THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE GOVERNOR WHO DIDN’T SPEAK AT THE CONVENTION….So, um, I think I’m going to piss off a bunch of people with this post, and to make it worse I’m going to do it over something pretty trivial. But I got kind of curious about a question that came up the other day over at Atrios’ site: why was Pennsylvania governor Bob Casey prevented from speaking at the 1992 Democratic convention?

Short answer: Conventional wisdom says it was because he wanted to give a pro-life speech and that’s verboten at Democratic conventions. But no: the real answer is that it was because he had refused to endorse the Clinton/Gore ticket ? and if you don’t endorse the ticket, you don’t get to speak.

But is that true? Is that what people actually said at the time? Through the magic of Nexis I pulled up about a hundred news stories from July 1992 that mentioned the Casey controversy and read them all. My conclusion: in fact, he was prevented from speaking because he wanted to give a pro-life speech.

Now, I’m genuinely curious to know if this is true or not, since before now I’ve always accepted the “didn’t endorse Clinton” explanation ? but I wasn’t there and wasn’t paying much attention to politics at the time. In other words, my Nexis archeology is all I have to go on and it may be missing something. So comments are welcome. The rest of this post is below the fold.

First things first: there is evidence that Casey’s non-endorsement was the official excuse for preventing him from speaking.

July 7, Washington Post: DNC press secretary Ginny Terzano says “anyone who is speaking at the convention will have endorsed Governor Clinton by the time of the convention and Governor Casey has not.”

July 13, USA Today: Jim Desler, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, says Casey was not allowed to speak because “most…speakers have endorsed Gov. Clinton.”

That’s it. Those are the only two quotes I could find to back up the non-endorsement story. What’s more, the second one is pretty equivocal. “Most” speakers? Obviously this indicates that non-endorsement was not completely disqualifying.

What’s more, it’s also clear from contemporaneous reports that (a) Casey’s non-endorsement was at least partly caused by the DNC’s refusal to let him speak in the first place, (b) Casey himself believed his abortion stand was the reason he wasn’t allowed to speak, and (c) virtually 100% of the news coverage also assumed that Casey’s abortion stand was the reason he wasn’t allowed to speak.

In fact, Casey’s abortion stand was so universally understood to be the real reason he wasn’t allowed to speak that most news stories barely even mentioned it. What’s more, Democrats widely seemed to accept this as well:

July 13, CNN, Rep. David McCurdy: “It’s clear they [Clinton and Gore] have a message that wants to ? that they want to have come out of this convention. It’s a mainstream message….And I think a little toughness is in order.”

July 13, CNN, Gov. Ann Richards: “It’s a matter of timing and giving everybody equal opportunity. What would you do if you say to one person on your issue, and you didn’t come before any of the committees ahead of time, you get up and we’re going to allow you to make a five minute speech. Then, how are you going to turn down any of the hundreds of people that might want to get up and make a speech? And it’s just a practical matter. It really isn’t a big deal.”

July 15, Daily Oklahoman: Asked why Casey was not allowed to speak, [James] Carville said, “The convention schedule is set. The Democrats of the country have spoken as to the direction they want the country to go,” he said in defending refusal to deviate from Clinton’s agenda.

July 15, CBS This Morning, Bob Beckel: “It’s going to do a ? take a lot to repair the damage there, I think. So they could have treated Casey better but don’t underestimate ? the Democrats are not going to try to fudge it on this issue. You’ve got to be choice on this issue.”

July 16, CNN, Gov. Roy Romer: “There’s a process. We went through the process. Governor Casey had a full hearing. The majority of the Democrats didn’t buy his position. I respect him very much, but there is no slight to Governor Casey.”

So: McCurdy suggested it was about message control; Richards (the convention co-chair) pretended it was just about process; Carville said it was about the “direction” Democrats wanted to go; Beckel said “you’ve got to be [pro] choice on this issue”; and Romer adopted the Richards line that it was all about process. These were all the relevant quotes I could find.

Here then is what we have:

  • Casey had made it clear that he wanted to talk about abortion and he had formally requested a convention speaking slot. Normally, for the governor of a major state, this would be a no-brainer.

  • It also seems likely that if he had been given his speaking slot he would have endorsed the Clinton/Gore ticket. It’s not as if he seriously expected them to change the party platform subsequent to losing a platform fight, after all.

  • Casey, other Democrats, and the entire press corps almost universally accepted the view that Casey had been denied a speaking slot because of his abortion stand.

  • Richards and Romer, given a chance, didn’t even try to pretend that Casey’s non-endorsement was the reason he was prevented from speaking. Instead they made up a “process” excuse that was transparently untrue.

  • There’s only one quote in the entire record (Terzano’s) that unambiguously offers up the non-endorsement theory, even though other people had plenty of additional chances to make that point.

So it seems to me that the real reason Casey was prevented from speaking was because….he wanted to give a pro-life speech. Clinton was keeping a tight lid on the convention and wanted no dissent on an issue that he considered important.

Which is all fine, I think. That’s how conventions work in the television age, and it’s not as if Republicans haven’t been known to impose a bit of message discipline of their own now and again. Things probably got out of hand and could have been handled better, but I don’t think Casey really had anything to gripe about. He knew his own party’s platform.

Still, it doesn’t change the fact that abortion really was the key issue here ? or so it seems to me. Any contradictory evidence is welcome.

UPDATE: Based on a comment from Don P, I’ve made a couple of minor changes to the post to make it clearer. My tentative conclusion is that Casey was denied a speaking slot because he wanted to give a pro-life speech, not simply because Casey himself was pro-life. I don’t think there’s any evidence at all that simply being pro-life prevents you from speaking at Democratic conventions, either in 1992 or any other year.

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