It's a strange thing, having modest colleagues. I was out of town this past weekend and have not caught up with that stack of Washington Post newspapers from last week, stacked outside my office. Thus, I missed an essay in the opinion section that ran with the headline, "Not the Party Faithful Anymore." The author is someone named Mark Stricherz.
It is not surprising that this piece focuses on the evolution of abortion politics in the modern Democratic Party, seeing as how that is one of the subjects at the heart of Mark's book, "Why The Democrats Are Blue."
The key, he writes, is a group of voters that he calls the "Casey Democrats," in honor of the late Robert P. Casey Sr., governor of Pennsylvania from 1987 to 1995. Who are these voters? Why are they different than the old "Reagan Democrats"?
Like Casey, these voters -- blue-collar and religious, often Catholic -- are liberal on economic issues but conservative on cultural ones. Where they once looked to union leaders and their fellow union members for political guidance, they now look to their religious leaders and fellow churchgoers. And in the last decade, to the dismay of Democratic strategists, they've been voting for Republican presidential candidates. According to Democratic pollster and strategist Stan Greenberg, they made up the 10 percent of white Catholics who identify with the Democrats but didn't vote for Sen. John F. Kerry for president in 2004. And if Sen. Barack Obama can't do better with the Casey Democrats, his presidential bid may fare no better than Kerry's. ...
Democrats' difficulties with this group surely have a great deal to do with these voters' sense of cultural alienation from the national Democratic Party and its relatively cosmopolitan values around religion, family, guns and other social institutions/practices," blogged Democratic strategist Ruy Teixeira after the 2004 election.
So what should the party do?
On one level, reporters might start paying attention to what the party has already been doing in the special elections for the U.S. Congress. But I wrote about that the other day, so let's not go back there right now. It's clear that Sen. Barack Obama knows that he needs these voters, which is one reason that he so actively sought the endorsement of Sen. Bob Casey Jr., of Pennsylvania.
But what might happen, in terms of actual political action (as opposed to rhetoric)? Mark has a suggestion:
... Democrats must address voters' real concerns about protecting families and human life, as Gov. Casey did. "Catholic voters have emerged more pro-life," pollster Greenberg wrote in a 2005 memo, "but they are very responsive to a broad initiative to reduce unwanted pregnancies and the number of abortions."
As the front-runner for his party's nomination, Obama can start to win over Casey Democrats by endorsing the Pregnant Women Support Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Casey. This legislation would, among other things, provide adoption information to pregnant women, give lower-income women free sonograms and require abortion clinics to obtain informed consent from women seeking to end a pregnancy.
That would cause a firestorm on the left, but would represent a true move to the center.
It will also be interesting to see if Obama actively seeks the endorsement of Democrats For Life, perhaps with an endorsement of that group's 95-10 package of legislation, seeking to reduce the number of abortions in America.
Again, this would cause a firestorm and it would represent a major change in his stance on this hottest of hot-button issues. This is the kind of package of compromise actions that -- according to Pew Forum research -- a majority of centrist Democrats and even a surprising number of liberals favor. And, again, it will be interesting to see if the abortion "conscience clause" is restored to the Democratic Party platform, with or without Obama's support.
Casey Democrats will be watching.
Meanwhile, it also appears that this same Mark Stricherz person was featured a few weeks ago in an online forum at the "On Faith" site, which is operated by Newsweek and the Post. Click here, to see his email debate about the Democrats, abortion and faith issues with the omnipresent Amy Sullivan of Time magazine, author of the new "The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats Are Closing the God Gap."
While we are at it, that Post feature says that Mark is a contributor to GetReligion.com -- as opposed to GetReligion.org. Oh well, at least the link there works.
Please let us know if you see any other interesting articles by this guy.