Reacting to the recent liberal magazine editor roundtable (which I'll be saying more about later), Digby and Atrios are nailing Beinart for bringing up the "snubbing" of Bob Casey, the anti-choice governor of Pennsylvania who was denied a speaking slot at the 1992 convention. Now, Casey lost his spot because he didn't endorse the ticket, not, as the story goes, because he was anti-choice. But while Beinart is repeating a canard, he's repeating one that has crystallized into truth for many, many voters, and so long as the tale enjoys that kind of belief, simply ignoring it and condemning those who mention it does us no good.
The reason the story has stuck -- a politically active and progressive friend repeated it to me mere days ago, and I'd be entirely unsurprised if Beinart actually thinks it's true -- is because there's a very real perception of the Democratic party as entirely intolerant to anti-choice views. And until that perception dies, the story will continue to live. It exists now as a heuristic, a little parable encapsulating the Democratic intolerance that everyone knows, or thinks they know, to be true. So I wouldn't aim fire at Beinart for mentioning it, I actually think it's helpful to repeat. Here's why: In order to for a party to undergo an image change, it needs something to change against. We're not going gradually improve our numbers by knocking on every door and methodically poking holes in the Casey story. A better idea would be to embrace the Casey story as an example of what our party doesn't do anymore.
After all, Atrios has been out front in defending Bobby Casey (anti-choice son of the ex-governor, currently state treasurer) as a challenger to Santorum. Indeed, I've seen precious little outrage against Casey's view, but quite a bit of pleasure over his entrance into the race. In Rhode Island, choice-skeptic Langewin is being pushed as a Chafee challenger. And it was barely a month ago that Hillary "Hammer and Sickle" Clinton stepped up to the plate and endorsed the compromise position, that both sides agree abortions must be reduced and the Democratic party wants to focus on achieving that goal. And it was not her but Carol Tobias, of the National Right-to-Life Committee, who embraced dogmatism and informed the world that there would be no compromises on the issue. And no one should forget that Harry Reid, one of the few anti-choice Senators in the caucus, was elected to lead the party, and yet no San Franciscans are rioting in the streets.
The shift here is, of course, entirely perception. Democrats are not going to start curtailing choice (see Roemer's ill-fated candidacy), but they're done with the intolerant image that makes the Casey canard an archetypal tale of party behavior. And while Beinart didn't mention the story to disprove it, I wouldn't be so quick to condemn its invocation. Correcting the record on Casey would be almost impossible, but using it to show how we've changed is the sort of Sister Souljah moment that can crystallize an emerging perception. And setting the party's more overtly-inclusive message in concrete, easily-understandable terms would do us a world of good. In the end, it's not really important to disprove the story in the past. It's disproving it in the present that matters.
Clarification: This post shouldn't really be taken as a defense of Beinart; what I'm suggesting, after all, is not what he was doing. It's more to argue that Beinart and those to his right are going to keep repeating the Casey story because it fits into a particular frame. Rather than try and correct that -- after all, as Lakoff would tell you, when the facts don't fit the frame its the facts that get thrown out -- we can use the recent actions of the party to draw the contrast with the Beinart story, thus using it to change the frame. That the younger Casey is running and attracting considerable party support makes the opportunity all the riper.