NARAL Catholics Line Up for ObamaWILLIAM MCGURN
You are the Democratic candidate for president. You want to reach out to Catholics. So what do you do when the majority of the elected officials on your National Catholic Advisory Council have the seal of approval from NARAL Pro-Choice America?
That's the position Barack Obama now finds himself in. A few months ago, his Catholic advisory council was announced with great enthusiasm, and Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) was listed as a national co-chair. His appearance at the top of the council sent a clear message: This campaign is determined to recover some of the lost Democratic sheep who have gravitated to the GOP over abortion.
This council does indeed include some Catholics whose pro-life credentials are impeccable, including Minnesota Congressman James Oberstar. But let us also stipulate the obvious: Of the 21 senators, congressmen and governors listed on the council's National Leadership Committee, 17 have a 90%-100% NARAL approval rating. Even Mr. Casey now enjoys a 65% NARAL approval rating.
It's not as if these NARAL scores are outliers: Sen. Obama himself boasts a 100% NARAL rating, and for good reason. In a speech before Planned Parenthood, he declared that the right to an abortion is at stake in this election, and vowed that he would not yield on appointing judges that would uphold Roe v. Wade.
Mr. Obama is for using tax dollars to fund abortions, and against restrictions on partial-birth abortion. In the Illinois Senate, he voted against legislation protecting a child who was born alive despite an abortion. In sum, if you want to know what Mr. Obama's policies mean, it's this: taxpayer-funded abortion on demand.
Not fair, complains the Obama camp. They point to statements supporting adoption. They cite the story about how he removed language about "right-wing ideologues" from one of his Web sites after a pro-life doctor complained. Above all, they say he has acknowledged a moral dimension to abortion, that he's willing to listen, and that he wants to work for fewer abortions.
All very true. Yet this defense reflects a common complaint about the Obama campaign in general: When you look past the soothing language about "change" and the willingness to "listen," the actual policies and voting record are to the left of Ted Kennedy's and Bernie Sanders'.
It's a tough sell to present this record as auguring an America where there are fewer abortions. But some try. Generally there are two lines of argument. The first is to claim that Republicans have done nothing during their time in power to diminish abortion. Plainly this is not the view that Planned Parenthood promotes on its Web site, where President Bush's many actions are chronicled and listed under the heading "war on women." As Mr. Obama himself notes, moreover, Republicans generally do not appoint the kind of judges the pro-choice side demands: That is, judges who can be counted on to impose their own views upon the law on issues that ought properly be left to the American people.
The other line of argument is the They're-Just-As-Bad-As-We-Are defense. Thus the Web sites that go on and on about Catholic social teaching on war and poverty and greed and the death penalty, etc. The implication being, of course, that Republicans are on the wrong side of all these issues -- and that simply by enumerating all these concerns, you can somehow balance out the Democratic Party's singular commitment to abortion on demand.
These issues are all legitimate subjects for debate, and each can and should be argued. The problem is that abortion is not just any issue. In the language of the church, abortion is an "intrinsic evil," always and everywhere wrong.
That is what Catholics for Obama have to get around. Given this awkward fact, the political reality is that a National Catholic Advisory Council may do less to advance Mr. Obama than to alert the public about how extreme his votes and policies are -- not to mention the similar votes and policies of the Catholic politicians supporting him. Already Kathleen Sebelius -- governor of Kansas and one of the Catholic co-chairs -- has been asked by her bishop to refrain from Communion because of what he says is her support for abortion. As for Sen. Casey, well, let's just say it's hard to imagine his sainted father -- who bucked his party's president and refused to support his old friend Sen. Harris Wofford's 1994 re-election bid over the life issue -- lending his imprimatur to such a NARAL-friendly enterprise.
It's not that Catholic Democrats lack a moral language. Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.), for example, is another Catholic council member who also enjoys a 100% NARAL approval rating. During recent Senate hearings, he accused oil company executives of having "all the compassion of Burmese generals."
When Mr. Durbin is willing to use similar language to describe the taking of innocent, unborn life, we'll know we have change we can believe in.
William McGurn. "NARAL Catholics Line Up for Obama." The Wall Street Journal (June 24, 2008).
Reprinted with permission of the author and The Wall Street Journal © 2008 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
William McGurn was the chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush until February 8, 2008. Formerly an executive with Newscorp, McGurn also served as the chief editorial writer with The Wall Street Journal. From 1992 to 1998 McGurn served as the senior editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review. Prior to this he was the Washington bureau chief of National Review. McGurn is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Boston University. He is the author, with Rebecca Blank, of Is the Market Moral?.
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