Wednesday, October 08, 2008

At the DNC: Democrats for Life Town Hall Meeting

The Democrats for Life Town Hall took place on Wednesday of the DNC week at the Hotel Monaco.

The room was small and had a seating capacity of perhaps sixty. Here is a picture taken from the second-to-last row:

Sadly, many of the seats were taken not by delegates but by media. E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post was present, as were Jonathan Last, Jim Antle, Tim Carney, and a few other journalists from conservative publications.

Perhaps this shows conservative journalists, or rather the readers they serve, are saps for the quixotic and compromised struggle of pro-life Democrats.

Three other seats were occupied by known locals, John Wren and his friend, plus a woman with the Colorado Catholic Conference.

Jonathan Last’s column contains a sad joke:
Another reporter saw me counting [attendees] and asked how many anti-abortion Democrats were in attendance.

"All of them," I replied.

Before this cozy audience, speakers made an unseemly fuss about Sen. Bob Casey, Jr.’s speech to the DNC the previous evening in which he voiced disagreement with the party line on abortion. His two sentences were hardly compensatory for the speech his father, Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey, Sr., was barred from giving at the 1992 DNC.

Here’s what the junior Casey said:

“Barack Obama and I have an honest disagreement on the issue of abortion,” he said. “But the fact that I’m speaking here tonight is testament to Barack’s ability to show respect for the views of people who may disagree with him.”

Not impressive, that.

Also voicing much happy talk about how the new Democratic platform was so committed to reducing abortions, speakers’ gratitude for Casey’s speech sounded desperate, like that of a beaten wife who sees in one kind word from her incorrigible husband a sign of his sure reform.

The politicians who spoke included Tennessee Congressman Lincoln Davis, North Carolina Congressman Heath Shuler, and Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, Jr.

Lincoln Davis’ remarks showed good political sense.

If Democrats continue to have only a “stark contrast” with the Republican platform, he said, “I think we start losing.”

There is “too much work to be done” to allow abortion to be “the one issue that takes us down,” Davis argued.

Also noteworthy is their view of the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which the priority-skewed Obama has pledged to push through Congress in his first act as president. The bill would reportedly remove all restrictions on abortion, including restrictions on partial-birth abortion and federal funding for abortion.

While Republicans have cited FOCA to stir up concern among their captive pro-life contingent, they rarely consider its likelihood of passage. Rep. Shuler said he did not see FOCA passing the House and Rep. Davis was confident it was not going to pass.

Sen. Bob Casey, the man of the hour, discussed the Pregnant Women Support Act and proposed supplying nurses or health care practitioners for pregnant mothers to provide health care advice and counsel.

He also admitted the DNC platform language on abortion “wasn’t good enough for me.”

Both Casey and pro-life Obama-booster Doug Kmiec had to address Obama’s most infamous statements on abortion.

Regarding Obama’s “punished with a baby” comments, Casey said the statement was “poorly articulated” and “didn’t reflect what he was trying to convey.”

He added that he believed Obama was trying to describe the crisis situation that afflicts some young women during a pregnancy.

Obama also notoriously commented at the Saddleback Church forum that deciding when a baby gets human rights is “above my pay grade.”

Fortunately, Doug Kmiec reported at the Faith Caucus that he himself informed Obama that he thinks that decision is within his pay grade.

However, Kmiec similarly described Obama’s words as an occasion of misspeaking and not the most “felicitous” of statements.”

For a candidate so praised for his eloquence, these repeated misstatements on abortion indicate a particular confusion, perhaps even dissimulation, on Obama’s part.

Other Democrats for Life town hall speakers included Colorado State Senator Debbie Stafford, a former Republican, who discussed the role of domestic violence in abortion cases. She described the sickening cases where a woman undergoes an abortion due to pressure and even abuse from her lover or where a man is threatened by a pregnant woman who uses the possibility of an abortion to punish and harass him.

Rev. Clenard Childress, pastor of the New Calvary Baptist Church in Montclair, New Jersey, rebuked the use of the cant saying that Democrats are great for the born, but Republicans only respect life from “conception to birth.”

“But because someone failed the first nine months, but then they do better the next nine months… does that make your failure justified?

“I don’t understand the analogy. Yes, I hear it all the time. ‘What about after the baby gets here?’

“Well if I need a grant, if I need an education, if I need help, I first have to get here,” he countered.

Rev. Childress also discussed the damage abortion is doing among African-American women, who disproportionately seek abortions.

“There’s too many women hurting,” he said, focusing upon the pro-life Democrats in the audience. “And the ethnic group that is hurting the most is the one that supports your party the most.”

Several non-politicians at the Town Hall provided commentary on policy proposals to reduce the numbers of abortions.

