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The Democrats' Tiny Tent: The Siberian exile of a former governor with one of the party's most effective records.

by Nat Hentoff, Newspaper Enterprise Association
The Chattanooga Times, September 10, 1996

During the Democratic convention, the unsinkable Bella Abzug assailed the managers of the Republican convention for "muzzling some of their guys who didn't agree with them about abortion. "

A reporter for the New York Post asked her what she thought of her own party's refusal to allow former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey (1987-95) to speak at her convention. After all, Al Gore had promised on ABC-TV: "We don't have a gag rule the way the other party does." "So what?" said Abzug, the tribune of free speech, about the gagging of Casey. "It's not required," she said, "to have someone speak who has a position in contrast to the majority of the party." Casey is pro-life, so he had to be silenced.

Four years ago, Casey was also banished from the podium at the Democratic convention in New York. The reason, said James Carville -- who used to be a campaign strategist for Casey in Pennsylvania -- was that no one could speak who had not yet endorsed the Clinton ticket. However, Kathleen Brown of California had not endorsed Clinton, but she was given the microphone.

This year, Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., the chairman of the party, told The New York Times that he made a "number of calls" to Casey before the convention but they had not been returned. Casey wrote to Dodd and to The Times that "I checked with members of my staff and they received no such call or message."

Robert Patrick Casey is a pariah despite his having been arguably the most liberal and efficient Democratic governor in the nation -- with a far more impressive record than Bill Clinton's in Arkansas. Casey put millions of dollars into job training, helping over 330,000 people, most of them single mothers, out of welfare into solid jobs. And according to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, a much respected pediatrician and professor, Casey's prenatal and child health care programs were "a model for the rest of the country."

Moreover, despite a time of recession, he consistently increased state funding for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program while Republicans elsewhere were cutting it. Casey also increased funds for home care for the elderly.

None of this counted with the Clinton-Gore team in 1992 because a number of pro-choice (sic) feminists -- who were raising a lot of money for the ticket -- objected strenuously to Casey's appearance at the convention. Forty percent of Gov. Casey's cabinet members were women, but that too didn't count.

With this year's "open" Democratic convention again closed to him, Casey delivered an address in Chicago anyway, and in it Casey made an elementary free-speech point. Citing the many Democrats who oppose abortion -- in Congress, at other levels of government across the country and among the rank-and-file -- he asked: "Do we not have the right to attempt to persuade people in the direction we believe the country ought to go? Is this not the essence of democracy?"

That definition of democracy was not in play at either convention. Ask Pat Buchanan. But the Democrats are more aggressively hypocritical in insisting on their devotion to free speech. Jesse Jackson, for example, charged during the convention that the Republicans did not permit "uncensored" speeches and that heretics in San Diego "were sentenced to Siberia."

In heretic Casey's unofficial speech, his pro-life argument contained the same analogy that Jesse Jackson used to make when he was the most compelling anti- abortion speaker in the country. (That was before he decided to run for president and looked at the odds against a pro-life candidate.)

Twice in American history, said Casey, the law "excluded an entire class of people from their most sacred human rights." The first was the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision when blacks, slave or free, were told they were property, with no rights of their own.

The second time, Casey continued, was Roe vs. Wade: "An entire class of human beings was excluded from the protection of the law, their fate declared a private matter."

Casey, by the way, has no more confidence in Republicans than Democrats in this matter: "Republican pro-lifers drop the children at birth and do nothing for them after that."

Though unwelcome in the New Democratic Party, Casey still has the soul of a classic Democrat. Like Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Casey fiercely opposed the president's signing of the Republican welfare "reform" bill.

Until Dick Morris overindulged himself, he had unlimited access to the ultimate leader of the Democratic Party that had no room for Robert Casey.

Copyright 1996 Times Printing Company