Let me pick at a couple of the speechs facets. First, the 900-pound gorilla, abortion. Heres what BC, Jr. had to say:
As many of you know, I am a pro-life Democrat. I believe that life begins at conception and ends when we draw our last breath. And I believe that the role of government is to protect, enrich, and value life for everyone, at every moment, from beginning to end.
We must unite as a country, Democrats and Republicans, behind the understanding that the common good requires us to value all life. For 33 years, this issue has been used mostly as a way to divide people, even as the number of abortions continues to rise. We have to find a better way.
There have been times when members of my party have vigorously opposed me because of my position on abortion. And those of you with long memories can recall a dark night in 1992 when the national Democratic Party insulted the most courageous pro-life public official in our party who simply asked that those who believed in the right to life be accorded the right to speak. But things have changed over the ensuing 14 years. I have been encouraged to see Democrats in this new century becoming more open to people who are pro-life. The common good can be advanced by working towards common ground.
For example, pro-life Democrats in the House are on the verge of introducing legislation that would work toward real solutions to our abortion problem by targeting the underlying factors that often lead women to choose abortion. As a public official, I will continue to work within the party to ensure that Democrats are welcoming and open to such initiatives.
Abortion is clearly an important life issue, and as a Catholic, I understand that life extends beyond the womb. In my view, neither party has gotten it right when it comes to life issues. We cant realistically expect to tackle the difficult question of abortion without embracing the "radical solidarity" with women who face a pregnancy that Pope John Paul II spoke of many years ago.
If we are going to be pro-life, we cannot say we are against abortion of unborn children and then let our children suffer in degraded inner-city schools and broken homes. We cant claim to be pro-life at the same time as we are cutting support for Medicaid, Head Start, and the Women, Infants, and Childrens program. I believe we need policies that provide maximum feasible legal protection for the unborn and maximum feasible care and support for pregnant women, mothers, and children. The right to life must mean the right to a life with dignity.
Note how he wants to consign the hostility to pro-life Democrats to his Partys past, and how quickly he moves from abortion to social welfare policy. Theres no talk whatsoever about reasonable restrictions on abortion (parental consent or partial-birth abortion, for example).
And then theres his contestable analysis of the causes and cures of poverty:
The common good must first be based upon a solid foundation of justice. As Saint Augustine taught us: "Without justice, what are kingdoms but great bands of robbers?" Justice cannot abide 34 million people in poverty and 8.3 million children without health care. Justice cannot ignore the suffering of millions of parents in this country who have to face the soul-crushing thought that they might have to tell their child to go to bed hungry...or who realize that they simply cannot afford the medical treatment their child needs. Justice demands our understanding that the hungry, the impoverished, and the uninsured in this country are not statistics, they are children of God. They are our brothers and sisters, our fellow Americans.
We see poverty on the rise and middle-income families struggling to make ends meet not because they lack the drive to make a better life for themselves and their families. Rather, the problem stems from mistaken priorities and failed leadership. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt stated so wisely, "It is an unfortunate human failing that a full pocketbook often groans more loudly than an empty stomach." And that is exactly what weve seen. At a time when the number of working poor in this country keeps increasing year after year, tax cuts for the wealthy should not be the price we are asked to pay for an increase in the minimum wage.
There is, for example, no acknowledgement that there is any personal responsibility for ones distressing circumstances; theyre the result of "mistaken priorities and failed leadership," not bad choices or flawed character. I dont mean to say that every poor person is wholly and solely responsible for his or her plight, just that some of the problems might stem from the soul or the character, not the failures of government. Indeed, treating people with dignity requires that they be treated as responsible individuals. In addition, one thing that it is fair to say that Saint Augustine is not is an absolutist when it comes to the possibility of justice in this life. Justice is a feature of the City of God, not, strictly speaking, of the City of Man, which can at best achieve a simulacrum of justice. How in this fallen world we can achieve, within our limited means, this simulacrum is a question about which reasonable people of good will can disagree. But Bob Casey will have none of it: in his world, theres no room for disagreement, no consideration of the notion that the water that comprises the tide that life all boats has to come from somewhere.
I dont for a moment doubt Caseys sincerity, but lets not kid ourselves: this was a highly partisan speech in which religion was deployed to trump his opponents. Looks to me like a "faithful Democrat" is doing what Democrats constantly accuse Republicans of doing.
By the way, I cant wait for E.J. Dionne. Jr. to gush all over this speech.