I'm pro-choice, but I respect folks who believe abortion is murder -- nobody on either side of the debate wants more abortions, and I can commune with anti-abortioners a lot more easily than with folks who think marriage needs to be "protected" from gays. And though I have no stake in the matter now, I've long thought that the Democratic Party ought to have more of a "big tent" approach on abortion (which Dr. Dean has tried to promote, though he's done it rather clumsily thus far). So I ought to be excited about the candidacy of Bob Casey the Younger for Rick Santorum's Senate seat, right?
Well, not necessarily. We know that Religious Right folks don't necessarily care about the "free market" or "wise use," that FDR never had to worry about his position on abortion, and that William Jennings Bryan was once the nation's foremost economic progressive at the same time he was the nation's most famous fundamentalist. We know, in short, that there's no symbiosis between the Republican economic agenda and the Republican social agenda -- in fact, as Thomas Frank suggests, the latter is a red herring for the former -- so it should be possible for a Democrat to move right on social issues as cover for moving left on economic ones. This strategy should have been Dennis Kucinich's strategy when he ran for President in 2004, but Kucinich suddenly became pro-choice the day he announced his candidacy. Kucinich's record on every other issue I care about is progressive enough that I would gladly have worked toward his election as President despite his opposition to abortion, but throwing his lifelong opposition to abortion into the water smacked to me of abject cowardice, and though I voted for him during my state's primary, I was never that enthusiastic about his candidacy again.
See where I'm going? Bob Casey, Jr., would not have to meet the Kucinich standard to earn my support, but he would need to get a whole lot closer to that than he's done, and I doubt it's in him to do that. Casey wants to do the job right in Iraq, but doesn't support an exit strategy or a timetable for withdrawal. Casey would have voted for Sam Alito's confirmation, which was plenty worth opposing on grounds that have little to do with abortion. Casey has only recently supported a federal minimum wage increase, while Santorum has actually sponsored legislation toward that end in the Senate. Casey doesn't support single-payer health care (as Messrs. Pennachio and Sandals, his Democratic primary opponents, do) or expanding stem-call research. Casey would allow employers to extend benefits to gay couples in long-term relationships, but doesn't think government should mandate such benefits, nor does he support gay marriage or adoption by gay couples.
Even the good news isn't that good. Casey supports increased federal investment in alternative energy sources, and good for him, but it's easy to do that given that federal investment in alternative energy sources is so small. What amount of investment would he call for, especially vis a vis the vast federal investment in coal and oil? Casey opposes private Social Security accounts, and good for him, but would he raise the $90,000 ceiling on the payroll tax in order to shore up the trust fund? Would he change the flat payroll tax into a progressive tax? Casey also thinks the Bush tax cuts should be rolled back, and good for him, but would he support a more progressive tax code, or targeted tax increases on the rich linked to saving necessary programs?
And while Casey's thinking on abortion isn't the standard right-wing slab of hate, there's not as much for me to support as I'd hoped. Casey has, in the past, expressed support for state and federal funding of contraceptive services, and, more importantly, supports forcing employers and HMOs to cover contraception in their health plans. That second item is near litmus-test for me. Yet Casey opposes forcing pharmacists to fill prescriptions when they claim "moral reasons" for failing to do so -- which he must know, since he's not a dummy, cripples his support for covering contraception in health plans in the first place. I worry, of course, that for Rick Santorum, Casey's positions will probably seem a little too "nuanced" -- maybe Santorum will even call Casey "a flip-flopper," though Casey could describe Santorum's entire 2006 legislative record using that same formulation.
The trouble with Democrats isn't that they're "not connecting" with the right-wing knuckle-dragger wedge enough; it's that they don't neutralize the knuckle-draggers by pushing the economic justice issues that brought them to power in the first place. Rick Santorum's own approval ratings are much lower than healthy for an incumbent, and he has lashed himself so strongly to his party's extreme wing that despite his political acumen I still think he'll lose. But the more pertinent question is: if Bob Casey, Jr. wins, are we going to win? Or is the national Democratic Party going to take a Casey victory as a cue to move far right on social issues without moving left on economic ones?