J. Peter Nixon August 27, 2008 - 12:10pm
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.