Catholic voters should steel themselves to hear Barack Obama accused of "infanticide" this fall. Support for that heinous crime is the latest charge being cooked up against a Democratic nominee by the man who helped to paint John Kerry as unworthy of the communion wafer back in 2004.
Deal Hudson, who was compelled to resign from his role with the Republican National Committee after sordid details from his personal life were brought to light four years ago, now sits on John McCain's 80-person advisory board for Catholic issues. From that perch, he's begun launching the "infanticide" smear against Obama in niche media outlets like his own "Inside Catholic" website and talk radio host Al Kresta's program. ("Infanticide is becoming a touchy subject for Barack Obama," Hudson wrote matter-of-factly on his website in early July.)
But while some Catholic activists have expressed dismay at Hudson's place at the table among McCain advisers, their objections have mostly centered around the dishonor in his personal life -- specifically, an allegation that he had sex with an 18-year old Fordham University freshman who was his student in the 1990s. The current focus on those exploits suggests, at the very least, the troubling reality that few Catholic leaders outside of those associated with progressive organizations are willing to publicly fault Hudson for suggesting that the execution of live children is an active policy dispute in this election.
The justification for Hudson's misleading "infanticide" charge stems from a proposed state version of the federal Born Alive Infant Protection Act, debated in Illinois when Obama was a state senator in 2001. The most well-publicized portion of that bill would have required that any "viable" fetus surviving a late-term abortion receive sustaining medical care (something which opponents of that bill said was already required by a 1975 bill in the state). But because Obama voted "no" in committee and "present" on the Senate floor, Hudson reasons, Obama must have been in favor of killing viable, born babies -- especially since the U.S. Congress also passed a "born alive" measure in 2002 in near unanimous fashion.
"Unlike Obama in Illinois, Sen. Hillary Clinton voted to support the [2002 federal] bill," Hudson wrote earlier this year. "In fact, the bill passed the Senate 98 to 0 with pro-abortion senators like Boxer (D-CA) and Reid (D-NV) supporting it. In 2003, the bill was introduced in the Illinois legislature for the third time and directed to a committee chaired by Obama, Health and Human Services. They refused to bring the bill to a vote. Only when Obama left for Washington in 2005 did the Born Alive Infant Protection Act pass the Illinois legislature. It's for good reason Barack Obama has been called 'the most pro-abortion presidential candidate ever.'"
One significant problem with Hudson's logic is that it requires comparing apples to oranges. The Illinois and federal bills differed not only in language, but regulatory impact. Critically, the Illinois version of the bill that Obama opposed was also bundled with other proposals that would have put doctors at risk of prosecution, which led the Illinois State Medical Society to oppose the measure along with Obama. The state bill also carried greater influence in terms of enforcement, since states had been granted greater leeway in regulating abortion practices ever since the U.S. Supreme Court's 1992 ruling in the case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
Illinois State Representative Rosemary Mulligan sighed when the Huffington Post told her about the "infanticide" claim currently being leveled at Obama. As a pro-choice Republican who is supporting John McCain for president but also worked with Obama back in 2001, she described the first Illinois version of the Born Alive legislation as "a very onerous bill," adding that "I think that the hardcore, hard right conservative Catholics overreach on this one."
Something else Deal Hudson fails to note in his critique of Obama is the fact that the 2005 version of the state bill, which passed, was a compromise bill free of any other measures Obama had previously opposed. Had he been there to vote for it, he may well have done so. Specifically addressing his onetime concern over the impact of a re-definition of what "born alive" could be interpreted to mean, the 2005 measure that passed after Obama left Springfield included three new clauses that read:
(c) Nothing in this Section shall be construed to affirm, deny, expand, or contract any legal status or legal right applicable to any member of the species homo sapiens at any point prior to being born alive, as defined in this Section.
(d) Nothing in this Section shall be construed to affect existing federal or State law regarding abortion.
(e) Nothing in this Section shall be construed to alter generally accepted medical standards.
In sum, comparing the federal bill passed by Congress in 2002 with the various Illinois measures proposed during Obama's tenure in the state legislature is a bogus enterprise meant to confuse people who lack the time and resources required to tease out the differences between them.
A similar reporting foul was committed in a 2006 article on the conservative Human Events website that carries the headline "Obama More Pro-Choice Than NARAL," and in which NARAL's support for the federal Born Alive Act is contrasted with Obama's opposition to the Illinois measure before the addition of the three compromise clauses.
By deliberately or inadvertently confusing the controversy that surrounded a local measure with the near-unanimous reception of a less-impactful federal bill with a similar name, Obama's enemies have concocted a narrative that misleadingly makes him appear a unique and horrifying monster in American politics.
But who will stop Hudson and his cohorts from spreading convincing-sounding falsehoods?
For their part, the Obama campaign is clearly not eager to give Hudson's claims a greater profile, as the "infanticide" claim is not even listed on their "Fight The Smears" website. But quietly, the campaign's Catholic outreach director has collated some of Hudson's writings, added point-by-point refutations, and then sent them out to sympathizers in the Catholic community. Obama has also granted an interview to Relevant Magazine in order to clear up his position on late-trimester and partial-birth abortions.
Meanwhile, the progressive group Catholics United has led the effort to encourage McCain to dump Hudson from his list of advisers. "Deal Hudson has been one of the leading proponents of this language that's very corrosive," said James Salt, the group's organizing director. "His rhetoric has been corrosive for Catholic values, with these broadside attacks that are disingenuous and unethical. The parallel would be to say McCain wants children to die of infectious diseases because he voted against [S-CHIP]."
Still, after the media firestorm that followed McCain's purge of Pastor John Hagee, his campaign appears to be in no mood to conduct further scrutiny regarding the company it keeps. "He's a name on a list, a volunteer. When are we going to start talking about gas prices, jobs and the issues facing Americans? The McCain campaign is all done with the 'gotcha' games," McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds told the Arizona Republic last week.
But of course another possible explanation is that McCain's campaign is perfectly happy to let Hudson go on about slashing at Obama's character without having their fingerprints too close to the weapon. (Hudson says he is an unpaid volunteer for the campaign, and not an official of any kind.)
Given that possibility, some worry that Hudson's efforts could prove a small but crucial difference in swing states like Florida, New Mexico and Ohio -- each of which boast significant Catholic populations. Even Salt admits that Hudson has a track record "of being very successful at dividing people," adding: "He was Karl Rove's chief political operative for Catholics. And it's very effective when you're able to manipulate the Catholic media that covers this into defining Barack Obama as a supporter of infanticide."