impression is that the people who have been voicing outrage aren’t residents of NI, and they are not familiar with life there.

      • Noah Smith

        There was no outcry in N.I. just welcome surprise that he brought it up. The reasons why Catholics had their own educational system was because they were discriminated against. So to see US Catholics get upset over Obama calling for EQUAL treatment for Catholic kids was funny and depressing at the same time. I like Americans but the level of understanding about the outside world is dismal.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    LOL, Obama does draw passion from all sides. I stand by what I said in my comment in your previous blog. I was fairly reserved in my criticism. Obama looks through the world as a secular atheist. He does not understand religion, period.

    Let me add these questions, would Obama consider all the black colleges and schools throughout the US history be just as divisive in black/white relations over racism? He just recently spoke at a black college; did he make a similar statement? What’s the difference between American black/white and Irish Catholic/Protestant relations?

    • Noah Smith

      Did you even bother to read my explanation? The issue of seperate schooling isn’t one of choice but of discrimination and violence.

      • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

        No I didn’t. Do you think I read all the comments or any? OK, now that I did, my statement still stands. It makes no difference whether it’s Northern Ireland or Ireland. Obama doesn’t have a clue on what religion is, especially the Roman Catholic religion. And I challange Obama to say the same thing about Black only schools in the US. Why aren’t they divisive? I don’t care what the consensus is in NI, if such a consensus even exists. Who are you to proclaim such a consensus? Maybe in your mind there’s a consensus. Actually I’m skeptical that there is one. Catholic schools and religious upbringing make for a better student all round.

        • UpstateAlan

          68% of the people in Northern Ireland agree with President Obama. Only 14% disagree. That’s pretty much the consensus on the issue.


          • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

            I wasn’t arguing on whether the people from NI agree with the president or not. I was arguing that Obama said he wanted the Catholic schools to end. That poll is meaningless to my point. In fact it says the people from NI heard the same thing I did, that Obama recommended Catholic schools end.

          • Noah Smith

            its says 14% agrees with what you said.

          • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

            Don’t you read? I already siad so what? My pont is not whether NI wants to dismantle Catholic schools. My point is that Oama clearly said NI should dismantle them. Enough already. I disected Obama’s speech to show he impliede it and you haven’t proven that wrong.

      • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

        Actually now that I think of it, Obama sits in the pews of Rev Wright’s church for 20 years and he’s got the audacity to claim the Roman Catholic Church is divisive? Obama doesn’t even realize his own hypocrisy. And that’s given his motivations the benefit of the doubt.

        • Dale

          Manny, Obama didn’t say that the Catholic Church was divisive. That seems to be an impression which many have gotten from reading sources with an anti-Obama agenda. Here is what he said:

          “If towns remain divided — if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs — if we can’t see ourselves in one another, if fear or resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division”


          Obama was not blaming the Catholic Church, nor was he calling for the end of Catholic education. He was calling for more religious integration, not just of schools but of neighborhoods and social life in general.

          It is easy to find fault with the Obama administration. There is so much to choose from! But I think we need to be accurate in our criticism, and not base it upon a misinterpretation.

          • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

            Come on, he implied it. Look at how many Catholics took it that way. If it wasn’t at the under belly of his words, then the great communicator is not much of a communicator. Frankly it’s at the core of his world view. He believes religion is divisive. I stand by what I said.

          • Noah Smith

            Look how many AMERICAN Catholics took it that way. You’ve completely ignored the views of N.I. Catholics. See Sara’s comments. Manny, you’re projecting US politics onto another country

          • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

            This is what I said at Joanna’s Egregious Twaddle blog on this issue:

            The literal meaning of what he said I agree does not say he’s calling for the end of Catholic schools. But he put it into the context of American segregation, and that implies a wider interpretation. Here’s exactly what he said:

            “Because issues like segregated schools and housing, lack of jobs and opportunity — symbols of history that are a source of pride for some and pain for others — these are not tangential to peace; they’re essential to it. If towns remain divided — if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs — if we can’t see ourselves in one another, if fear or resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division. It discourages cooperation.”

