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Two Caseys

While much of the attention yesterday was on Hillary Clinton, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) may have had the best line of the night. Observing that Senator John McCain (R-AZ) had voted with President Bush 90 percent of the time, he quipped: "That's not a maverick, that's a sidekick!"As David Gibson and others observed, Casey's address was notable for its symbolism. Casey's father, the former governor of Pennsylvania, was denied the chance to speak at the 1992 Democratic Convention. While Clinton campaign officials argued that this was because he had refused to endorse the Clinton-Gore ticket, many pro-life Democrats believed-and continue to believe-that Governor Casey was excluded from the podium because of his strong pro-life views.There was much speculation about what Senator Casey would say last night. While he mentioned his father, he did not directly mention the 1992 dispute. With respect to the issue of abortion, Casey mentioned it only briefly:

Barack Obama and I have an honest disagreement on the issue of abortion. But the fact that I'm speaking here tonight is testament to Barack's ability to show respect for the views of people who may disagree with him.

I will confess to being disappointed that Senator Casey treated the issue with such brevity. While I recognize the political realities, I think more could have been said. The issue for many pro-life Democrats is not merely whether Senator Obama respects the views of Senator Casey, but whether the party as a whole is genuinely open to dialogue on this issue. I would have liked to see Senator Casey explain why he feels that the Democratic Party's uncompromising defense of abortion on demand is at variance with its historic commitment to those-to use the words of Hubert Humphrey-in the shadows of life, in the dawn of life, and in the twilight of life.There is no question that making such a statement would have created an awkward moment. I recently finished Archbishop Chaput's book Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Public Life. It will not surprise regular readers to learn that the Archbishop and I are not in accord on all matters. Nevertheless, I found myself in deep agreement with his argument that to be a member of the Body of Christ is to be called to courageous witness for justice. Such witness may, at times, demand that we be willing to confront those with whom we share much. Speaking truth to power may, in fact, be less difficult than speaking the truth to our friends. This was an opportunity forthat kind of witness. Sadly, I think it was an opportunity missed.

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Amen to that Peter.Like the quote from Humphrey, one of the last, of that breed of Democrat that had such popular and moral appeal.As Jonson said, nothing convinces like conviction. I think most people are naturally pro-life. When the issue is framed around legality, there is reticence but there is wide and broad support for a basic pro-life orientation and supporting reasonable legislation to protect it.A pro-life Democrat couldn't lose!!!! Why the Democrats don't see that is beyond me.They are poised to lose this election. Some are already talking like losers (i heard one Democratic pundit say that USA is center right, Obama too intellectual......). Sheeesh.I like Obama but I think he is going to lose the general election and it has nothing to do with race, or intellect, or anything else. It does have something to do with the whole values issues. Michelle did a good job. The Clinton's definitely have to exit stage left. New blood. But they have to find a better way to address this issue.

Mr. Nixon - agree with your comments but the chapter on speaking the truth to friends and to power is a two way street. See Pelosi's response to the US hierarchy from Rocco Palmo: "After an unprecedented tongue-lashing from the nation's senior church leadership -- including the archbishops of New York, Washington, Denver and representatives of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops -- a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued the following statement earlier today:The Speaker is the mother of five children and seven grandchildren and fully appreciates the sanctity of family. She was raised in a devout Catholic family who often disagreed with her pro-choice views.After she was elected to Congress, and the choice issue became more public as she would have to vote on it, she studied the matter more closely. Her views on when life begins were informed by the views of Saint Augustine, who said: the law does not provide that the act [abortion] pertains to homicide, for there cannot yet be said to be a live soul in a body that lacks sensation (Saint Augustine, On Exodus 21.22)While Catholic teaching is clear that life begins at conception, many Catholics do not ascribe to that view. The Speaker agrees with the Church that we should reduce the number of abortions. She believes that can be done by making family planning more available, as well as by increasing the number of comprehensive age-appropriate sex education and caring adoption programs.The Speaker has a long, proud record of working with the Catholic Church on many issues, including alleviating poverty and promoting social justice and peace. I could also highlight one of the last presentations by Avery Cardinal Dulles who speaks about Vatican II, the rights of the laity, and the right to dissent.Sorry, but the "piling on" of these gentlemen (all knee deep in their own troubles over sexual abuse cover-ups - that is also a pro-life issue) is neither pastoral nor respectful. Margaret Somerville, ethicist at McGill University, has some interesting points about positioning moral issues in the public square: link - Shortcut to: http://www.newcatholictimes.com/index.php?module=articles&func=display&p... - here is a post from NCR Online - these folks get it versus the hierarchy: Shortcut to: http://ncronline3.org/drupal/?q=node/1583

I think it's a big mistake to criticize Casey here and in David Gibson's thread below for not being more of a firebrand. Tepid or not, Casey did stand up to say what Catholic prolife Democrats have been wanting someone to say for many years.Any of us here, I'm sure, could have written a much more palatable speech--a speech that would have been sliced, diced and pruned by the committee of gatekeepers, handlers and image makers that run the show that the conventions have become.Rather than criticize Casey for not being a firebrand standard bearer on abortion, might it not be wiser to praise him for his courage in swimming against the current on the abortion issue? A show of support for his comments, however brief and mild, might signal other Democratic politicians that being more openly pro-life is a viable position within the party.

