Among the fast and furious exchanges during the first presidential debate between President Trump and former Vice President Biden, the latter attempted, with some success, to reassure the public about his “Main Street” roots. The vice president said of President Trump and the wealthy elite generally, “[T]his guy and his friends look down on so many people. They look down their nose on people like Irish Catholics, like me, who grew up in Scranton. They look down on people who don’t have money. They look down on people who are of a different faith.”
The comments were in response to a question from debate moderator Chris Wallace about federally sponsored racial sensitivity training, which has run into controversy over its focus on critical race theory and forced confessions of “white privilege.” The former vice president’s indictment of elitism and appeal to his blue-collar and religious origins, however, provides some very telling juxtapositions.
Ronald Reagan made similar appeals to what came to be known as ECBC’s, ethnic Catholic blue collar voters, voters who, while often members of labor unions, embraced the right to life, family values, and a strong national defense. Reagan spoke to and for those Americans, born in the Midwest, comfortable with religion, and proud of America’s history.
Trump and Biden are chasing these same votes, in many of the same states, and many pundits believe these votes might well decide the election. But there is a raft of ironies in Biden’s ode to being an Irish Catholic. Even as he pronounced those words, he and his Party – and he tells us he IS the Democratic Party - are bitterly opposing the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Barrett is unashamedly Catholic and has spent decades teaching law at the nation’s foremost “Irish” university, Notre Dame. Well-funded now, the school rose from the humblest of beginnings. Its “Victory March” sings of overcoming the odds, “great or small,” hearkened back to the days when the school was the pathway up for the sons of hardscrabble families from the farms and mill towns of 1950s America.
To make matters worse, Judge Barrett’s Catholic background is the focus of the attacks by Biden’s fellow Democrats. Sen. Dianne Feinstein used Judge Barrett’s 2017 confirmation hearing for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to scorn Barrett for the “dogma” that supposedly “lives loudly within” her. That dogma reference was more than a dog whistle. It’s the same malign elitism that bedeviled “Irish Catholics from Scranton” as they sought equal treatment in Biden’s youth. His running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, went even further and questioned another nominee’s membership in, of all things, the Knights of Columbus.
But millions of Catholic families know the Knights as a charity that for nearly a century and a half has provided life insurance for wives and children – often left bereft at the loss of wage earners working the most dangerous jobs in the country. Both my grandfathers were railroad union men and Knights. My maternal great-grandfather, Dennis Casey, age 55, died a man in need of such help. He was killed in what the Urbana (Ohio) Daily Times Citizen described as a “horrible accident,” run over by a train near his home.
All of which leads to another Casey, and another irony. The last pro-life Democratic Governor of Pennsylvania, Robert Casey, Sr., like Biden, hailed from Scranton. Unlike Biden, the wildly popular Casey stood steadfastly for the right to life. His moving book “Fighting for Life: The Story of a Courageous Pro-Life Democrat Whose Own Brush with Death Made Medical History,” remains among the greatest testaments to why the lives of the unborn matter so much. Among many memorable passages is Casey’s declaration:
"All are made in God’s own image. Every life is precious. No insignificant person has ever been created. Where the fate of another life is concerned, there is no such thing as a private decision. Everything we do, every moral choice we make, every act of kindness and every act of malice, spreads out into the world bearing a message of hope or despair, and touching in time every life. That one conviction, that all are created equal, has always been the source of America’s greatness."
There was a time when Americans, traditional Democrats like Reagan and Casey, could proclaim such a truth as this and hold the highest offices in our state and federal capitals. If Joe Biden’s reference to his industrial belt home, and the way some elites disdain it, meant anything, he could still fearlessly proclaim that truth. Instead, he and his Party, now one and the same, condemn the right to life.
It’s not the elites that have changed, Joe. It’s you – and you have become one of them.
Charles A. “Chuck” Donovan is former legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, senior writer for President Reagan, executive director of Family Research Council for nearly two decades, and former senior research fellow in religion and civil society at The Heritage Foundation. He writes frequently on life issues and public policy.