Got news? Democrats' house divided

It's fair to say that nine-term Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak is not a poster boy for conservatives, even for conservative Democrats. An opponent of the Iraq war, active on environmental issues, watch him being skewered above by radio host Rush Limbaugh for his criticism of advertising by the pharmaceutical industry.

But Stupak, a former police officer, does represent the bread-and-butter, working/middle-class constituencies which once provided the backbone of the Democratic Party -- and included many who strongly opposed abortion. Remind you of someone else? It sure does the Wall Street Journal's Main Street columnist Willam McGurn.

Someone ought to tell the president and the speaker of the House that they are creating a new Bob Casey problem for their party. And his name is Bart Stupak.

The Bob Casey in question is the late governor of Pennsylvania, so famously humiliated at the 1992 Democratic convention. Party officials who denied the podium to the pro-life Democrat somehow found speaking slots for several pro-choice Republicans. That moment helped tar the Democrats as a party of abortion intolerance -- a problem the party thought it put behind it in 2006 when the governor's son, Democrat Robert Casey Jr., was elected senator as a pro-life Democrat.

Now party elders are making the Casey mistake all over again. A nine-term congressman from northern Michigan, Mr. Stupak is the kind of Catholic who once constituted the heart of the Democratic Party. Just like Gov. Casey before him, Mr. Stupak's stand for life -- in this case, his fight against tax dollars for abortion -- is making him a thorn in the side of a Democratic president.

It's not that Stupak hasn't been in the news -- Terry praised an article by the New York Times' David Kirkpatrick last week that noted Stupak's crucial role in pushing for restrictions on federal funds in the House. It's not even that Stupak is one of a tiny handful of Democrats -- though they are still very much in the minority, last year's elections added more anti-abortion Democrats to the rolls in the House.

What McGurn picks up on is the Casey connection -- and the relative silence from the Congressman's normal allies on topics that include life issues on the religious left. That includes "progressive" (oy, can't we find another word?) Catholics who both supported Obama and are anti-abortion. The question, of course, is why. We'll have to wait to hear from some of them to find out -- or someone in the media will need to ask!

Given that the White House has been relatively silent on the issue, that the House and Senate are so polarized, and that the Hyde amendment banning Federal funds for abortion is debatably being challenged, McGurn focuses on what may turn out to be a crucial moment for both the Obama administration and anti-abortion Democrats. Good get.

A few more comments.

I'd be very surprised if the coming debate on these bills in the Senate and House doesn't bring increased focus on abortion, and other controversial parts of the bill (want to talk Medicare?) from the American public. For an interview with Stupak that explains some of the fiendishly complex issues around the health care debate, read Dan Gilgoff's God & Country blog.

But one moral angle that McGurn doesn't discuss (Got business?) is that the health care bills under discussion effectually subsidize policies hawked by the mega-insurance companies -- which is an issue that I would think would concern those on the religious left. Almost half of private insurance companies provide insurance for elective abortion.

To only provide access and government money to those who don't insure abortions, or to ask insurance companies who want to compete to stop insuring them, would be government regulation in private industry. Republicans classically are loathe to do that, and, when push comes to shove, so are many Democrats. I wonder why so few, on the religious left or right, are talking about that angle? Any guesses?

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