“Maybe the president of Notre Dame could redeem himself on Commencement Day this May 17th by introducing the president of the United States to the assembled graduates as ‘our nation’s second Stephen Douglas.’”

This is the not-completely-tongue-in-cheek suggestion of Jesuit Father Edward Oakes, in an article posted today at First Things entitled Can Barack Obama Be Converted on Abortion?

Father Oakes teaches theology at the University of St. Mary of the Lake, the seminary for the Archdiocese of Chicago. He bases his suggestion that Obama might not be hopelessly wedded to the pro-abortion agenda on the words of Obama himself.

Quoting passages from Obama’s campaign autobiography The Audacity of Hope, Father Oakes notes how Alan Keyes nettled Obama when the two black American politicians tangled in the 2004U.S. Senate race in Illinois.

By arguing Obama was not authentic in his Christian faith and by casting abortion as a civil rights issue on which Obama had adopted a “slaveholder’s position,” Keyes cast himself as the contemporary moral analog to Abraham Lincoln in his famous U.S. Senate campaign against Stephen Douglas in 1858, Father Oakes says.

Keyes made little headway with voters by painting his race against Obama in moral terms. But Father Oakes suggests Obama’s obvious discomfort with Keyes’s accusations remains significant.

The president freely admits in The Audacity of Hope that Keyes left him “frequently tongue-tied, irritable, and uncharacteristically tense” when they debated. Wrote Obama:

Alan Keyes presented the essential vision of the religious right in this country, shorn of all caveat, compromise, or apology. Within its own terms, it was entirely coherent, and provided Mr. Keyes with the certainty and fluency of an Old Testament prophet. And while I found it simple enough to dispose of his constitutional and policy arguments, his readings of Scripture put me on the defensive.

Mr. Obama says he’s a Christian, Mr. Keyes would say, and yet he supports a lifestyle that the Bible calls an abomination.

Mr. Obama says he’s a Christian, but he supports the destruction of innocent and sacred life.

What could I say? That a literal reading of the Bible was folly? That Mr. Keyes, a Roman Catholic, should disregard the pope’s teachings? Unwilling to go there, I answered with the usual liberal response in such debates — that we live in a pluralistic society, that I can’t impose my religious views on another, that I was running to be a U.S. senator from Illinois and not the minister of Illinois. But even as I answered, I was mindful of Mr. Keyes’s implicit accusation — that I remained steeped in doubt, that my faith was adulterated, that I was not a true Christian.

Father Oakes suggests that Obama’s discomfort with being portrayed as an un-Christian violator of the civil rights of the lives of unborn children gives rise to the possibility, albeit a very slight one, that Obama’s unease might prompt him to revisit his position on abortion.

Concludes Father Oakes, “But based on his campaign autobiography, I hold to at least this small — and therefore truly audacious — hope: When it comes to abortion, Barack Obama does not like being compared to Stephen Douglas. Maybe the president of Notre Dame could redeem himself on Commencement Day this May 17th by introducing the president of the United States to the assembled graduates as ‘our nation’s second Stephen Douglas.’”