Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr.'s endorsement of Barack Obama last week -- "I believe in this guy like I've never believed in a candidate in my life" -- recalled another dramatic moment in Democratic politics. In the summer of 1992, as Bill Clinton solidified his control over the Democratic Party, Robert P. Casey Sr., the senator's father, was banned from speaking to the Democratic convention for the heresy of being pro-life.
The elder Casey (now deceased) was then the governor of Pennsylvania -- one of the most prominent elected Democrats in the country. He was an economic progressive in the Roosevelt tradition. But his Irish Catholic conscience led him to oppose abortion. So the Clintons chose to humiliate him. It was a sign and a warning of much mean-spirited pettiness to come.
The younger Casey, no doubt, is a sincere fan of Obama. He also must have found it satisfying to help along the cycle of political justice.
But by Casey's father's standard of social justice for the unborn, Obama is badly lacking.
Obama has not made abortion rights the shouted refrain of his campaign, as other Democrats have done. He seems to realize that pro-choice enthusiasm is inconsistent with a reputation for post-partisanship.
But Obama's record on abortion is extreme. He opposed the ban on partial-birth abortion -- a practice a fellow Democrat, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, once called "too close to infanticide." Obama strongly criticized the Supreme Court decision upholding the partial-birth ban. In the Illinois state Senate, he opposed a bill similar to the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which prevents the killing of infants mistakenly left alive by abortion. And now Obama has oddly claimed that he would not want his daughters to be "punished with a baby" because of a crisis pregnancy -- hardly a welcoming attitude toward new life.
For decades, most Democrats and many Republicans have hoped the political debate on abortion would simply go away. But it is the issue that does not die. Recent polls have shown that young people are more likely than their elders to support abortion restrictions. Few Americans oppose abortion under every circumstance, but a majority oppose most of the abortions that actually take place -- generally supporting the procedure only in the case of rape or incest, or to save the life of the mother.