John M. Broder of The New York Times wrote that Barack Obama’s campaign is likely to give a speaking slot at the Democratic convention later this month to Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, Jr., whose late father was famously denied the privilege:
Sixteen years ago, the Democratic Party refused to allow Robert P. Casey Sr., then the governor of Pennsylvania, to speak at its national convention because his anti-abortion views, stemming from his Roman Catholic faith, clashed with the party’s platform and powerful constituencies. Many Catholics, once a reliable Democratic voting bloc, never forgot what they considered a slight.
This year, the party is considering giving a speaking slot at the convention to Mr. Casey’s son, Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, who like his late father is a Roman Catholic who opposes abortion rights …
The Obama campaign is being close-mouthed about its convention plans and would not confirm whether Mr. Casey would be given a prime-time speaking slot. Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said that the call was Mr. Obama’s, but that a prominent speaking role for Mr. Casey would assist in the candidate’s efforts to woo Roman Catholic voters.
Mr. Casey, who endorsed Mr. Obama early and campaigned extensively for him in Pennsylvania, said there was no formal offer yet from Mr. Obama or the party. But, he said, “I think we’ll get something worked out.”
I have enjoyed Broder’s stories about the presidential campaign this year. But this story struck me as more of a political trial balloon floated by the Obama campaign than an examination of the national Democratic Party’s newfound approach toward Catholic voters and the issue of abortion. (Read this old tmatt column for the late Gov. Casey’s view of the diversity of the Catholic vote.)
For one thing, the story lacks essential details about Casey’s speech. What will it be about? Will it call for changing the party’s plank in favor of legalized and taxpayer-financed abortion? Or will it call for reducing the number of abortions through increasing access to contraception or, as Casey’s legislation calls for, increasing housing, maternal, and childcare support?
For another thing, the story is a curiously Orwellian rewriting of political history. For years, reporters invariably included the standard Democratic disclaimer about Casey Sr.’s exclusion from the podium at the 1992 Democratic convention: Casey was not barred because his speech was pro-life, but rather because he failed to endorse the party’s presidential nominee. Now this story, as well as others, affirm Casey’s Jr.’s account, as well as mine: Casey was barred because his speech was anti-abortion. What gives?
Perhaps Broder and his editors never bought into this falsehood. Yet, and this is the third weakness in the story, the article never gets a reaction from liberal feminists and abortion-rights supporters. What do they have to say about Casey’s speech?
Those groups are the ones to ask, not the working-class Democrats who are moderate and even conservative on the issue . After all, they likely pressured nominee Bill Clinton in 1992 to block Casey from speaking. On the day that Casey, Sr. would have spoken, Clinton in his only appearance of the day attended a reception for the National Women’s Political Caucus. “It makes a difference whether,” he said, “whether the president believes in a woman’s right to choose, and I do.”
Finally, the story asserts that Casey Sr.’s position on abortion stemmed form his Catholic faith. This is inartful at best and dubious at worst. In his autobiography, Casey Sr. describes his anti-abortion position in terms of traditional Judeo-Christian values, citing the biblical injunction to be your brother’s keeper. On page 145, he elaborates on the source of his position:
As governor, I viewed abortion as the gravest of a whole array of chilren’s issues. For me, it was a simple step in logic: If government has a duty to protect the powerless, then who among us was the most powerless, most defenseless, most voiceless? The answer: Children.
Broder’s story had redeeming qualities. It included long quotes from Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver, a vocal pro-life Catholic leader; former Clinton advisor Bill Galston, and Doug Kmiec. Indeed, I take faithful GR reader Julia’s point:
This article is a huge improvement over what you usually get from the NYT about Catholic concerns and the election.
Perhaps true, but the story also shows how big of an improvement is still needed.
Photo: The picture of Gov. Casey dressed up at the Pope was distributed by pro-abortion-rights Pennsylvania Democrats at the 1992 Democratic convention; the pin is courtesy of Michael Donohue.