Archive for January, 2012
I’m really proud that NRO is publishing Artur Davis, who does a far better job of making the case against the Obama administration than all but a small handful of Republicans. In a column making the case that the GOP should draft Jeb Bush, Davis offers the following aside:
One doesn’t have to subscribe to Gingrich’s Manichean rhetoric to concede that an Obama sweep would, for the first time in 76 years, institute government-centered, redistributionist economics as the country’s central governing philosophy. It would be, after all, the agenda that Obama and congressional Democrats had campaigned on, in contrast to the deliberately muted, ideologically vague platforms that elected Carter, Clinton, and Obama in 2008; or the growth-oriented, business friendly liberalism that JFK and LBJ embodied.
In some alternate universe, President Obama follows up on his reform of healthcare and financial regulations by pivoting to an overhaul of public education in the United States. Instead of spending 2011 on the predictable, partisan ground of raising upper income taxes while growth is weak, Obama might have spent the year making a case that a vibrant economy demands a skilled, advanced workforce and that our outdated method of educating our children is inadequate to the challenge.
Alas, that is not the reality we live in. Obama’s signature plan of incentivizing states to embrace their own reforms, The Race to The Top, is being nibbled to irrelevance; rather than spending political capital to revamp No Child Left Behind, the administration is following the easy course of killing it softly with waivers; charter schools have gone two straight State of the Union addresses without being mentioned; and if the president believes that the stratification in the quality of our schools from one zip code to another is a major contributor to income inequality, he has scarcely said so.
Had Obama adopted education reform as an agenda item, he would have profited from the Republican inertia on the subject. Whether it was Rick Perry on the days he remembered his pledge to abolish the Department of Education, or Newt Gingrich promising to downsize the department to a clipping service for inventorying data, or Mitt Romney trotting out old rhetoric about “local control”, the GOP presidential field has been one long yawn on the notion of education as a public priority.
It’s a bipartisan omission that signifies the power of each party’s political base. For Obama, bold action on educational accountability seems to be a casualty of a post debt-ceiling reelection strategy that is base reinforcement all the time. On the right, denigrating the public sector is easier work than laying out a foundation to make its elements, including education, more productive.
The blunt truth is that it is no longer tenable to make teaching the one profession where weak performance is no grounds for termination. It is not sustainable that teaching is the sole creative profession where it is suspect to reward performance with bonuses. It makes no sense that a 50 year old chemist or executive has no pathway to enter the classroom to teach science or civics. It is indefensible that a 25 year old Ivy League science grad who wants to teach for two years has a harder time getting a teaching certificate than a C level education major from a college struggling to keep its accreditation. It’s impossible to explain why establishing a leadership track to train young professionals to be principals, modeled after officer candidate school in the military, is third rail material in education politics.
As Republicans rethink how to beat Obama in an environment where consumer confidence is rising, and a case is building for his economic stewardship, they would do well to sound off on these hard truths, and to link them to an indictment of how the Democratic Party’s entanglement with its political clients destroys innovation. This, by the way, is another reason so many conservatives and reform minded independents still pine for Mitch Daniels, or Jeb Bush, or Chris Christie. They’ve all built governing legacies around revitalizing education, and reminding divided electorates why liberalism struggles so much to solve the future.
In the early months of the election year, a polarizing president with a lackluster approval rating bided his time as the opposition party unraveled. Its nominating fight dissolved into chaos as the establishment front-runner collapsed, and an insurgent with a talent for galvanizing his party’s base surged, despite persistent fears about his electoral appeal beyond the party’s hardcore. A protracted primary fight ensued, with the insurgent and the party’s resistant establishment eviscerating each other for months; by the time it ran its course, a president who seemed imminently beatable was ahead by double digits. The story ends with that same president winning by an historic margin over a party that rejected its recent past in favor of a dangerously uncertain future.
Since losing his bid for the Democratic Party nomination for governor of Alabama in 2010, in what many political spectators viewed as a shocking 24-point loss to then Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, former Rep. Artur Davis has carved himself out a unique spot inside the inside-the-beltway punditocracy of Washington, D.C.
