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home : opinions : columns   May 25, 2016

7/8/2014 10:39:00 AM
Column: Not my dad's party anymore

Tom Collins
NT Senior Reporter

Last week a bitter thought occurred to me as I read how the U.S. Supreme Court sided with Hobby Lobby and dealt a blow to Obamacare.

I’m glad my father didn’t live to see what became of his party, I admitted reluctantly.

Dad passed away almost nine years ago and I’ve wondered what my father, a lifelong Democrat, would’ve thought about Obama and today’s Democratic Party.

The answer, I think, is Dad would have scarcely recognized his party. It bears little resemblance indeed to the entity he so eagerly joined in the 1960s.

For those who missed it, the Supreme Court issued a mild surprise and ruled that privately-owned corporations can be exempt from the HHS mandate requiring employer-run insurance to cover contraceptives if the mandate opposes the religious beliefs of ownership.

On paper, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. The court’s five-man majority was comprised of Republican appointees by Ronald Reagan (Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kenendy), George H.W. Bush (Clarence Thomas), and George W. Bush (John Roberts and Samuel Alito).

What is notable to me is how the court’s vote was split as much along religious lines as by partisan differences. The majority justices are all Roman Catholic and only one dissenting justice (Obama appointee Sonia Sotomayor) is of the same faith. (The remaining three justices, by the way, are Jewish.)

And in that light, the Hobby Lobby ruling underscores the ever-growing split between the Democratic Party and the religious group that put them on the map in the 20th century.

A little history: Few Americans today remember the name Al Smith, but the New York Democrat ran for president against Herbert Hoover and got crushed, 87 electoral votes to Hoover’s 444. It was a landslide that would have relegated Smith to a footnote were it not for an Election Day postmortem that helped Democrats zero in on a new, emerging base.

Smith, you see, was a Catholic and his religion was a negative in the Great Plains and Deep South. Once the votes were tallied, however, Democrats analyzed where Smith fared well and realized there were potential blocs among urban, middle-class voters, most of them Catholics.

Franklin D. Roosevelt harnessed Smith’s scattered votes and turned the tables on Hoover in 1932. Just 28 years later, Kennedy achieved what Smith couldn’t and a bond was cemented between Democrats and the sons of European immigrants.

And now? Read this excerpt from “Double Down: Game Change 2012,” Mark Halperin’s and John Heilemann’s outstanding chronicle of Obama’s reelection campaign. Then, decide for yourselves what Obama thinks about his party’s historic base.

As Halperin and Heilemann recounted it, Obama was getting it in both ears on whether contraceptives should be part and parcel to the Affordable Care Act. Most of his staff wanted him to go along with Kathleen Sebelius and issue the HHS mandate, even though it would alienate what was left of the party’s churchgoing base. Then-Commerce secretary Bill Daley and vice-president Joe Biden howled in protest.

“Daley, Biden and Biden’s staff pushed back hard. We’ll lose Ohio, Pennsylvania, the Catholic vote, and the election, they blustered. (Others) thought that the old-timers were out of their minds. Biden and Daley had no data to back up the scare talk — just instinct, pure gut.

“And in their obsession with the Catholic vote, they were ignoring the constituency that really mattered to Obama’s prospects: unmarried women, of whom the vast majority, including Catholics, favored the idea of contraceptives being including in the health care plans.”

Did you catch that? Democrats accused of having an “obsession with the Catholic vote.” It’s not enough for Obama to assault the faith of his party’s longtime base; he and his staff simply hold it in utter disregard, if not open contempt.

Dad, I miss you very much.

But I’m glad you didn’t have to see your party come to this.

Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, July 11, 2014
Article comment by: ronwood61

The Democratic party has changed? I was a strong Republican my whole life and, in my youth, campaigned door to door for Senator Chuck Percy and Everett Dirkson. These two outstanding Senators would be thrown out of todays Republican party, but they got many good things done even when in the minority. Mr. Collins thinks his father would not recognize today's Democratic party - well I am still alive and my Republican party no longer exists let alone changed. He also missed a point that most unwanted pregnancies that end in abortion are from poor women who have a hard time affording birth control so this Supreme Court ruling contributes to more abortions, not less. Besides, why should insurance pay for Viagra but not birth control?

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