Obama's Test

Posted: Jun 14, 2008 12:01 AM
Obama's Test

This year's political campaign is likely to metastasize in unpredictable ways between now and November, but right now doom and gloom pervades the GOP. Barack Obama seems on a roll and congressional Republicans are preparing to be rolled: Last month Rep. Tom Davis, who in past years ran the GOP's House campaigns, suggested that Republicans could lose more than 30 seats in November. Other prognosticators are talking about 20.

President George W. Bush bonded with Americans during the days after 9/11 but lost his hold on hearts four years later during the days after Hurricane Katrina struck. Big increases in domestic spending that Bush refused to veto—amazingly, no vetoes in six years—lost him conservative support. And, since Republicans did not clean up government and did not reduce the size of government, voters had little reason to choose them in 2006 and even less in 2008.

Republicans do have one hope, because of an issue that should not be political but sadly is: abortion. Even The Washington Post, almost always a reliable Democratic cheerleader, acknowledged last month the importance of Democrats who are liberal on economic issues but nonetheless vote for GOP presidential candidates for religious/cultural reasons: "If Sen. Barack Obama can't do better with the Casey Democrats, his presidential bid may fare no better than [John] Kerry's."

Casey Democrats are pro-life like the late Pennsylvania governor, Bob Casey. The Post pointed out that West Virginia, Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Ohio went for George W. Bush in both 2000 and 2004 even though Democrats at the gubernatorial and congressional level have dominated the first four for decades, and have recently done well in the fifth.

Why have Casey Democrats defected at the presidential level? The Post analyzed trends in Pennsylvania and argued that churches are now more important than unions: Casey Democrats are unlikely to vote for someone like Obama who has maintained a strong pro-abortion position. But Obama's secret weapon here is the son of Casey: Senator Bob Casey Jr. is supporting his Illinois colleague and is also co-sponsoring the Pregnant Women Support Act.

The act would, among other things, provide grants to nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations for the purchase of ultrasound equipment to provide free sonograms to pregnant women. Pro-life centers have found a huge change in the attitudes of clients who see their unborn children via sonogram: Beautiful photos and models of unborn children are useful, but a sonogram lets parents see not "a baby" but "my baby."

(A minor footnote: In 1999 I tried to get candidate George W. Bush to propose an ultrasound initiative of that kind. He and his advisors agreed to do so. The plan was to announce that initiative on a particular day—but when Pat Buchanan announced his candidacy just before the planned Bush announcement, Bush postponed the announcement so as not to seem to be reacting to Buchanan. The measure fell off the agenda and never got back on, even after Bush gained the White House.)

Republican pro-life leader Chris Smith has co-sponsored the act, which would allow abortion choice but help it to become informed choice. Pregnant women would also have to receive information about adoption. Pro-life groups like Americans United for Life and CareNet have supported the act, and so have individuals and groups on the left such as Tony Campolo, Martin Sheen, and Sojourners.

Obama is conspicuous by his absence. He has received huge support from pro-abortion groups, but as he transitions from Democratic primary battles to the general election, let's watch whether he moves even slightly toward the middle by announcing his support for the act. If he won't even take that small step, I wonder how Christians can support him.

If he does announce his support of it, Obama will upset some of his radical backers, but he'll gain the support of many Casey Democrats in crucial swing states—and I suspect he will be the next president of the United States.

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