Sarah Degenhart's question was simple, straightforward and had absolutely nothing to do with Sen. John Kerry's long-ago service as an altar boy.
"Senator Kerry," she asked in the town-hall debate, "suppose you are speaking with a voter who believed abortion is murder and the voter asked for reassurance that his or her tax dollars would not go to support abortion, what would you say to that person?"
Now, this hypothetical taxpayer could be an atheist for all we know. Ms. Degenhart's question was secular enough she could have asked it in a public school without being sued by the ACLU.
But John Kerry for some reason insisted on bringing his religion into it. Amid the 181 words that prefaced the substance of his response, he said, "I'm a Catholic, raised a Catholic. I was an altar boy. Religion has been a huge part of my life. It helped lead me through a war, leads me today. But I can't take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who doesn't share that article of faith, whether they be agnostic, atheist, Jew, Protestant, whatever. I can't do that."
Eventually, Kerry said: "[B]ut you have to afford people their constitutional rights. And that means . . . making certain that you don't deny a poor person the right to be able to have whatever the constitution affords them if they can't afford it otherwise."
Kerry is a Yale graduate who has served 20 years in the Senate. He's so smart and articulate many commentators, including me, thought he out-pointed the president in their first debate. So give him the benefit of the doubt and assume for a moment that his position on using tax dollars for abortions is carefully thought through and consistent with his principles.
His logic seems to be: 1) Whether you like it or not abortion is a constitutional right, 2) we need to make "certain that you don't deny a poor person the right to be able to have whatever the constitution affords them if they can't afford it otherwise," therefore 3) we must use tax dollars to buy abortions for poor people.
Grant Kerry, too, his false premise (presumably based on the atrocious Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade) that abortion really is a "constitutional right." Would Kerry consistently apply the same logic to taxpayer funding of other constitutional rights -- including those which, unlike the "right" to abortion, are expressly guaranteed in the Bill of Rights?
The Second Amendment guarantees "the right of the people to keep and bear arms." Thus strict application of the Kerry Doctrine -- taxpayers must subsidize poor people in doing "whatever the constitution affords them if they can't afford it otherwise" -- would mean the government must buy poor people guns.
You won't find that plank in Kerry's platform.
In the 2003 case of Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court discovered a "right" to same-sex sodomy. There's no need to analyze here exactly how the Kerry Doctrine would apply to this "right," but it is reasonable to assume even Kerry would not apply it.
So why did Kerry say taxpayers must pay for abortions, and why did he incoherently preface his answer to Ms. Degenhart by revealing he had once served as an altar boy and by suggesting that the belief of Ms. Degenhart's hypothetical taxpayer -- that "abortion is murder" -- was "an article of faith for me"?
The answer is not in logic or good policy, but in opportunism and (from Kerry's perspective) ominous polls. He is stuck between the abortion lobby and the Catholic vote. He is the captive of the former and needs to win the latter.
Kerry has always toed his party's pro-abortion line. But this may now have negative electoral consequences. In 2000, says the Associated Press, Gore and Bush split the Catholic vote. Kerry is the first Catholic nominated for president since John F. Kennedy. But two recent surveys show him trailing Bush badly among Catholic voters. A Barna Group poll released Sept. 27 put Bush over Kerry 53 percent to 36 percent among likely Catholic voters. A Pew Research Center poll completed Oct. 3 (after the first debate) put Bush over Kerry 49 percent to 33 percent among white Catholics.
In 2000, Al Gore won New Mexico (36.9 percent Catholic population) and Wisconsin (31.6 percent Catholic). Polls show Bush leading both. In two other heavily Catholic states that Gore won -- New Jersey (40.4 percent Catholic) and Pennsylvania (31.0 percent Catholic) -- Bush remains surprisingly competitive.
Is abortion driving a wedge through the blue states and a key swing vote toward Bush? Kerry's incoherent response to Sarah Degenhart means at least one old altar boy believes it is.