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Issue Date:  November 26, 2004

The revenge of Bob Casey

Abortion is a losing issue for the Democratic Party


My wife is a Democrat. Her family home in Chicago is lined with photos of the Kennedys. She remembers Saul Alinsky organizing neighborhood groups in the living room of her childhood home at the invitation of her mother and father. She volunteered on the Eugene McCarthy campaign. She worked as a floor runner at the 1968 Democratic Convention. Adlai Stevenson was a household icon.

My wife is a Democrat. Always was, always will be -- at least in her heart. But she hasn’t voted for a major Democratic candidate in more than 25 years. And therein lies a lesson for any Democrat who wants to understand the debris of the 2004 election.

I met my wife before I had returned to my childhood faith. One day I made the mistake of poking fun at those Neanderthal Catholic views on abortion. What I got for my ignorance was a kindly but memorable tutoring on the sanctity of human life.

For my wife and her family, being a Catholic meant being a Democrat, and being a Democrat meant fighting for the little guy -- literally. That included the poor, the homeless, racial and ethnic minorities and the unemployed. It also meant defending the unborn child.

For my wife, arguing whether an unborn child was a “full human person” or a “developing human being” was irrelevant -- or worse, a kind of lying. The dignity of the unborn life involved was exactly the same, whatever one called it.

In the years since the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion on demand, my wife and I have struggled many times with the choice of voting Democratic. Our youngest son has Down syndrome, and Democratic policies often benefit the disabled in ways Republican policies don’t.

But it’s also true that children like our son are becoming extinct in part because the abortion lobby has a stranglehold on the Democratic Party platform, with all that it implies for legislation and judicial appointments. The easiest response to handicapped children is to kill them before they arrive. That’s not a solution. That’s homicide.

As Mother Teresa said throughout her ministry among the poor, abortion is the seed of war. We can’t build a just society while killing a million unborn children a year. No matter how much good we try to do, we can’t outrun the effects of that most intimate form of violence against women and children.

Not so long ago, leading Democrats understood this. Robert P. Casey, governor of Pennsylvania from 1987 to 1995, embodied the deepest ideals of the Democratic Party: pro-worker; pro-minority; pro-economic and social justice; and also thoroughly pro-life, from conception to natural death. In arguing for the rights of the unborn child, he worried that the Democratic Party was becoming “little more than an auxiliary” of the abortion industry.

For his candor, the Clinton machine publicly humiliated him by denying him the opportunity to address the 1992 Democratic Convention. Other prominent “Catholic” Democrats -- including fellow governor and media darling Mario Cuomo -- looked the other way.

In his 1996 autobiography, Casey warned: “Many people discount the power of the so-called ‘cultural issues’ -- and especially the abortion issue. I see it the other way around. These issues are central to the resurgence of the Republicans, central to the national implosion of the Democrats, central to the question of whether there will be a third party. … [The] Democrats’ national decline -- or, better, their national disintegration -- will continue relentlessly and inexorably until they come to grips with these values issues, primarily abortion.”

Bob Casey isn’t around to see the 32-state crater his party left in this year’s election. He died in 2000, loyal -- to the end -- to his party, his Catholic faith and his convictions about the dignity of all human life, born and unborn.

But is anybody left to learn from Casey’s warning? Don’t count on it. Hundreds of thousands of traditional Democrats, barred from any real voice in the party, have simply left. And the tumor within the party has only worsened as the culture war has widened from abortion to the nature of marriage.

California’s Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein warns cluelessly that gay marriage was pushed too fast -- as if the troglodytes in the red states (and oh, yeah, in Oregon) need more time to see the light. Others point to Bush’s personality, or Karl Rove’s evil genius, or John Kerry’s bumbling campaign team. The list of excuses is endless.

The 2004 election wasn’t about “personality.” It was about character -- the Bob Casey, moral values kind. Democrats used to be able to tell the difference. That they no longer can is why my Democrat wife, and millions of people just like her, had no trouble at all pulling the lever for Republicans on Nov. 2.

Francis X. Maier is chancellor of the Denver archdiocese.

National Catholic Reporter, November 26, 2004

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