Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Bob Casey on the common good

Here’s the text of Bob Casey’s big speech on faith and the common good. Barack Obama he isn’t.

Let me pick at a couple of the speech’s facets. First, the 900-pound gorilla, abortion. Here’s 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 can’t 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 can’t claim to be pro-life at the same time as we are cutting support for Medicaid, Head Start, and the Women, Infants, and Children’s 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 Party’s past, and how quickly he moves from abortion to social welfare policy. There’s no talk whatsoever about reasonable restrictions on abortion (parental consent or partial-birth abortion, for example).

And then there’s 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 we’ve 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 one’s distressing circumstances; they’re the result of "mistaken priorities and failed leadership," not bad choices or flawed character. I don’t 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, there’s 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 don’t for a moment doubt Casey’s sincerity, but let’s 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 can’t wait for E.J. Dionne. Jr. to gush all over this speech.

Discussions - 9 Comments

As a campaign tool, it’s pretty good.

Straight out of the Tim Kaine playbook. Rick Santorum has a potentially difficult challenge, because it seems to me he has to insist on the salience of prudential judgment on matters of economic and welfare policy while calling Casey out on his approach to abortion.

He might also ask Casey to denounce the ACLU and liberal judges.

Here’s your response, Rick:

So Casey is pro-life. Pro-life to a Democrat means pro-life AND pro-choice, "safe, legal and rare." Move along, nothing to see here.

So Casey feels sorry for the poor. Does he have any answers to poverty?...that is any that don’t include taking bread from the mouths of your children? I feel sorry for the poor too, but unlike the other guy,I have an answer. My answer is to cut taxes for the job providers so they’ll provide jobs.

Now lets talk about the most important issue of the day. Terrorists want to kill you, your children AND the people to whom the Democrats want to give your children’s bread. Here’s what I’m doing to keep that from happening.... Then he can segue into appointing judges who won’t give terrorists rights they shouldn’t have, ACLU bad, U.N. bad and so on and so forth.

The great problem with what we could call the "faith-based Dems" (FBDs?) is that it’s quite unclear whether they would have any different positions absent that faith. So when Casey, Kerry, et. al. wax eloquent (or not so eloquent, as the case may be) about the demands of faith as they apply to economic issues, at the end of the day they look no different than their, um, "un-faithful" brethren. That’s why, I think, religion just doesn’t have the same purchase on the Left as it does on the Right. (There’s also some numbers involved, but set that aside for the moment).

The whole thing is a delusion.

If this guy gets elected, I’m for the maximum feasible mocking of the phrase "maximum feasible."

As applied to POLICY DECISIONS, it is just rhetoric to cover up the fact that you’re being vague. Is there a politician in the country who is not generally for the "maximum feasible" amount of homeland security, environmental protection, civil liberties, economic growth, etc.? Casey demands "the maximum feasible care and support for pregnant women, mothers, and children." Well, it depends on what the definition of "feasible" is, not to mention what the definition of "children" is. Has Casey never heard of this wonderful program we once had called AFDC? Never read a single report about the long-term feasibility of present Western European benefits? But since I have these meanie reservations about what works and what is feasible, I don’t get to call myself pro-life, because "the right to life must mean the right to a life with dignity," that is, a life with the maximum feasible help from the Government.

As applied to RIGHTS, though, the phrase is simply incoherent, and reveals the refusal to think seriously about rights that characterizes so much progessivist thinking. I mean, it isnot hard to have the "maximum feasible" right to liberty or right to life--you simply ban slavery and abortion, and then enforce the law. That is, you simply do not think about what is the "maximum feasible" when you’re engaged in genuine thought about rights.

What’s telling is the role he accords prudence in dealing with abortion, but which he seems to be unwilling to accord in social welfare policy.

No mystery there. Casey is just another produce of the Democratic machine, who has enough of a conscience to recognize abortion for what it is. That doesn’t make him a thinker, or even a moderate.

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