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Hullabaloo


Sunday, March 06, 2005

 
Crybaby Casey

Kevin Drum takes issue with the assertion that Bob Casey was denied his speaking spot because he refused to endorse the ticket as Atrios and I both posted yesterday. I think he's wrong.

Kevin cites a number of Democrats at the time who vaguely implied that Casey was axed because of his pro-life views, but none (except that clown Bob Beckel) that come out and say so. He concludes that it wasn't because of his pro-life view per se, but because he wanted to deliver a pro-life speech.

The truth is that Bob Casey was the biggest crybaby the Party has ever known and he personally perpetuated this story for his own purposes. This story was settled long ago by Michael Crowley who investigated this a lot closer to the time these events actually happened (1996) and put the story to rest. The Republicans have kept it going because it's such a nice example of Democratic intolerance. But it just ain't so.

You'll recall that Casey, a Democrat, was denied a speaking slot at his party's 1992 convention, allegedly, as The New York Times reported as recently as August 25, "because of his opposition to abortion rights." Now, as both parties bid up the stakes in the tolerance wars, the GOP has been using the purported muzzling of Casey to bludgeon the Democrats--and getting a free pass from the news media. "This is not like the Democratic convention in 1992, where the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, one of the biggest states in the nation, was prevented from speaking because he's pro-life," Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour said of his party's tightly controlled show in San Diego.

Since leaving office in 1995, Casey himself has rehearsed the tale ad nauseam. "The raging national debate about tolerance on the issue of abortion was ignited," Casey wrote in the August 23 Wall Street Journal, when "the party denied me ... the right to speak because I am pro-life and planned to say so from the convention podium." In Chicago, Casey delivered an impassioned pro-life speech Monday, railing against his party's imposed conformity.

But the story is not so simple. According to those who actually doled out the 1992 convention speaking slots, Casey was denied a turn for one simple reason: his refusal to endorse the Clinton-Gore ticket. "It's just not factual!" stammers James Carville, apoplectic over Casey's claims. "You'd have to be idiotic to give a speaking role to a person who hadn't even endorsed you." "Why are you doing this to me?" moans Paul Begala, who, with Carville, managed two Casey campaigns before joining Clinton's team in 1992. "I love Bob Casey, but my understanding was that the dispute was not about his right-to-life views, it was about the Clinton-Gore ticket."

The man best able to explain the decision was the late Ron Brown. He addressed the topic during a roundtable discussion of Clinton campaign veterans (published as Campaign for President: The Managers Look at '92). He explained:

We decided the convention would be totally geared towards the general election campaign, towards promoting our nominee and that everybody who had the microphone would have endorsed our nominee. That was a rule, everybody understood it, from Jesse Jackson to Jerry Brown.... The press reported incorrectly that Casey was denied access to the microphone because he was not pro-choice. He was denied access to the microphone because he had not endorsed Bill Clinton. I believe that Governor Casey knew that. I had made it clear to everybody. And yet it still got played as if it had to do with some ideological split. It had nothing to do with that.

Indeed, the more one examines the version offered by the Democratic hacks, the more compelling it seems. Casey's claims to a speaking slot were tenuous from the outset. He was about to retire from politics, and convention speeches are usually allotted to those running for re-election. "It wasn't like he was going to be on there and they said, `Well, you're off now,' or something," Carville says. Besides, Casey repeatedly bashed Clinton during the primaries, calling Clinton's success "very tragic." Less than three months before the '92 convention, he urged, "Convention rules provide for the selection of an alternative candidate. Let's pick a winner." Why would Clinton invite him to speak?

Casey doesn't dispute that he refused to endorse Clinton. Instead, he notes that Jerry Brown and his sister, Kathleen, also did not endorse, yet were both allowed to speak. Theirs, however, were special cases: Jerry Brown had won several hundred delegates in the primaries, and under convention rules was allowed to speak because his name was placed in nomination. Kathleen Brown, then a candidate for governor of California, was one of the party's highest-profile women (and, though she didn't endorse Clinton, she didn't endorse her own brother, either). Even a reluctant Jesse Jackson was coaxed into backing Clinton in exchange for his speaking slot. Furthermore, a slew of pro-life Democrats, including Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley Jr., Senators John Breaux and Howell Heflin, and five governors, did address the delegates in 1992. Though the speakers didn't dwell on abortion, party officials say they weren't barred from mentioning the issue.

Casey, for his part, offers little evidence for his version beyond his unswayable conviction that the party is out to get him. "I'm sure they were chagrined that I didn't endorse the ticket," he says. "But the overriding reason was that I was going to go up there and make the pro-life case." As he tells it, on July 2, 1992, he wrote to Ron Brown, then the party chairman, and on July 13 to Ann Richards, the chairwoman of the delegation, asking to give a pro-life speech at the convention. He never heard from either one.

Casey also sought to speak against the platform when it was presented for a vote. This wouldn't have entailed a prime-time speech. But in response all he received was a copy of a letter sent by the convention's general counsel to its parliamentarian, explaining that, according to platform committee rules, his request was "out of order." Casey found the perfunctory dismissal demeaning. He calls it "the kind of letter they might have sent Lyndon LaRouche."

Casey's claim that he fell victim to an orchestrated campaign to silence his pro-life views has never been proven and, based on the available evidence, isn't very persuasive. Its currency stems mostly from his indefatigable promulgation of it. Yet the media have accepted the story at face value. At the very least they should be aware that, in so doing, they are playing into Casey's--and the Republicans'--hands.


Here's what Bill Clinton had to say in "My Life" about the incident:

Governor Bob Casey, whom I admired for his tenacity in running three times before he won, had been very critical of me. He was strongly anti-abortion. As he struggled with his own life-threatening health problems, the issue became more and more important to him and he had a hard time supporting pro-choice candidates.

---

There was [also] a minor flap when Ron brown refused to let governor Bob Casey speak to the convention, not because he wanted to speak against abortion but because he wouldn't agree to endorse me. I was inclined to let Casey talk, because I liked him, respected the convictins of pro-life Democrats, and thought we could get alot of them to vote for us on other issues and on my pledge to make abortion "safe, legal and rare." But Ron was adamant. We could disagree on issues, he said, but no one should get the microphone who whasn't committed to victory in November. I respected the discipline with which he had built the party, and I deferred to his judgment.



It's clear to me that rather than being denied a speaking slot because he wanted to talk about abortion, Bob Casey (Zell Miller Jr) was denied a speaking spot because he refused to endorse a pro-choice candidate for the Democratic nomination. Who is the intolerant one here? And it sounds to me as if Clinton was ready to do a little Sistah Soljah-ing with a Casey speech but since Casey had been extremely unsupportive, Brown decided to pull his chain. I see no reason to disbelieve this. Casey was behaving like a spoiled ass and they decided not to reward him for it. Good for them. It was the most successful convention we ever had.



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