            American segregation involved the tearing down of black/white public schools. Black kids had to be bussed from one neighborhood and placed into white neighborhood schools. That paragraph speeks of “symbols of history that are a source of pride for some and pain for others.” Catholic schools are surely a source of pride for most Catholics. I don’t exactly know how the school system works in Northern Ireland, but to say that you need to integrate Protestant and Catholic schools is saying that Northern Ireland needs to eliminate the Catholic school system. He didn’t directly say it, but his context implied it. He’s talkinag about ending the “source of pride” which are our Catholic schools. Now if any other president had said this, I may have given him a pass, but given Obama’s hostility to Catholicism and his shear ignorance of true religious feeling, I don’t think this was an accident of speech.
            If I’m projecting American politics it’s because Obama put the issue into an American context. And yes, he was calling for the end of Catholic schools. Whether the people of NI think that’s a good thing or not, I’m not going to speculate. From a Catholic perspective it’s insulting.

          • Noah Smith

            No Obama is drawing analogies with the African American experience, you’re projecting political talking points. So the violence and bigotry directed to NI Catholics mean nothing to you because the kids are getting a Catholic education? That’s astonishing.

          • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

            Don’t tell me I’m “projecting political talking points,” whatever that means. I just disected Obama’s language; that’s not spouting talking points. What is astonishing is that you don’t understand the English language. I did not say that I support bigotry. Bigotry and the Catholic school system are not mutually exclusive. If you think they’re mutually exclusive then you share the same view of benighted view of religion that Obama has.

          • Noah Smith

            i want parents in NI to have a choice about where to educate their kids. At the moment catholics have no choice due to discrimination. what’s so hard to understand about that? You are against the violence but happy with the results of that violence because it ensures catholic kids go the catholic schools?

  • Noah Smith

    Yes, I should have been more nuanced with regards to the views of US Catholics. But I’m afraid that Manny exemplify the modern trend to confuse a sincerely held opinion for the truth

    • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

      What nonsense. I disected Obama’s very words above. There was no opinion about it. You are thick.

  • Sara

    I’m a practising Catholic from Northern Ireland. I attended Catholic schools between 4 and 18 and I loved the experience. I got a wonderful academic and spiritual education which I wouldn’t swap for anything.

    I am an unusual Northern Irish person, in that my mother is Catholic and my father was brought up Presbyterian and is now agnostic (when they married in 1987 this was not at all the norm and I tried to hide it when I was growing up as I could never be sure how people would react). I grew up in a largely Catholic community, but because of my parents’ marriage I knew the Protestants on my dad’s side of the family. But the first time I met a Protestant socially (as in, outside my family circle) I was 16. This is pretty shocking given that Protestants make up over half of Northern Ireland’s population. My friends at school who had two Catholic parents could have reached sixteen or older without ever meeting anyone Protestant – that is how segregated society was when I was growing up.

    Unfortunately, I saw some otherwise kind-hearted and intelligent friends parrot really horrible stereotypes about Protestants simply because they’ve never met anyone Protestant who could show them they aren’t true. Sadly my school, which was wonderful in every other respect, was also a place in which damaging prejudices had the opportunity to grow because the rest of society was completely segregated.

    Things are changing now, but very slowly, and more integration between Catholics and Protestants is necessary if we want to preserve the hard-won peace. The recent riots in Belfast and continued dissident Republican activity show that we can’t be complacent about this. Unfortunately, since Northern Ireland was created and especially over the years of the Troubles, not only schools and churches, but shops, streets, bars, sports, businesses, after-school activities, jobs and certain areas of towns or cities have come to be seen as either only for Catholics or only for Protestants. This isn’t healthy, and I think this is what Obama was referring to, rather than just the issue of religious education, which I fully support.

    • UpstateAlan

      Thank you for adding a note of reason based on personal experience. My family left Northern Ireland for the US in 1950, and I was able to grow up in neighborhoods where all religions mixed and I’m glad I did.