It will be no surprise to anyone that we favor Rick Santorum’s reelection as a senator from Pennsylvania. He has been a fine moderately conservative lawmaker, the moderation owing mainly to his state’s unionism and statism. He has led the fight for reform of welfare and Social Security, and he is superior to his opponent, Robert Casey Jr., on the broad range of issues from trade to defense to marriage.
What makes this race unusual is that both candidates profess to be pro-life. Casey is from a great pro-life family in Pennsylvania politics: His father was denied a chance to speak at the Democratic convention in 1992 because he was likely to use the opportunity to argue that his party’s tradition of defending the weak and vulnerable ought to apply to unborn children. Casey’s position on abortion may very well help him win the election. Pro-life liberals, who usually have to swallow hard before they cast a vote, will be eager to support him. Some pro-life conservatives may think that their energies are better spent on races where a fellow pro-lifer is running against a supporter of the abortion license.
Even on the life issues, however, we see a contrast between Santorum and Casey. Each brings some distinctive advantages to the fight for life, but on balance the contrasts tell strongly in favor of Santorum.
Some pro-lifers hold it against Santorum that he endorsed his colleague Arlen Specter when he faced a pro-life primary challenge in 2004. We disagreed with Santorum’s decision, but recognized it as a prudential judgment about which equally committed pro-lifers could differ. Those who think that this episode detracts from Santorum’s pro-life credentials should be consistent: Casey’s endorsement of John Kerry the same year was worse.
Perhaps the most important difference concerns judges. Thanks to the Supreme Court, ruling without any serious basis in the text, history, logic, or original meaning of the Constitution, abortion is now legal throughout pregnancy for essentially any reason in every state in the country. Judicial nominees who would correct this error are routinely denounced, because of their willingness to correct it, as ultraconservatives. We know that Santorum would fight for such nominees. About Casey, we know no such thing.
Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and Sen. Charles Schumer, the head of its Senate-campaign arm, have both reassured pro-abortion liberals that Casey would not even support such nominees. Schumer told The New Yorker, “There’s no worry on judges. And judges is the whole ball of wax.” Indeed it is: A senator who votes for laws against abortion but won’t vote for judges who will allow such laws to stand is merely playing games with his constituents.
The second difference, related to the first, is the degree of commitment. Many pro-lifers, in both parties, would be delighted to see the pro-life wing of the Democratic party rebuilt. They would like it to be impossible for either party to take them for granted, and for neither party to be off-limits because it opposes basic civil rights. But for Casey to play a part in reviving his party’s once vigorous pro-life faction would require him to be willing to take a lead in challenging its abandonment of the unborn and the sick.
Santorum has been willing not just to vote for life, but to sponsor legislation, to speak out, and otherwise to put himself on the line. Casey has said that he will not make the fight against abortion a priority. He thus undercuts the principled, as opposed to crassly political, character of his position, and makes it hard for serious pro-lifers to vote for him. The unfortunate truth is that Casey is not the pro-life stalwart that his father was. We hope that pro-life Pennsylvanians will vote accordingly.