With all due respect Peter, how can you be at all surprised? At the national level, the Democratic party and its candidates are in the pocket of NARAL, NOW and Planned Parenthood. There is no soul-searching going on. I don't think pro-life Democrats should give up, but I think they really need to internalize the cold hard fact of the money trail.

Jean--I think Casey could have at least mentioned the Pregnant Women Support Act. He mentioned it in the Beliefnet interview excerpted by David Gibson yesterday, and he mentioned it during his NPR interview yesterday morning. The statute has some modicum of bipartisan support, and I see it as a put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is piece of legislation for people of all political stripes and for people on both sides of the abortion issue. I think Casey didn't mention it, of course, because though it has been pending before the Senate (and the House) for some time, Senator Obama has not signed on to it. In fact, when Sen. Casey was asked in the Beliefnet interview whether Obama supports the legislation, Casey replied: "He's spoken about it." What is that supposed to mean? Either Obama really doesn't support it (and that flys in the face of his commitment to the poor, etc.), or he does support and he is afraid of the hue and cry that would be raised by Naral, etc. Either way, I think he is losing an opportunity to pick up votes from both estranged Democrats like me and Catholic Republicans who might vote for him but for his abortion stance.

William, I actually thought of you when I listened to Casey's speech, and I was pretty sure he hadn't wooed you back to the party..He is a dull speaker, and he simply "came out" as a pro-life Democrat without much comment.In the larger scheme, however, he's the first pro-life Democrat willing to talk about this in many years, the first who's probably been allowed to do so by the party image makers. The fact that he's made the point that there are pro-life Democrats may make it easier for others to start the conversation. Assuming, of course, that he doesn't catch so much flak from both sides that other pro-life Democrats feel it's just better to shut up and compromise.I'm not trying to make Casey's comments out to be any kind of big victory. But sometimes small steps, no?

"Nevertheless, I found myself in deep agreement with his argument that to be a member of the Body of Christ is to be called to courageous witness for justice. Such witness may, at times, demand that we be willing to confront those with whom we share much. Speaking truth to power may, in fact, be less difficult than speaking the truth to our friends. This was an opportunity for that kind of witness. Sadly, I think it was an opportunity missed."Is it not also "courageous witness for justice" to call for the resignation of Cardinal George (and other bishops) who has proven time and time again to be deaf to the justice for victims of pedophilia. Cafeteria Catholics seem to exist all over the place.

Anybody have a link to the speech? Everybody's been talking about it, and I've been out all day and can't seem to find it. Early word of mouth from folks I spoke with were pretty much what Peter said above, and I was ready to be disappointed. But I think Jean makes a good point. Again, at least there is movement on the Dem side. (We have yet to see if the GOP will do anything on the issue.) Casey, and the party, are in a tough spot, especially try to fend off the angry Clintonistas. Go too far from the pro-choice base, and bye-bye White House. But my evangelical, pro-life Mom liked the Casey speech! Go figure. Maybe she liked what he saud about jobs or something silly like that...

Jean--Small steps are something, sure, but I've become impatient after so many years of seeing the DP hierarchy stifle even discussion (imagine that, talking!) about the unborn. I was a good soldier and voted for Clinton (x2), Gore, and Kerry in the hope that the DP's perspective on the issue would broaden, but it didn't, and I didn't interpret Sen. Casey's speech as anything more than symbolic. Symbols just aren't enough for me anymore on this issue.What would have really influenced me was if Sen. Casey had been allowed to give the speech his father planned to give in 1992. But even I knew that was a pipe dream. :)

I too liked Casey's speech. Peter and others may wish that Casey had said something else. But Casey, as as an elected official, is supposed to represent his constituents, but not simply be their mouthpiece. Why not give the guy credit for giving a good speech, without insisting that he give just the speech that I, or Peter, or William would have liked to hear. Those of us who are not elected representatives can certainly just speak our minds. Elected representatives have other considerations to weigh.

