This morning on Public Discourse, R.J. Snell of Eastern University offers a lovely and moving tribute to the late Sargent Shriver, who was, together with the late Robert P. Casey, among the last of the great pro-life liberal statesmen. Casey’s pro-life convictions and witness are widely known; Shriver’s less so. But, as R.J. shows, Shriver was a forceful and unabashed defender of the sanctity of human life in all stages and conditions. And he deserves to be remembered and praised for that.
In the course of his tribute, R.J. gives some attention to a statement of pro-life conviction published at the behest of Casey and Shriver in the New York Times during the Democratic National Convention in July of1992 under the title “A New American Compact.”
Among the other signers were Eunice Kennedy Shriver, former Treasury Department Secretary William E. Simon, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Sidney Callahan, Mary Ann Glendon, Michael McConnell (who was then at the University of Chicago Law School), Jon Levenson (of Harvard Divinity School), James Kurth (of Swarthmore College), Rabbis David Novak and Marc Gellman, former New York Governor Hugh Carey, Leon Kass, Nat Hentoff, George Weigel, and Ron Sider—altogether, quite a collection of prominent liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats.
I know a bit of the background here because, together with my friend William C. Porth, I composed the original draft of the statement at Governor Casey’s request, and discussed it at length with the Governor and the Shrivers at two meetings at the Governor’s Mansion in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Their hope was to build a strong and enduring bipartisan pro-life coalition. They viewed the protection of innocent human life as a principle that should transcend the liberal-conservative divide and unite people of goodwill across party lines. They feared that respect for the sanctity of human life was becoming a partisan issue, and that pro-life liberals and Democrats would soon find themselves politically homeless. Of course, what they feared is what has in fact happened. There are no figures in the Democratic Party or the liberal movement today who fill the shoes of Governor Casey and Sargent Shriver. It is difficult to see how any such figure could rise to a position of leadership in the party or movement. And all of us are the poorer for it.