And with no concrete long-term plans, Alabama’s former District 7 Congressman still is keeping “a watchful eye” on the happenings of Alabama politics, but with perhaps a changed perspective after the state’s Democratic Party turned its back on his candidacy.
“I would say the best and most direct answer I can give you is I honestly don’t know what the next several years hold as far as my career is concerned,” Davis said to Lagniappe last week. “There’s no question that I retain an interest in politics. I retain an interest in elections and the debate that’s going on around various issues in this country. And you know I certainly retain some interest in what’s going on in the state of Alabama.”
Davis explained that his 2010 loss to Sparks wasn’t an “ordinary loss” candidates suffer, and thus rebuilding his brand name would be a tough feat. Davis had sought to become the state’s first black governor while bucking the established positions of black politicians in the state. He now places the blame for the defeat and the collateral damage to his name squarely on the shoulders of the Alabama’s Democratic Party.
“I want to remind people that I pretty much ran a campaign against the Democratic Party in Alabama,” Davis said. “Pretty much the whole hierarchy of the Democratic Party was opposed to my campaign. They opposed it in every way, shape and form. They pretty much opposed it from the very beginning of the campaign. Given that, I ran as someone who was going to fundamentally change the Democratic Party, someone who was going to break up the gravy train you had running over there at the state party.”
Going forward, he said he had no intention of trying to justify his political career to date – including bucking the Democratic Party on not supporting ObamaCare or the 2009 cap-and-trade legislation. That he said would be a needed component to get back in to Democratic politics locally.
“I had no interest in going into a process of apologizing for my whole career and apologizing for the campaign that I ran,” he explained. “After the campaign, there were a number of people who seemed to think what I should do is spend the next six months apologizing for taking this position, that position. I wasn’t going to do that.”
“It would be very, very, very difficult for me to win a Democratic primary in the state of Alabama given the fact that the party has drifted so far to the left and given the antipathy of the people who have power in the party toward me and a lot of the things I believe in,” Davis added.
Following the election, Davis left Alabama and his immediate future involves a stint at the Harvard Institute of Politics, where for the next four months he’ll be serving a fellowship. But his disdain for where he believes the Alabama Democratic Party is headed remains.
“Rather than concluding from the election results in November 2010 – that well, maybe we need to be a more inclusive party, maybe we need to move toward the center – I’ve seen the people that run the Democratic Party pretty much double down in the approach they had in 2010,” he said.
The former gubernatorial candidate said a happy medium needs to be found for the state’s Democratic party. He says it must not be as liberal as the modern Alabama Democratic Party, but also doesn’t want to see a return to the past, either.
“The Democratic Party in Alabama today is very different from the Democratic Party that existed, say 10 years ago or 15 years ago,” he explained. “I don’t think there are very many people that want the Democratic Party that we had in the 1950s or ‘60s when it was the Dixiecrat segregationist party. No one wants to go back to that point. But it’s not the party that it was 10 years ago or in the ‘90s. The Democratic Party in the ‘90s or 10 years ago was a very diverse party in Alabama. It spanned the ranks from liberal whites that lived in Cloverdale, the Southside of Birmingham, to very conservative whites that lived in the suburbs in Autauga and Elmore (Counties). It included working class people. It included small business owners. It included conservative businessmen. It included people who were trial lawyers. It was a very diverse party, and it needed to be a diverse party to withstand the Republican trend that was starting to set in the South.
“At some point in the last decade, the Democratic Party in Alabama seems to have decided that rather than being a diverse party, it’s going to become a party that’s pretty much controlled by narrow interest groups. And candidly what I observed in the last several years in my career was the Democratic Party in Alabama had pretty much fallen under the authority of the black political interest groups and the gambling industry. And that alliance between the gambling industry and the black political groups pretty much dominated every aspect of the Democratic Party. We couldn’t get around that alliance in our campaign. A good many other candidates who were running statewide couldn’t get around that alliance.”
Davis maintains that to succeed in the modern Alabama Democratic Party, one has to be liberal on national issues to accommodate the so-called “black interest groups,” but also set on expanding gambling within the state of Alabama.
