Sebelius At Georgetown

As students traded fisticuffs in the audience, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made a fiery speech at Georgetown University today, acknowledging Otto von Bismarck’s 19th century “kulturkampf” against the Catholic Church as “our administration’s template” and vowing to “place Plan B contraception in every American woman’s purse” by the end of 2012. Alluding to the opposition to her appearance by Washington archbishop Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Sebelius quoted Henry II’s plea to his nobles during his conflict with St. Thomas of Canterbury: “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”

Just kidding, of course. Though there was one heckler, Sebelius’ appearance at Georgetown was largely a mild-mannered event, according to The Hill‘s Elise Viebeck. She spoke of the controversy over the administration’s contraception coverage mandate only indirectly:

Sebelius noted in her speech that public policy debates can be contentious and the conversations over difficult issues “can be painful.”

“But this is a strength of our country, not a weakness,” said Sebelius. “In some countries around the world, it is much easier to make policy,” she said. “The leader delivers an edict and it goes into effect. There’s no debate, no press, no criticism, no second guessing.”

This was presumably a response to the frequent descriptions of her by various bishops as a tyrant threatening religious liberty, a topic she also addressed more generally:

Sebelius referred to the tumult of the 1960s and appealed to the audience to remember former President Kennedy’s call for a country “where no religious body seeks to impose its will … upon the general populace” and where “an act against one church is … an act against us all.”

As for the idea that she had no business showing her face at Georgetown:

She also expressed a fondness for Georgetown, where her husband and son attended.

“In my family, Hoya Saxa comes second only to Rock Chalk Jayhawk,” said Seblius, the former governor of Kansas.

Sebelius alluded to her background as a Catholic who was educated at a Catholic girls’ school in Cincinnati:

Sebelius described herself as an “accidental feminist” who learned girls can do anything “by attending an all-girls school where we had to do everything.”

Including, it appears, schooling the hierarchy of her Church on how to engage in civil discussion.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.