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Here come the wild creatures

By John Leo
U.S. News & World Report, October 19, 1992

In nominating Bill Clinton, Mario Cuomo said the Democratic Party stands for the ''politics of inclusion." But inclusion had its limits, so one of the party's most successful governors was not allowed to speak at the convention. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania had the incorrect position on abortion and was therefore excludable.

As Nat Hentoff pointed out in the Village Voice, Casey was not just banned. He was rather graphically humiliated by the abortion lobby. One of his politicalenemies, a woman who had fought many of his programs in Pennsylvania, was brought onstage at the convention and pointedly honored as a ''Republican for Choice."

Now Casey has been silenced again, this time by a coalition of abortion advocates and street crazies who drowned out his attempt to speak in New York onthe topic ''Can a liberal be pro-life?" Ironically, the lecture was sponsored by Cooper Union and the Village Voice as an exercise in free speech. Pro-abortion views seem to be mandatory on the Voice staff (''I'm the only antiabortion person here since the beginning of time," Nat Hentoff said), and because everybody already agrees, the issue is not considered debatable. But Village Voice Publisher David Schneiderman suggested the lecture because he was ''annoyed" by the Democrats' position on Casey and thought ''it was great for a newspaper that doesn't agree with him ... to let him give the speech."

About a hundred shrieking protesters stopped the speech. According to a Voice report, half were from ACT UP (an AIDS advocacy group) and WHAM and WAC (two feminist groups), and half were assorted radicals, some protesting the pending execution in Pennsylvania of a former Black Panther convicted of killing a cop.

Hollow chants. Hentoff was there to introduce Casey. During Hentoff's remarks, the chant started: ''Racist, sexist, antigay, Governor Casey go away." This is a ritual chant, long since drained of content. Casey has been unusually strong in appointing minorities and women to high office, and state contracts awarded to minority-owned and women-owned firms rose 1,500 percent during his first five years in office. The prominent pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton says Casey's health programs for women and children are ''a model for the rest of thecountry." Under Casey, the state's AIDS funding rose from $ 656,000 a year to $ 21 million. But none of this matters if you dissent on abortion.

The screaming, chanting and whistling lasted 35 minutes, until Casey gave upand quit the platform. Along the way, this exchange occurred: Heckler: ''Murderers have no right to speak!" Hentoff: ''This is just like the fascists in the beer halls! It's censorship!" Hentoff called it the ugliest crowd he eversaw. Casey has witnessed this sort of thing before. ACT UP, whose motto is ''Silence=Death," did its best to drown out his second inaugural last year, ''shouting obscenities through the whole thing," he said. Last week he said that''these wild creatures" who shouted him down at Cooper Union shouldn't be allowed to dictate who speaks and who doesn't. An understatement. The crowd's primitive understanding of free speech showed up in an exchange between an ACT UPer and freelance reporter David DeCosse. The ACT UPer, B. C. Craig, said she was happy that Casey wasn't able to give a solo speech, with no pro-abortion-rights debater to challenge him. If so, DeCosse said to the woman, then you should have supported Casey's request to challenge the abortion-rights lineup at the Democratic convention. The ACT UPer responded, Whoever said that conventions are open forums?

Waffling about free speech, or open hostility to it, is now a regular feature of the left, ranging from speech codes to censorship of campus speakers,like Camille Paglia, who deliver insensitive and incorrect messages, unfit for tender ears. A prominent liberal commentator (name withheld, to protect the innocent) says that more and more people on the left are ''locked into a narrow orthodoxy, with no connection to genuine openness or ordinary decency." A handy horrible example of this attitude is Donna Minkowitz of the Voice staff. She wrote that allowing Casey to speak at the convention would have been like letting Jerry Falwell speak there and that the Voice shouldn't sponsor a pro-life speech because it's like sponsoring one by a Nazi.

It's worth noting that the more egregious activities of the ''wild creatures" do not get criticized very often in the press. Sometimes they are not even reported. Outside of the understandable coverage by the Village Voice, the suppression of Governor Casey's speech was a nonevent in media-saturated NewYork City. I noticed no coverage in three of the four city dailies. The New YorkTimes ran a 4-inch story, buried way inside, only because an unassigned reporterhappened to be there and phoned it in. Four days later, columnist Anna Quindlen mildly criticized the demonstrators deep in one of her columns deploring the ''gag rule." That was it. No other mention in the Times. Casey told me: ''If it had been a right-wing group shutting down a pro-choice speech by the governor ofa major state, it would have been splashed across Page 1 in the Times the next day."

I think so, too.

U.S. News & World Report