An Open Letter to Caroline Kennedy

Dear Caroline,

One day I was scanning the New York Times’ op-ed page. An ad caught my eye in the bottom right corner. It had been placed there by your people. They were looking for candidates for your dad's prestigious Profiles in Courage Award.

Why not consider the late Robert Casey? He was governor of Pennsylvania form 1987 to 1994. He was a Democrat.

He died in 2000 at 68. He remained a Democrat even though his civil rights struggle for the nation's most defenseless humans, the unborn, caused him to become a leper in the Democratic Party. This happened at its 1992 New York convention. He had fought to have the Democratic platform state that Democrats do not support abortion on demand.

Nat Hentoff in the New Republic (6/19/00) wrote about his liberal record in Pennsylvania as its two-term governor. That record was outstanding. He established daycare programs that would take care of infants and preschoolers for the length of the normal school day. It also provided optional early-morning and after-school programs for these same children. These programs would allow their teen parents to remain in school and finish their education. It would also afford assurance to low-income parents that while working, their children were in good hands.

He put into effect a law providing health insurance for children. Their parents, working at low-income jobs, could not afford the insurance themselves. Yet they were denied public aid because they were working. A classic Catch-22.

In the days before it became trendy cause, he set aside $1 million for breast exams. Health maintenance organizations were required to give annual mammograms to women over 40. One Harvard University physician called his programs for children and women a model for the rest of the United States.

Under Casey, state contracts to women and minority owned firms increased by 1500%. He appointed the first black woman ever to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. He named more women to a cabinet than any other Democratic governor.

He anticipated he had a good shot at being invited as keynote speaker at the 1992 Democratic convention. This was due to his accomplishments as governor and his loyalty as a Democrat. He was not asked. Mario Cuomo, another Catholic governor, was. His views on abortion were more palatable to convention officials. The convention organizer told Casey, “Your [pro-life] views are not of line with most Americans.”

Governor Cuomo, the keynote speaker, said, “Bill Clinton believes, as we all do here, in the first principle of our Democratic commitment the politics of inclusion.”

Governor Casey was stirred by that rousing line. He asked to speak to the convention on behalf of Democrats who agreed with his pro-life (from the womb to the tomb) views. He was denied the opportunity.

The Pennsylvania governor and delegates were assigned to what Casey called “Outer Mongolia” in the convention hall. There could be in no doubt about how the national Democratic hierarchy regarded the governor of one of the largest states in the union. There was even an attempt to humiliate him publicly.

He was persona non grata to his Democratic fellows. He had become a pariah. Still, he held firmly to his pro-life and/or civil rights principles.

Know-nothing mockery was made of his Catholicism. Lapel badges were sold on the convention floor picturing him dressed as the pope by abortion-rights advocates. He would later call the matter “anti-Catholic bigotry.”

Even personal contempt would not have him give up his civil rights convictions. He was that famous man for all seasons — a late-20th century Thomas More.

He was wooed by the Republicans. He declined to join their number even though he believed the Democratic Party “had become a wholly owned subsidiary of the National Abortion Rights Action League.”

Despite his record to the contrary, he had to suffer the ignominy of the New York Times calling him “a conservative Democrat.”

He paid a heavy price for his civil rights principles. He could not have enjoyed being publicly drummed out of the regiment by his own Democratic Party.

He was, cara Caroline, a profile in courage if ever there was one.

Please consider this letter to you a formal nomination of the late Governor Robert P. Casey for the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award. Please forward this letter to the award committee at your dad's library at Columbia Point in Boston, Mass.

My prayers and good wishes for you, your husband and your children.

Father James Gilhooley is the author of Reflections on the Sunday Gospels (World Library Publications) (available at 1-800-566-6150).