FDR Democrat to Roe Republican

Catholic voters can drive abortion from party politics; but do we have such moral courage?

I remember as a boy that our family, as everyone else, moved effortlessly from the height of the Depression into the weight of World War II. I did not know at the time that we were economically deprived — kids from loving parents don't see that. All I knew was that life is good and the idea of a new, big war sounded exciting — like a ball game. But I was a boy.

Our president was FDR. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the larger-than-life man who led us through the Depression, and I was sure he would lead us to victory over the “Axis Powers.”

Our family home was a citadel for the philosophy of the Democratic Party. Both parents descended from Irish immigrants who had felt the stings and exclusions of the new world. Next to the Catholic Church, it was the Democratic Party that gave hope to immigrant groups to rise within this culture.

My father spoke of Roosevelt's contributions to our family, particularly through the establishment of the Federal Housing Administration, which allowed my dad to get his only mortgage of his only house in a small tract in New Jersey.

So we were loyal Dems. But our new neighborhood wasn't.

Around 1944, my dad signed on to be the campaign manager for a local man running for mayor. The only problem for me was that the man he served was a Republican. Our small former farming town had no Democratic Party nor apparatus. Everyone was Republican. The primary election determined the Republican victor.

I had not picked up on this nuance and was stunned to learn that my dad had registered as a local Republican. He explained the reality of primary elections and the duty of citizens to become involved in their communities. He said he voted Democratic in national elections. Yet for a few weeks I thought him to be a “fifth columnist,” perhaps a traitor siding with the “Axis Powers.”

I remained a committed Democrat through the presidencies of FDR, Harry S. Truman, John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson — and through Adlai Stevenson's two losses as well.

In 1964, I worked locally for Johnson's campaign but later began to find problems with some of the social programs I had strongly supported.

It seemed to me that some of the projects that had aimed at helping poor women and children unintentionally chipped away at the fiber of their families and their men. Women received economic support from the federal government only if their men were absent, which some social scientists say destroyed the integrity of these families.

With Roe v. Wade, in 1973, things in my Democratic Party began to take a worse turn.

Initially, Democrat stalwarts such as Sen. Ted Kennedy and the Rev. Jesse Jackson opposed abortion on demand. Their statements opposing abortion are astounding. They appear in National Right to Life publications. Then the realities and personal ambitions of politics took over. Increasingly, the Democratic Party bent to a “pro-choice” onslaught led by strong, committed “women's-rights” organizations.

At the Democratic Convention in 1992, the party proved it would not support a pro-life option. Convention leaders publicly humiliated and destroyed the political career of Bob Casey, former governor of Pennsylvania and the leading pro-life voice in the Democratic Party. While Casey was denied any chance to speak, the convention leaders handed over the microphone to an invited group of pro-abortion Republicans, including some from Casey's state.

I left the Democrats and registered as an Independent. I have not voted for a Democrat in any federal election since 1976. But in my heart, I could not become a Republican. I was still too philosophically dissimilar.

Then I became my dad.

A friend reminded me that we live in a Republican town in which Democrats and Independents have only a token appearance. Republicans win their seats in the primary election. I had wasted my vote by not voting in the primary. So, gulp, I registered as a Republican.

I fully understood my dad's move 60 years ago.

My former party promotes a death choice that many millions of Americans cannot in conscience join. That does not mean that the Republican Party raises up disciples of Lincoln. But the GOP embraces a life-supporting position in its party platform. For me, it is not Bush vs. Kerry that commands but the morality concerning human life as expressed in party commitments.

For reasons of party loyalty, habit or personal gain, politicians and voters bartered away centuries-old protections for innocent human life at a stage that we, the living, have all passed through in safety. Am I not also involved in these deaths if I support the death-bringers?

Citing citizens of World War II Germany, Holocaust scholar Daniel Goldhagen makes a case that I am guilty if I remain silent and inactive. Should I shrug that off and use my vote to support economic policies, to strengthen my union or make the trains run on time?

Even were I to vote for abortion supporters because of other issues, the stain from the death of another innocent human life remains. That is my choice, as it is of every other voter. If Catholics whose faith condemns abortion would vote that faith, the Democratic Party would drop its pro-death platform by the next election.

When will we vote as committed Catholics as other groups vote, in blocs? We have that opportunity, but only if we find moral conviction and personal courage.

Drew DeCoursey, author of Lifting the Veil of Choice (OSV, 1992), writes from Morristown, New Jersey.