The two parties have finished their conventions, which, for the first time in a long time, were held back-to-back. The Register sent correspondents to both. They pointed out some differences that the public didn’t see:

The Democrats drew thousands of peaceful pro-life protesters led by Catholic leaders, but the secular media ignored them. The Republicans drew about the same number of protesters who were far from peaceful, and coverage of them eclipsed all else at first.

While the Democrats showed great enthusiasm for the top man on their ticket, Sen. Barack Obama, the Republicans showed the greatest enthusiasm for the bottom half of theirs, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

As we pointed out last week, we understand the excitement surrounding Palin, the pro-life governor of Alaska. But a vice president isn’t a co-president. To focus the attention back on the tops of the tickets, here is what speakers at both conventions said about their stances on issues important to Catholics.


Abortion

At the Democratic National Convention, Sen. Robert Casey Jr., D-Pa., mentioned his pro-life views during his speech. Much was made of his presence there, since his father, a Pennsylvania governor, was refused a speaking spot at the 1992 convention. But once Sen. Casey did speak, what he said was this: “Barack Obama and I have an honest disagreement on the issue of abortion. But the fact that I’m speaking here tonight is a testament to Barack’s ability to show respect for the views of people who may disagree with him.”

When Barack Obama mentioned abortion, he also put it in the context of “agreeing to disagree”: “We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country.”

At the Republican National Convention, several speakers mentioned their pro-life views in a more traditional way.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee said, “It is not above John McCain’s pay grade to grasp the simple fact that human life begins at conception, and he is committed to protecting it.”

GOP leader Michael Steele, a Catholic, put the issue in a larger context: “John McCain knows we must empower working families and stand with them against the erosion of our constitutional rights, the corruption of our school systems, the weakening of our families and the taking of human life — born and unborn.”

John McCain himself spoke about abortion — but in a more disappointing way for pro-lifers. He referred to it in code, as part of a list of priorities: “We believe in a strong defense, work, faith, service, a culture of life, personal responsibility, the rule of law, and judges who dispense justice impartially and don’t legislate from the bench.”


School Choice

Barack Obama spoke about education in a way calculated to excite public school teachers and their unions: “I’ll invest in early childhood education. I’ll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries and give them more support,” he said.

John McCain spoke about education in a way that’s likely to enrage teachers’ unions, but appeal to pro-voucher Catholics: “Education is the civil rights issue of this century. … [W]hat is the value of access to a failing school? We need to shake up failed school bureaucracies with competition, empower parents with choice, remove barriers to qualified instructors, attract and reward good teachers, and help bad teachers find another line of work.”


War

The biggest surprise in the conventions was what the candidates said about war. Obama, whose opposition to war is well known, sounded much more bellicose than McCain — who perhaps had to soften his warrior image.

Said Obama: “John McCain likes to say that he’ll follow bin Laden to the gates of hell — but he won’t even go to the cave where he lives,” and reiterated his call for a withdrawal from Iraq. He added: “We are the party of Roosevelt.  We are the party of Kennedy.  So don’t tell me that Democrats won’t defend this country.  Don’t tell me that Democrats won’t keep us safe. … As commander-in-chief, I will never hesitate to defend this nation.”

McCain said his own life has made him hate war. After Pearl Harbor, he said, “I rarely saw my father again for four years. My grandfather came home from that same war exhausted from the burdens he had borne, and died the next day. In Vietnam, where I formed the closest friendships of my life, some of those friends never came home with me. I hate war. It is terrible beyond imagination. I’m running for president to keep the country I love safe and prevent other families from risking their loved ones in war as my family has.”


Marriage

Catholics are also very concerned about defending marriage — and, after McCain helped kill the federal constitutional amendment to protect marriage, we wonder what he thinks. But he said nothing about the subject in his speech.

Obama was careful not to offend the majority while sending a signal to homosexual supporters, saying: “I know there are differences on same-sex ‘marriage,’ but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination.”


Immigration

On immigration, Obama was also more direct than McCain. “Passions fly on immigration,” he said, “but I don’t know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers.”

McCain spoke much more obliquely. “We believe everyone has something to contribute and deserves the opportunity to reach their God-given potential,” he said, “from the boy whose descendants arrived on the Mayflower to the Latina daughter of migrant workers. We’re all God’s children, and we’re all Americans.”

Next, we’ll look at the records of each candidate.