“That’s not a broad enough platform to win in the state of Alabama,” Davis said. “It’s not a broad enough platform to move the state ahead substantively, and it’s certainly not a broad enough platform to win elections.”
Davis noted the party’s willingness to play the race card when it needed a fall guy for its lack of success in the last few years. He explained that since the party insisted upon aligning itself so closely with President Barack Obama, it has been at the mercy of the administration’s policy successes, which have failed to impress Alabamians for the most part. Instead of acknowledging what Davis says are the shortcomings of the Obama administration’s policies, Alabama Democrats have blamed racist attitudes from the Alabama GOP.
“The reality is Obama had a 58 percent approval rating in April 2009 in the state of Alabama,” he said. “I think people kind of knew he was black at that point. It is that his policies haven’t worked in the way that many of us would have wanted them to work and his policies have been ones that many people in Alabama wouldn’t support.”
Throughout the last few decades, the powerful Alabama Education Association (AEA) teachers’ lobby has been a fixture in state politics and has been often seen as a bogeyman to state’s Republican apparatus. However, Davis said their role in his 2010 loss was negligent.
“AEA is definitely a part of it,” he said. “I will tell you in 2010 that the AEA got a lot more involved in the Republican Party primary than the Democratic Party primary. Frankly the AEA got more involved in supporting Gov. (Robert) Bentley than they did supporting Ron Sparks.”
He explained that the AEA more or less became aligned with the state’s gambling interests, which the AEA viewed as a potential source of revenue for education in Alabama.
“What I observed in the last couple of years is that AEA – its politics aligned with the gambling industry,” he said. “Now some of that was understandable. Obviously AEA became very concerned about having extra funding for education and became very concerned about finding a new revenue stream to keep teachers’ pay at a certain level, and I basically think that led to an alliance forming between the gambling industry and the AEA.”
In 2007, Davis was serving on the House Judiciary Committee and had been outspoken about the 2006 conviction of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. He implied that the Bush administration had been playing politics with that conviction. That along with remaining in office during his 2010 gubernatorial run he said were his two main regrets while in politics.
“Well, people ask me a lot do you have any regrets from the last several years in politics, and I tell them number one, I should have resigned from Congress during the governor’s race so that we didn’t give our opponents in the Democratic Party the convenience of using federal issues to beat me up in the governor’s race,” he said. “And running for governor is a full-time job. You can’t run for governor and have a job that takes a significant amount of your time unless you have some apparatus where you can hand your office over to someone. In Congress it is hard to do that because you have to cast votes and you have to travel back and forth.”
“Regret number two is candidly, I wish I had never been as vocal in raising the issues around Don Siegelman’s prosecution in 2007,” he said. “Once I raised the issues around Don Siegelman’s prosecution, two things happened that frankly surprised me that were enormously disappointing.”
One of those two things was the perception he was soft on corruption and that he believed prosecutions were politically motivated, which made him popular with former politicians who had been convicted of crimes and needed someone to take up their cause. The other, he said, was that his outspokenness put his integrity on the line, as being so critical of the Department of Justice. He said that created the suspicion among some that he had something to hide.
“That was the only time in my career that a question was raised about my integrity in the aftermath of the Siegelman events,” he said. “And as someone who very strongly believes in ethics reform and as someone who believes in cleaning up politics at the federal and state level, frankly, a number of people took my criticisms of the prosecution as a defense of Siegelman, which it never was. But that’s a distinction that gets lost.”
Supports state’s voter ID law, but not immigration laws
Since leaving office in 2011, Davis has penned columns for Politico and in recent months has had his work featured by National Review, a standard bearer on policy for many in conservative circles. But he explained that one he penned about his stance in support of voter identification laws, which was in contrast to the left’s stance on the issue, garnered a lot of attention nationally.
He said he was accused of turning his back on his own party and everything he believed in. But that didn’t deter him from continuing to remain outspoken on the issue.
“I think my position on voter ID is exactly the right one, that frankly when someone goes in to vote, they shouldn’t be threatened by somebody asking them if they have a driver’s license,” he said. “That didn’t bother me and it never bothered any other African-American that I saw vote in the state of Alabama.”
