Possible Casey speech at DNC focuses attention on Democrats’ abortion platform

Sen. Barack Obama
Sen. Barack Obama


The extent to which the Democratic Party’s support for legalized abortion will alienate Catholic voters is an issue political commentators and politicians are carefully considering in the months before the United States’ national election in November. ...

While Catholic pro-life Democrat Sen. Bob Casey is being considered for a speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Denver this August, any goodwill gained by such a move could be lost if convention delegates approve a proposal that would further establish support for abortion rights in the Democratic party platform.

Sen. Casey, who represents Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate, is the son of former Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey, Sr. At the 1992 Democratic National Convention in New York City, Governor Casey was refused a speaking spot because of his pro-life views. According to the New York Times, many Catholics considered the refusal a slight.

Sen. Casey’s consideration for a speaking slot at the 2008 convention is believed to reflect Democrats’ concerns about their appeal to Catholics, who were once a reliable Democratic voting bloc but decisively favored President George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election. Further, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama badly lost the Catholic vote in his presidential primary race against Sen. Hillary Clinton.

In the key swing state of Pennsylvania, Catholic voters preferred Clinton to Obama by a 40-point margin.

According to the New York Times, DNC Chairman Howard Dean said the choice of Sen. Casey as a convention speaker would be made by Sen. Obama, but claimed any prominent role for Casey would assist Obama’s efforts to appeal to Catholic voters.

Sen. Casey replied to the mention of a speaking slot by saying that he has not yet received a formal offer from Sen. Obama or the Democratic Party, but he added “I think we’ll get something worked out.”

William A. Galston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, said a Casey speech at the convention could appeal to Catholics, whom Galston considers to be exemplary swing voters.

“I spend a lot of time with Catholic intellectuals, and no matter how liberal they are and inclined to support Democrats, they speak with vehemence about the exclusion of Casey’s father from the 1992 convention,” Galston said to the New York Times. “They don’t accept any of the explanations. I think it would be a dramatic act of historical rectification that would resonate with Catholics.”

Leonard Leo, a director of Catholic outreach for Republicans in 2004 and informal advisor to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, said a Sen. Casey appearance would not sway most Catholics.

“He might get a slight bump from Casey among Catholics generally, but it doesn’t get him all the way there because Casey-the-Younger isn’t his father, and Mass-attending Catholics have figured that out,” Leo argued.

A recent Zogby poll showed Sen. John McCain beating Sen. Barack Obama among Catholics 50 to 34 percent. Last week Zogby polling analyst Fritz Wenzel told CNA that McCain has a “natural advantage” among Catholics because of his pro-life stance.

While the Democratic Party’s platform typically includes a strong endorsement of abortion rights, the version of the platform for 2008 is even more pro-abortion, having dropped a phrase advocating that abortions should be safe, legal and rare.

"The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right," the platform says, according to the Associated Press.

Mark Stricherz, political commentator and author of the book “Why the Democrats are Blue” spoke to CNA about Casey’s possible speaking role and the proposed change in the Democratic platform.

Stricherz said the discussion surrounding Casey is mostly “speculation” because it does not address whether Casey’s speech will have any explicit pro-life content.

“It’s impossible to say what he’s going to do,” Stricherz said, characterizing the report of a Casey speech as a “trial balloon.”

“The Obama campaign wanted to see how the abortion industry and feminists would react to the suggestion of Casey giving a speech,” Stricherz suggested, noting that Obama has had some difficulties with Hillary Clinton’s feminist supporters.

When asked to comment on a hypothetical pro-life DNC speech from Sen. Casey, Stricherz reckoned such a speech would help Catholic Democrats justify their political loyalties.

“Pro-life and Catholic elites, especially the ones who are moderate and liberal, could go to their supporters in the media and say that the Democratic Party has moderated on this issue,” he said.

“Casey’s very important for the pro-life Democratic elite, but I just don’t see how it would have a big effect on voters.”

Stricherz predicted that any speech by Sen. Casey would anger abortion advocates: “They’d be upset. They see themselves as one vote away from their major decision being overturned, it’d really hurt their business.

“I don’t know how many of them think tactically and realize that actually giving Casey a speech at the podium would be a good thing because it would make the party seem more moderate on cultural issues,” he continued. “They just see this in terms of ‘this is hurting our interests.’”

Stricherz said the reported elimination of the “safe, legal and rare” wording from the proposed party platform means “the feminists have even more power over the party platform, if that’s possible.”

The commissions whose members decide the party platform, Stricherz explained, “can mean a lot.” In 1976, he said, “feminists outvoted the Catholics” on a plank concerning Roe v. Wade.

Making general comments about the state of the pro-life cause in the Democratic Party, Stricherz was not optimistic.

“I think that pro-lifers in the Democratic Party are naïve,” he said. “They don’t seem to realize the power of the abortion industry and the feminists in the party. At least publicly, pro-life Democrats’ rhetoric says ‘the party can change if it just does a few things’.”

“No,” Stricherz countered, “the party has to negotiate with the feminists and the abortion industry, and those folks have no interest in negotiating. They’ve got what they want.”

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