There, the results of a Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good study were presented, reputedly showing what policies affect the abortion rate.

Further, Vince Miller, a professor of theology at Georgetown University, argued that programs aimed at reducing abortions would help people “think like Democrats” by emphasizing how constructive governmental policy can help people in their daily lives. He also landed a few blows in his attacks upon the individualism of Republicans and their reduction of “values voting” to “expressions of identity” detached from concrete results.

Tony Campolo, professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University and member of the DNC platform committee, was the most provocative of the policy hounds.

“It’s fine to finance Planned Parenthood on the one side,” he asked, “but shouldn’t there be government funding for counseling centers that want to in fact help women, and counsel women, who want to bring their pregnancies to term?

“Shouldn’t there be financing on both sides if we’re going to have ‘parallel of choice’?”

This is a very seductive position that could end up being very destructive to either or both sides of the abortion debate. By linking crisis pregnancy center funding to funding for abortion clinics, pro-lifers could be given a perverse incentive to vote for more abortion clinic funding to help crisis pregnancy centers.

Campolo cited statistics claiming that 43 percent of Americans are pro-life, but 51 percent are pro-choice. This somewhat conflicts with Rep. Davis’ statistic that seventy percent believe abortion takes a life.

There is a degree of selectivity concerning which surveys one decides to cite. For all we know, some of the “pro-choice” people referenced by Campolo don’t approve of legalized abortion in most cases, while some of the pro-lifers make exceptions of their own.

Ought a survey ask whether people support overturning Roe v. Wade, the extremely permissive details of which are unknown to many, or ought a survey ask how strict abortion laws should be? Ought the survey focus its questions on the woman, her unborn child, or her abortionist?

Some pro-life Democrats may end up publicizing the survey results most pessimistic about anti-abortion sentiment, simply to provide rhetorical justification in support of their favored social programs. Worse, they may cite these statistics to be good partisans who justify not pressing for “divisive” legislation which restricts abortion.

Campolo’s sharpest criticism blamed the churches for not doing enough:

“The churches, the synagogues, and the mosques of America have not been able to convince their own constituencies on this issue.” Legislation and political action is “asking politicians to do what churches have failed to do.”

Too gleeful abortion advocates often note, sometimes even with sound evidence, that the abortion rate among Catholics is reportedly equal or in excess to that among non-Catholics.

At any rate, it is too high.

If a deacon, priest, or bishop preaches (or does not preach) against abortion only out of consideration for political effects, he is not addressing the root.

Rather, he must treat abortion as a temptation some in his congregation have faced, are facing, or will face. In our own pews are young men and women contemplating whether to abort: the youth group’s popular young man who is heading to a prestigious out-of-state college or the young woman who helps with the daycare could be facing that temptation without spiritual counsel.

Perhaps their parents, even the ones who attend daily Mass and sit on the parish council, are considering pressuring the pregnant girl to do the deed.

Such youths or their parents may have already lost their horror of such a sin. Exhorting them to vote pro-life is secondary to exhorting them not to go to the clinic.

And what, then, can the Democrats for Life do?

Other than run interference for Obama, bash Republicans, and pass one or two social programs, not very much. It can be hoped that a well-placed pro-life Democrat may help appoint as federal judges a few “Bob Caseys of the bench,” though Mark Stricherz tells me he is skeptical of this possibility.

The judiciary, not to mention the law school, needs moderate or conservative Democrats as anti-Roe critics who lack the “Republican baggage” but can perhaps check the Democrats’ cultural radicals whose overreach consistently helps the GOP and hurts the country.

I would be remiss if I did not include Tim Carney’s political analysis written for CNA during the convention.

To my regret, I only met Carney briefly at the town hall meeting. I didn’t even have a chance to tell him I liked his book.

Carney, a journalist with the Evans-Novak Report, remarks on the reaction to Biden’s selection as VP, discusses Doug Kmiec’s support for Obama, writes of Casey’s DNC floor speech and examines the Democrats’ abortion platform.

Also at the DNC:
Faith Caucus

Women's Caucus

LGBT Caucus

Democrats for Life Town Hall


c matt said...

Campolo cited statistics claiming that 43 percent of Americans are pro-life, but 51 percent are pro-choice. This somewhat conflicts with Rep. Davis’ statistic that seventy percent believe abortion takes a life.

Sadly, that may not necessarily demonstrate a conflict. It may very well be that of those 70% percent who believe abortion takes a life, a large percentage are not bothered by that fact.

James said...

Hotel Monaco is fun, colorful, quirky, and awesome. Even when was it was the smallest and most expensive room ($109/night) we booked for our road trip, they really deserve their 5 stars from me.