Davis said the rise of this issue in recent months wasn’t out of an interest to enhance access to the polls, but instead to create an issue to better the chances of reelecting President Barack Obama.
“The issue has become controversial because some people want to make a political football out of it,” he said. “There are some people on the left that want to argue that Republicans are trying to suppress the black vote to defeat a black president. That’s the argument they want to make and it’s a convenient argument for them to make.”
Davis made the argument many on the right often make — that rights come with responsibilities.
“I think there are some on the left that believe unfortunately that if we have a right, we have no responsibilities,” he explained. “Yes, people have a right to vote as long as they’re a certain age and are not convicted felons. But that doesn’t mean you can’t attach responsibilities to those rights and that, I think, seems to be a core distinction emerging between a lot of people on the right and a lot of people on the left.”
Another hot-button issue in Alabama politics has been the state legislature’s passage of a tough immigration law. While Davis said he supported the state’s right to act where the federal government had been lacking, he said he was not supportive of many of the provisions in that legislation.
“I’m not a fan of the immigration law that was written in Alabama,” he said. “It is not the law that I would have written. I absolutely think Alabama has a right to pass an immigration law. I absolutely think Alabama has a right to address this area given the absence of federal action in the last several decades.”
Davis said his law would have been aimed at those engaging in hiring illegal immigrants, which is included in the Alabama law. However, the law has made teachers and principals “immigration cops.”
“Guess what they’d be doing if they weren’t in school?” he said. “They’d be stealing hubcaps, throwing rocks through windows, or attacking people and breaking into people’s homes. That’s what 15-and 16-year-olds do when they’re able-bodied, and they can’t go to school and they’re allowed to just sit around and affiliate themselves with the wrong forces and gangs during the day. It’s in our public safety interests that those kids are in a classroom and not wandering around in street gangs.”
Other provisions, like disabling water and power service to those in the country illegally, Davis said seem too difficult to enforce.
“I think there’s room for Alabama to pass an immigration law and one that’s very tough on employers who hire illegal immigrants,” he said. “Some of the extra provisions there that are incredibly difficult to enforce, that create basic issues of exclusion and stigma for people who frankly have every right to be here, but who just happen to look like they may not — those kinds of things are problematic.”
And while immigration and the voter identification laws have been hot-button issues both locally and nationally, the priority for Alabama’s legislature should be to get that state’s economy in order by bringing job growth, he said.
“If it doesn’t encourage companies to come to Alabama, then we ought to think twice about doing it,” he said.
Where else has the Republican-controlled state government been lacking? According to the former Alabama Democratic congressman, the state GOP has fallen short on ethics reform.
“I don’t understand why they don’t cap campaign contributions,” he said. “I think it’s a very good thing that PAC-to-PAC transfers were prohibited. I think that’s a good thing. But I don’t understand why someone can write someone a check for $1 million in Alabama politics. I don’t understand why someone can write a check for half-a-million dollars in the governor’s race. I don’t understand how someone can loan a candidate for governor $500,000. I don’t understand how a group of businessmen can loan a candidate for governor $750,000.”
Davis’ proposal: A $5,000 cap in primaries, in run-offs and in general elections.
“That means the most you could give anybody running for governor is $15,000 and that’s basically if they won their party’s nomination and went through a run-off,” he said.
And if he had his way, Davis said he would cap PAC contributions to at least $10,000, in addition to strict limits on bank loans with immediate disclosure of such loans and the loans’ terms.
But he said where the most glaring inadequacies of the Alabama’s ethics shortcomings lie are in the state’s lobbying laws, specifically where elected members of the legislature are allowed to lobby on behalf of special interests and being a voting participant at the same time.
“If you’re a member of the Alabama Legislature, you shouldn’t be lobbying for anybody,” he said.
Davis would have extended those provisions to conflicts of interests where family members are involved and the use of discretionary money.
“I wish the legislature had gone further, and I wish the legislature had been tougher in dealing with some of the ways connections and money influence Alabama politics,” he added.
