John McCain: Just How Pro-Life?

John McCain: Just How Pro-Life?
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Wednesday's announcement that abortion rights supporter Rudy Giuliani will deliver the keynote address at this year's Republican National Convention should have provoked an angry backlash from the Catholic far right. But many of these activists - despite having been hard at work painting the Democratic Party as a harborer of "abortionists" and Barack Obama as a supporter of "infanticide" - seem to be giving the John McCain campaign and the GOP a free pass. Whether the media will decide to pick up on this hypocrisy is yet to be seen.

One of the more notorious culprits is Deal W. Hudson, a key McCain campaign Catholic strategist and surrogate who is largely responsible for helping the infanticide narrative take root. Since Hudson's Web site devotes a large amount of space to beating up on pro-choice politicians, we might have expected him to publish a full-fledged castigation of the keynote pick. Instead, on Thursday he decided to feature an anti-Democrat rant from Catholic League president Bill Donohue entitled "Abortion, Human Trafficking, and the Left's Double Standard."

The Catholic League is itself in a similarly sticky position. Just last week it attacked the Democrats for giving pro-life Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, Jr. a prominent speaking role on the grounds that Casey is not... pro-life enough. But as of Friday morning it had had nothing to say about the Giuliani pick and had not answered an email I sent to its communications director about the subject on Thursday afternoon. The Catholic group Fidelis, which has endorsed McCain, was similarly silent - even though it is lobbying the campaign hard not to choose a pro-choice running mate, and even though it had featured a blog post entitled "Stop accommodating pro-abortion politicians!" earlier this week.

It shouldn't come as much of as surprise that a bunch of Republican front groups with no official ties to the institutional Church would choose not to confront their own party over such a pivotal issue. But even outside these circles McCain's flagging commitment to the anti-abortion hardline is hardly receiving the attention it deserves. At last weekend's Saddleback forum, the media was happy to portray McCain's answer to Rick Warren's when-is-a-baby-entitled-to-human-rights question (at conception, said McCain) in shockingly uncritical terms (McCain supports stem cell research on those same embryos). Reporting on McCain's willingness even to consider a pro-choice VP pick like Tom Ridge has generally resisted characterization as the remarkable departure from McCain's supposed antiabortion commitment that it is. And the campaign's decision to honor pro-choice Joe Lieberman with a prime time speaking slot has similarly received astoundingly simpleminded coverage.

Polls consistently show that the majority of both Republican and Democratic voters don't consider a candidate's position on abortion a dealbreaker. But "pro-life" credentials still mean everything to a significant section of the Republican base. If these voters ever start to catch on to the fact that they're being had, it could spell disaster for McCain in November.

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