June 5, 2009
Joe had some unfortunate prejudices. He didn't like Protestants, Republicans, or Yankees. William Allen White was all three of those things. White was a Kansas editor who wrote about FDR the day he died: "We who hate your gaudy guts salute you."
I never hated Joe's gaudy guts. But he was nothing if not gaudy and gutsy. Joe loved marching into Paul Weyrich's weekly meetings on Capitol Hill-especially if someone from the Bush White House was there, or perhaps a congressional GOP leader. He would start off a blast: "The trouble with you Republicans..."
Joe's threw his best punch at the Republican bosses in Pennsylvania. The year was 1990. It was the year after a feckless White House response to the Supreme Court's Webster decision. The pro-life movement throughout the country seemed to be on the ropes. Forty-plus weak pro-lifers in the U.S. House of Representatives, most of them Republicans-turned coat.
Joe saw an opportunity to take a stand for the unborn in the Keystone State. Gov. Bob Casey was a Democrat and quietly pro-life. Casey was running for re-election. In Arlen Specter's home state, the Republican suits put forward State Auditor Barbara Hafer, a loudly pro-abortion candidate.
Joe wasn't going to go gently into that good fight. He swung into action and spearheaded a challenge to the establishment by Peg Luksik, a political unknown. Joe knew how to organize a political campaign at the grassroots level. He knew how to count votes. Peg's campaign had enthusiasm, spirit, and pluck. Lots of pluck---and no money.
Still, Peg Luksik managed to win nearly 46% of the vote in the state's GOP gubernatorial primary that year. She didn't win. What she did was even better. She showed the strength of the pro-life cause at the grassroots. Her near-victory made professional pols around the country sit up and take notice. She made possible the landslide re-election of Gov. Casey as an unapologetic pro-lifer. Peg's strong showing breathed life into the pro-life movement-not just in Pennsylvania, but across the country.
Casey had been elected Governor the first time with just 50% of the vote. Seeing what Peg Luksik and Joe Barrett had done, Casey spoke out more strongly for the unborn. He was re-elected by an astounding 67% in 1990. That translated to 2,065,281 votes. No Pennsylvania governor had ever won by such a margin before. And because he was so strong in his pro-life commitment, Casey earned the contempt of the Clintons. They banned him from speaking at their 1992 national convention in New York.
As they used to say of that good Democrat, Grover Cleveland, we love him for the enemies he made. Joe Barrett was happy to make you some enemies if you didn't already have enough.
Bob Casey's voice is sorely missed today. For all the talk of dialogues under Golden Domes, who speaks for the most vulnerable among us, who cries out in defense of the defenseless, who gives voice to the voiceless? Bob Casey did. And so did Joe Barrett.
Before he was elected to the U.S. Senate, and before he took the soup, Daniel Patrick Moynihan said,"What's the use of being Irish if you don't know the world will someday break your heart?"
Joe Barrett's heart was broken by what was happening in this country. He cared, too, about human rights in the North of Ireland and about the needs of our returning veterans. Maybe he fought so hard for the wounded warriors at Walter Reed Hospital because Joe was himself a wounded warrior. He was very Irish, faithfully Catholic, and all-American.
I thank God for Joe's being in my life. And I thank God for the life that was in Joe.