In 1996, when he was already very ill and perhaps understood the evanescent, precious value of life better than most, Gov. Bob Casey was honored by the Pennsylvania Family Institute with its Power of One Award. This is an excerpt from his acceptance speech:
"This is the heart of the matter. This is the bull's-eye. The family, and life….if we cannot be a country which guarantees equal rights to all of our people and protects life, what's left? What is more important than life? Balanced budget? Tax cuts? Family and medical leave? The environment? What's more important? And when you put it in those terms, you get total silence. Because the average person understands."
Gov. Casey was an exceptional, authentic human being. He didn't do things that were politically expedient, because if he did, he would have kept silent on the abortion issue. His faith, his value set, and his view of the world compelled him to be the voice for the voiceless, and I consider him heroic. It is no coincidence that he is the "Casey" in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which attempted to roll back the draconian mandate of Roe. v. Wade. His name is, for me, a truly honorable one.
I shared the quote above, because this column is about how Gov. Casey's son, his namesake, exhibited a gross violation of the decency his father espoused. This is about an act so cruel and discordant that it exhibits a total abandonment of his father's code.
Bob Casey Jr. is running for his third term in the Senate. He has money, a famous name, lots of support from blue voters in a purple state, and an opponent who is so closely tied to President Trump and so outmatches in funding that the odds are on Casey to win. The polls are not obscure tea leaves, and it doesn't take a lot to conclude that Casey is in a very good position just now.
Casey has been running ads attacking his opponent, Rep. Lou Barletta, for voting against key parts of Obamacare. But instead of simply saying, "He'll vote against your health insurance," Casey has been running an ad, one he has used before, which profiles a woman whose twin daughters suffered from cancer. The stark message is this: Barletta voted against health insurance for kids with cancer.
That would be bad enough.
That would make Bob Casey Sr. shake his head, disappointed in the use of a sick child for political gain. The former governor placed too much importance on the welfare of children before birth, as a pro-life advocate, and after birth that it's hard to imagine he would have supported this kind of political gamesmanship. He fought with the best of them in his heyday, but I have to believe that he would find this ad repugnant.
But what's truly reprehensible about Casey's ad is that Barletta's 18-month-old grandson, also a twin, is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.
"[Casey] should take the commercial down, and he should be ashamed of himself," Barletta said in an emotional video posted to Twitter on Sunday.
Casey said in a statement that the parallels involving children stricken with cancer were unintentional and that he's used this family's story in speeches for years. But there was no apology, and he didn't remove the ad from the airwaves.
Instead, after Casey saw how disgusted even some Democrats were with his tone-deaf, mean-spirited antics, the campaign agreed to pull the ad in the Scranton area. But folks in Philadelphia, and in Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, still have the pleasure of hearing about how Barletta, grandad of a child with cancer, hates kids with cancer.
If Casey wants to show the decency that Pennsylvanians know he was raised with, he should pull the ads from all markets. His father would want that.