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Why the Democrats still don't get it

By Pete Vere
web posted January 26, 2004

Kathy Shaidle, a fellow Catholic blogger, recently forwarded me her response to an interesting email she received. It came from a Howard Dean supporter named Tim Huegerich. Having performed a small internet search on Mr. Huegerich, he seems like a sincere pro-life Catholic. Which is why his attempt to recruit Catholics into Howard Dean's campaign makes absolutely no sense.

"Aside from the issue of abortion..." Tim writes, "Howard Dean in line with Catholic Social Teaching across the board, far surpassing the other candidates. He opposed the Iraq war, stands for workers and fair trade, has delivered health insurance for all children in Vermont, and has begun a revolutionary change in politics by attracting thousands of disenchanted non-voters and financing his campaign with contributions from ordinary people averaging less than $100."

Kathy's response to the concept of "Catholics for Dean" is rather appropriate. "This is so embarrassing..." she writes. While there is no question I would be a Democrat if every issue held equal weight, the truth is that some issues are more important than others. Abortion is one such issue. As a practicing Catholic, the right to life is non-negotiable. Period.

Hence the problem with every presidential candidate running within the Democrat primaries: 1) The Democratic nominees don't get the abortion issue; 2) The Democratic party doesn't want to get the abortion issue; and 3) No Democratic presidential candidate even wishes to try and understand how practicing Catholics approach the abortion issue and why we think the way we do. Thus I am likely wasting my time in stating the obvious.

To a practicing Catholic, what lay in a woman's womb is not just some anonymous blob of cancerous tissue. Rather, it is a human life. Abortion ends that human life. Therefore a Catholic is no more open to negotiating the abortion issue than an African American is open to debate over slavery. Catholics believe that abortion is murder, and when the state permits abortion, Catholics believe that abortion is state sanctioned murder. Regardless of whatever stance a candidate puts forward when it comes to other issues, abortion trumps them all. As practicing Catholics we believe in freedom of choice within the abortion debate only insofar as a well-formed Catholic conscience always chooses a pro-life candidate over one who is pro-abortion. We simply have a hard time voting for politicians who campaign on the killing – rather than the kissing – of babies.

When I mentioned this uncomfortable fact (at least from the perspective of a pro-life Deaniac) to Mr. Huegerich, he replied: "You underestimate the gravity of these ‘other issues.' 24,000 people die every day around the world from hunger [...] there are also 42 million uninsured Americans enduring untold suffering." These are indeed legitimate issues that concern the Church's social teaching. Yet like her system of governance, the Church's social teaching is of a hierarchical nature. Catholic social justice begins with the right to life, from which all other social rights and obligations flow. The state's duty is to protect this fundamental right. Common sense dictates that a butchered baby laying in a Planned Barrenhood dumpster has no need of socialized healthcare.

There once was an exception to the Democrat's well-deserved reputation as the Abortion Party. His name was Bob Casey. He was the Governor of Pennsylvania. Back when we lived in Scranton, our family had the good fortune of moving into the Governor's neighborhood. In fact, we often stopped to converse whenever we met on the sidewalk. Governor Casey was a principled Catholic, a principled politician and a principled Democrat. If he were still living, I would support his presidential campaign over that of any Republican candidate.

Throughout the Governor's political career, the right to life was non-negotiable. He put his faith first and his political aspirations second. Yet when the DNC silenced Governor Casey at the 1992 convention, it became clear that there was no longer any room left in the Democratic Party for practicing Catholics – an observation since confirmed by the Senate Democrat's fillibustering of any pro-life judicial nominee. The DNC silenced the debate over abortion and sent practicing Catholics packing for the GOP and various third parties. The Republicans did not use abortion as a wedge issue, rather the DNC handed us over to the GOP. And if pro-life Catholics are now wary about engaging in bona fide dialogue in the Democratic Party over abortion, as Mr. Huegerich alleges, it is because the Democrats shut down the dialogue and showed their lack of good faith when they silenced Governor Casey.

Whatever other faults one may find with Dubya and the Republican Party – and the Republican pro-life record is far from perfect – there is still room under the Republican tent to argue the pro-life case. This is not the case with the Democrats who, in the interest of short-term political expediency, chose to abort their traditional Catholic constituency. Having subsequently lost the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives and several key Governor's mansions, their post-electoral-abortion syndrome is the consequence of this decision.

Pete Vere, JCL is a canon lawyer and a Catholic social and religious commentator from Sudbury, Ontario. He now writes from Florida, where he and his family enjoy no state income tax along with life within walking distance of the Gulf of Mexico. His work has been published in numerous Canadian and American Catholic publications.

 

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