"Her views on when life begins were informed by the views of Saint Augustine, who said: the law does not provide that the act [abortion] pertains to homicide, for there cannot yet be said to be a live soul in a body that lacks sensation (Saint Augustine, On Exodus 21.22)While Catholic teaching is clear that life begins at conception, many Catholics do not ascribe to that view"Hey, wait, Bill DeH and Speaker of the House -- So far as I can tell the Church's official position is NOT that there is a person present from the moment of conception. On the contrary, with Augustine and the great medieval ethicians, it thinks that the little creature is NOT a person until later in the gestation process. However, the Church also teaches, again with those august ancients, that the non-person that is present at the beginning has the right to life of a person. This is what I find to be essentially irrational. How can a non-person have a person's right to life? The bishops don't tell us *why* they have this right,, and so far as I know, neither do the ancients.Why is everyone so unwilling to get down to the most basic issues? What is a person? How do you tell one when you find one? When does the little creature have a right to life? And why? Why? Why? If we want to dialogue we must give reasons.

Jean (and others):Just to be clear, I wasn't looking for Sen. Casey to be a "firebrand" on abortion or any other issue. To be honest, I thought my bar for him was pretty low. What I was looking for would require the touch of a surgeon rather than a butcher. Even a surgeon, though, has to cut deeply enough to draw blood.I speak and write as someone with very strong historic ties to the Democratic Party. I've probably volunteered for some candidate at some level in almost every election cycle over the past 20+ years. I'm not a die-hard party loyalist and I think that Christians need to wear their partisan affiliations lightly, but I do believe that such involvement makes a contribution to the common good. Political parties have been wonderful vehicles for involving ordinary Americans in the political process and there are many things that Democrats have stood for over the last century--labor unions, civil rights, Social Security, Medicare--that help remind me why I'm still a member. There's still nothing like the cross section of people you meet at a Democratic phone banking operation two weeks before election day.I've been conditioned not to expect much from my party with respect to abortion, but I'll admit that I had some hopes this year, both based on some of the "learning" that went on after the 2004 election and Sen. Obama's relative openness on the issue compared to some other Democrats (including Catholic Democrats) I could name. I have to say I've been disappointed. I still think the new platform language is actually worse rather than better and while I think it's nice that Sen. Casey spoke, his comments on the issue were much more truncated than his earlier comments (see the interview referenced in David Gibson's post) had suggested they would be. So as I said, I'm disappointed. It doesn't mean that the Senator is a bad person. I just wanted to hear more.

Ann, you say:"So far as I can tell the Churchs official position is NOT that there is a person present from the moment of conception. On the contrary, with Augustine and the great medieval ethicians, it thinks that the little creature is NOT a person until later in the gestation process. However, the Church also teaches, again with those august ancients, that the non-person that is present at the beginning has the right to life of a person. This is what I find to be essentially irrational. How can a non-person have a persons right to life? The bishops dont tell us *why* they have this right,, and so far as I know, neither do the ancients."True, the Church has never declared at what official point the soul enters the body. True, theologians over the centuries have speculated differently. But the Church does teach there is a person present at conception. And even if she didn't, she wouldn't have to. Modern biology tells us that a new distinct human being with a unique DNA set is present at conception. Personhood, in the eyes of the Church, is not predicated on when the soul enters the body. The Church, unlike some Greek philosophers, and unlike Gnostics, does not see the soul and body as two distinct things. We don't have bodies, we ARE bodies. For some Greek philosophers, the body is something to be shed at death, like a snake shedding its skin. Christians believe in Resurrection of the body.If I have made any errors in my explanation of Church teaching, feel free to correct me. As a Catholic U Theology grad, I know that Commonweal has contributors from my alma mater. My goal is to reflect well on my university. :-)

Peter, it would be useful to remember, I think, that Casey is now the senator of a state that has one of the oldest populations in the nation, and this is pretty much the direct result of outmigration spurred by economic devastation. People in his state are hurting. Maybe he has moved beyond the view that all progress and assistance for the economically distressed should be held hostage to resolution of abortion politics, particularly when large swaths of the population actively disagree over the issue.

Thanks for your good sense, Peter. An observation on some of the blog comments in general: Constantly hanging bishops with the abuse scandal is getting more and more useless as an argument, despite the evils of those who do sin, because it assumes guilt and ill will where there may be none, and the problem is increasingly obvious and egregious in other institutions. Even on the theoretical level, how can bishops do anything if they're being ripped at by family all the time?I agree with Peter that Casey's speech was in some sense a disappointment. I wish he had mirrored his father more clearly and forcefully. He's a United States senator, after all; what does he have to lose? BTW, I also finished Chaput's book, and while I sometimes felt uncomfortable with his arguments, his comparison of Cuomo and the elder Casey rang alarmingly true.

Peter Steinfel's interview with Douglas Kmiec, published in today's NY Times in the "Beliefs" column deserves a read.