I can't believe I'm losing to this idiot. So said John Kerry during the presidential campaign. Judging from the news stories following the election, many of his supporters appear to have had the same reaction--with no sense that the condescension inherent in their candidate's statement helps illuminate the reasons for the election results.
In the New York Times Maureen Dowd complained that Kerry lost because the President divided America "along fault lines of fear, intolerance, ignorance, and religious rule." In the Washington Post, E. J. Dionne took much the same line, attributing the Kerry defeat to "vicious personal attacks, the exploitation of strong religious feelings, and an effort to create the appearance of strong leadership that would do Hollywood proud." James Carville said it was the lack of a "compelling narrative."
But perhaps the best explanation was given by a Democrat who called this election more than a decade ago: Bob Casey, the governor of Pennsylvania from 1987 to 1995.
I didn't know Governor Casey personally. But back in 1992, fate put me within a few feet of him inside Madison Square Garden during the Democratic National Convention. That was when Clinton officials refused a place at the podium for the Democratic governor of America's fifth-largest state while also providing speaking slots for six pro-choice Republican women. To make sure the point was delivered, one of these was a pro-choice woman who had campaigned for Casey's Republican opponent.
On Election Day 2004, the silencing of Bob Casey thundered through America's polling booths. In vain, Casey in 1992 had warned his fellow Democrats about allowing the Party to be become "little more than an auxiliary of NARAL" In his autobiography he put it this way:
Many people discount the power of the so-called "cultural issues"--and especially of the abortion issue. I see it just the other way around. These issues are central to the national resurgence of the Republicans, central to the national implosion of the Democrats, central to the question of whether there will be a third party. The national Democrats may, and probably will, get a temporary, bump in the polls--even, perhaps, one more national election victory--from their reactive strategy as the defenders of the elderly and poor who rely on Medicare and Medicaid. But the Democrats' national decline--or better, their national disintegration--will continue relentlessly and inexorably until they come to grips with these values issues, primarily abortion.
As Democrats emerge from the electoral rubble, must not a few be noticing that Bob Casey has proved to be prophetic? Today a Republican who lost the popular vote in 2000 and launched a controversial war returns to the White House with the largest number of votes any American President has ever received; Republicans have added to their majority in the House; and they now well and truly control the Senate--even if it's not yet clear that they control Arlen Specter.
Another way to put it is this: Democrats seeking to understand their plight need look no further than the Catholic members of their own leadership, whose apologias for the Party's pro-choice orthodoxy have
had the unintended effect of making Republicans out of Democrats who might otherwise have delivered a Kerry victory. These Catholic leaders can be divided into two broad camps.
The first are the co-dependents. These are mostly Catholic politicos who sensed the turn in their Party elite and, whatever their initial reservations, ended up becoming stridently pro-choice. John Kerry personified today's Catholic Democrat. This is a man who began his primary campaign pledging his support for abortion at a NARAL Pro-Choice America dinner and near the end of his campaign repeated that support in a speech that was meant to stress how much his …