Got news? Democrats’ house divided

It’s fair to say that nine-term Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak is not a poster boy for conservatives, even for conservative Democrats. An opponent of the Iraq war, active on environmental issues, watch him being skewered above by radio host Rush Limbaugh for his criticism of advertising by the pharmaceutical industry.

But Stupak, a former police officer, does represent the bread-and-butter, working/middle-class constituencies which once provided the backbone of the Democratic Party — and included many who strongly opposed abortion. Remind you of someone else? It sure does the Wall Street Journal’s Main Street columnist Willam McGurn.

Someone ought to tell the president and the speaker of the House that they are creating a new Bob Casey problem for their party. And his name is Bart Stupak.

The Bob Casey in question is the late governor of Pennsylvania, so famously humiliated at the 1992 Democratic convention. Party officials who denied the podium to the pro-life Democrat somehow found speaking slots for several pro-choice Republicans. That moment helped tar the Democrats as a party of abortion intolerance — a problem the party thought it put behind it in 2006 when the governor’s son, Democrat Robert Casey Jr., was elected senator as a pro-life Democrat.

Now party elders are making the Casey mistake all over again. A nine-term congressman from northern Michigan, Mr. Stupak is the kind of Catholic who once constituted the heart of the Democratic Party. Just like Gov. Casey before him, Mr. Stupak’s stand for life — in this case, his fight against tax dollars for abortion — is making him a thorn in the side of a Democratic president.

It’s not that Stupak hasn’t been in the news — Terry praised an article by the New York Times’ David Kirkpatrick last week that noted Stupak’s crucial role in pushing for restrictions on federal funds in the House. It’s not even that Stupak is one of a tiny handful of Democrats — though they are still very much in the minority, last year’s elections added more anti-abortion Democrats to the rolls in the House.

What McGurn picks up on is the Casey connection — and the relative silence from the Congressman’s normal allies on topics that include life issues on the religious left. That includes “progressive” (oy, can’t we find another word?) Catholics who both supported Obama and are anti-abortion. The question, of course, is why. We’ll have to wait to hear from some of them to find out — or someone in the media will need to ask!

Given that the White House has been relatively silent on the issue, that the House and Senate are so polarized, and that the Hyde amendment banning Federal funds for abortion is debatably being challenged, McGurn focuses on what may turn out to be a crucial moment for both the Obama administration and anti-abortion Democrats. Good get.

A few more comments.

I’d be very surprised if the coming debate on these bills in the Senate and House doesn’t bring increased focus on abortion, and other controversial parts of the bill (want to talk Medicare?) from the American public. For an interview with Stupak that explains some of the fiendishly complex issues around the health care debate, read Dan Gilgoff’s God & Country blog.

But one moral angle that McGurn doesn’t discuss (Got business?) is that the health care bills under discussion effectually subsidize policies hawked by the mega-insurance companies — which is an issue that I would think would concern those on the religious left. Almost half of private insurance companies provide insurance for elective abortion.

To only provide access and government money to those who don’t insure abortions, or to ask insurance companies who want to compete to stop insuring them, would be government regulation in private industry. Republicans classically are loathe to do that, and, when push comes to shove, so are many Democrats. I wonder why so few, on the religious left or right, are talking about that angle? Any guesses?

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  • Jerry

    government regulation in private industry. Republicans classically are loathe to do that, and, when push comes to shove, so are many Democrats. I wonder why so few, on the religious left or right, are talking about that angle? Any guesses?

    As illustrates, Republicans are pro-government in personal affairs and anti-government in ecomomic ones. Democrats are the reverse. Libertarians are anti- for both and statists are pro- for both.

    But the subject of this post reminds me of the famous quote I am not a member of any organized party — I am a Democrat. Republicans tend to be the opposite. When President Bush proposed a large increase in government with a large increase in the deficit and a big goodie for Pharma in the prescription drugs law, Republicans obediently went along. When a Democrat proposes something to a Democratic congress, the bickering that happens is as inevitable as spring following winter.

  • Davis

    Despite McGurn’s assertion, the House isn’t divided. Stupak got a whopping 24 Democrats to sign on. And for his opinion column, he talked to exactly two people: Stupak and a pro-life activist. I realize columnists don’t have to be balanced or actually report, but is this really a key moment if it only involved 24 members and an interest group with almost no sway in the party?

    I wonder why so few, on the religious left or right, are talking about that angle? Any guesses?

    They are, the media just isn’t paying attention. “Religious left” groups have used this argument in advocating for a public option. But reporters don’t call them, because they agree with the White House. Instead, reporters are waiting for smoke signals from the Vatican or the latest press release from Focus on the Family, who oppose the White House. The voices are there, they just don’t fit the media narrative that religious voices = abortion.

  • Dave

    “progressive” (oy, can’t we find another word?)


  • dalea

    A nine-term congressman from northern Michigan

    Michiganders distinguish between LP and UP: lower and upper peninsula. The term northern Michigan does not really describe anything.

    Left blogs are discussing these issues all the time, with many pro-life Democrats speaking. In general, these pro-lifers do not favor making abortion illegal and will settle for more support for pregnant women. Stupak seems to be isolated even from them.

  • tmatt


    Then these “pro-life Democrats” are not members of Democrats for Life.

    I predict that you will find that most of them favor major restrictions on abortion with, at most, abortion on demand in only the first trimester. That was the position taken as recently as 2000 by John Kerry, for example. That would be a strict interpretation of what was legally possible UNDER ROE, but not under the “mental health” decisions. See, for example, Obama’s discussion of that clause in his controversial interview with Relevant magazine (was that the one? someone help me on that).

  • Harris

    Dalea: Stupak’s seat encompasses the UP and the upper portion of the Lower, so it is properly, “northern Michigan.”