Yesterday, Tom Maguire pointed to what he claims is an old defense of the "conventional wisdom" on the exclusion of Saint Casey from the 1992 Democratic convention (although, in fairness, his analysis is actually a little more intelligent than that.) But I see no reason to believe that Begala (who Maguire also links to) is wrong that Casey's failure to endorse the Democratic ticket played a role in his not being invited to speak, but purely for the sake of argument let's say that this is just ex post facto rationalization.

It remains rather critical to distinguish between two distinct claims: the argument that Casey (as the Times said yesterday) didn't speak "because he is pro-life" and because "he wanted to give a speech attacking his party's position on reproductive freedom." (Maguire carefully conflates the two by framing this as whether Casey was excluded "because of abortion.") The Myth of Casey relies on dissembling and giving version #1. And this is necessary, because if stated as the much more accurate version #2, the claim that the party did something wrong is transparently ridiculous.

Well, maybe not fully transparent. Maguire, whatever his other sins, does us the favor of reminding us of this remarkable claim from Peter Beinart:

I think one of the great problems in the debates about abortion and gay rights is the perception that liberals are illiberal and nondemocratic. It's remarkable to me how many people still mention the fact that [the anti-abortion Pennsylvania governor] Bob Casey was denied the right to speak at the 1992 Democratic convention. That was an illiberal thing the party did. And there is an important debate for liberals to have about the role of the courts in pushing social change.

So "liberalism" requires that a political party give a speaking slot at its nominating convention to anyone who wants to give a speech attacking a party's core values? Is this guy for real? What would the idea of a political party even mean if this was true? I think we can see why Beinart thought that running Joe Lieberman in 2004 was a peachy idea.

And as dumb as this idea is in the abstract, it's even worse in context:

  • Casey's support of using state power to compel (poor) women to bring pregnancies to term came in the context of a recently argued Supreme Court case seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade.
  • It was Casey's government that was not only defending the abortion regulations at issue in the case but that filed a brief urging that Roe be overruled.
  • Although this now seems less threatening, it's also important to remember that at the time the overruling of Roe seemed to be nearly certain. The most recent Court pronouncement on the subject has only three clear votes for re-affirming Roe, ad two of those justices had just been replaced. Kennedy joined Rehnquist's majority, not O'Connor's more moderate concurrence. Even assuming the O'Connor wouldn't vote to explicitly overrule and not counting on the unknown views of Souter, Thomas and Kennedy seemed to give the clearly anti-Roe Rehnquist, Scalia and White a majority negating a woman's right to choose an abortion.

So Casey Sr. was not some random pro-lifer. He was not a nominal pro-lifer who wasn't actively trying to criminalize abortion in the manner of Harry Reid. He was at the epicenter of a movement to take away a cherished constitutional right from American women, and moreover a movement that seemed at the brink of succeeding in forcing poor women to the black market if they wanted to control their reproductive destinies. And he wanted to broadcast his views -- both unpopular and contrary to core party principles -- at the party's convention.

Of course he wasn't permitted to do this, and even if had been the sole reason for his exclusion the party's decision would have been indisputably correct. The only "illberal" or "intolerant" actions here were the actions of Casey. Are the Republicans obligated to give speaking spots to people who support single-payer health care and Denmark's tax policies? If John Lindsay wasn't permitted to give a speech at the nominating convention in 1984 attacking Reaganonmics despite his demands would we still be hearing about how the "intolerant" Republicans had "treated him shabbily" decades later? I think these questions answer themselves.

--Scott Lemieux

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