Watching pro-life Democrat Rep. Bart Stupak these past few months, I can't help wishing that the late Pennsylvania governor Robert Casey could shake his hand.
Stupak is a pivotal hero or villain of the health-care-reform debate in Washington, depending on your position on abortion and religious liberty. In round one of the battle, the Michigan congressman inserted valuable prohibitions and protections into the House of Representatives health bill. In round two, though, the White House and House Democratic leadership decided to ignore him, assuming either that he was bluffing about how many members he had on his side or that they were better negotiators -- or arm-twisters or palm-greasers -- than he is.
Casey, a Democrat, died in May 2000. At the time, former Bill Clinton adviser James Carville told me: "He was just the kind of person that made the whole Washington establishment completely uncomfortable, they could never understand him."
A little bit like Bart Stupak? As we watched other members who claimed to be pro-life take cover and ignore or otherwise jettison their principles, Stupak seemed a little out of place.
I think of House Minority Leader John Boehner as an example of a guy who thanklessly defends the most innocent human lives, despite getting grief from well-intentioned, hardworking pro-lifers. I can't help wondering: If Boehner can't get a little love, what's Bart Stupak in for? Well, he's described his life since he began fighting his health-care battle as a "living hell." His staff is inundated with angry calls and e-mails. His wife has been feeling the toll, as well. "All the phones are unplugged at our house -- tired of the obscene calls and threats. She won't watch TV," he told The Hill newspaper. "People saying they're going to spit on you. ...That's just not fun."
The late governor Casey was also humiliated by his party. Despite his pleas to speak on abortion at the 1992 Democratic Convention, he was roundly snubbed, and later marginalized in the press. The Democratic Party, which claims to be a beacon of tolerance, doesn't have a lot of it when it comes to those who defend the most innocent among us.
The whole political scene, as pro-life Democratic health-care votes have been going back and forth or otherwise been up in the air, seems to be haunted by Casey. And, specifically, by his words at the University of Notre Dame in 1995.