In 2008, Davis was a supporter of then-Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign for president of the United States. The two had been classmates at Harvard, although several years apart, but they had maintained a close relationship all the way up until his inauguration in 2009.
But in 2012, Davis is somewhat critical of Obama, suggesting his focus should not have been on his pushes for cap-and-trade carbon regulating legislation or a comprehensive reform of health care. Instead he said it should have been the economy.
“Speaking generously, the best you could give is ‘incomplete’ at this point,” he said. “Obviously not many are going to be generous about it. I’ve certainly been disappointed in general policies the administration has followed. I think the administration’s priority in 2009 should have been the economy.”
Davis’ criticisms of the president sounded remarkably like those cast upon Obama by his Republican rivals — that the standard of economic improvement had been severely discounted.
“The president squandered an enormous amount of political capital in fights that were not the right battle,” he said. “And it allowed things to fester in the economy. It allowed weaknesses in the economy to deepen and even though, thankfully, we’re in a much better place than we were in 2009, we have gotten to the point that new normal is eight-and-a-half-plus percent unemployment. We have gotten to the point where we celebrate the fact that eight-and-a-half percent of the people in his country are out of work and 15 percent of the people have stopped looking or are only working part-time when they used to be working full-time.”
One other issue Davis criticized was the administration’s attack on Boeing for wanting to relocate a portion of its industry from Washington State to South Carolina, a right-to-work state. He said the National Labor Relations Board, appointed by the president, had initially overstepped its bounds, and it could have had a chilling effect on other Southern states wanting to recruit business to improve their respective economies.
“I try to stay away from the question ‘are you going to vote for the president’ or that kind of thing,” he said. “You know since I’m not an elected official, my vote is a secret ballot. But I’ve stated publicly in terms of my writings where I have disagreed with the administration.”
On Israel and Ron Paul
Another disagreement Davis had with Obama was the suggestion Israel should return to its 1967 borders. Davis’ opinions on Israel go back to his 2002 race when he defeated an incumbent Earl Hilliard for the Democratic nomination for the Alabama’s 7th Congressional District. Hilliard had been criticized for a 1997 trip to Libya and that made him a target of some pro-Israel forces within U.S. politics, including Mobile businessman Mayer Mitchell, the former chairman of the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
After winning the nomination, Davis easily won the congressional seat, but he also maintained his hawkish defense posture on Israel.
“I’m not someone who has the Ron Paul approach for looking at the world,” Davis said. “What Ron Paul has done is he’s making an appeal to the isolationist right and the anti-war left. Well guess what, the anti-war left and the isolationist right, if they had their way the Soviet Union would have owned the last 50 years of the 20th century. So they don’t have a great track record.”
In speaking about Israel, Davis deviates from the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party and sounds more neoconservative.
“The most enlightened tolerant place in the Middle East is Israel,” he said. “And that is a fundamental matter of morality. It is a fundamental matter of right or wrong and it is in our interest to align ourselves with Israel and firmly align ourselves against a country like Iran who would completely destabilize the region if given the opportunity to do that.”
Artur Davis, a Republican?
There has been speculation that if Davis should get back into politics on a state level, he would enter not as a Democrat, but instead as a Republican. He said despite this speculation, history shows he has an allegiance to the Democratic Party.
“I have been in the Democratic Party my entire public career,” he said. “And I’ve certainly voted for more Democrats than Republicans. I’m not going to tell you I’ve voted for every Democrat who has been on the ballot because I haven’t and don’t know any Democrat who has.”
And changing that allegiance would only be a decision he would make if he ran and was forced to have such a label.
“The only way I would really have to cross this threshold would be if I decided to run for office again, because that is the only thing that frankly requires you to put on a label and wear that label that publicly,” he said.
Davis said he had been urged to run for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court when Sue Bell Cobb resigned in 2011, which he decided against because he thought 2012 would be a bad year for the Democratic Party and because he was skeptical of his abilities to fund the race. He said he has also been encouraged to run again for the 7th Congressional District seat currently held by Democrat Rep. Terri Sewell, but has ruled that out as well.
One possibility Davis did mention was a run for mayor of Montgomery, a non-partisan race that wouldn’t require a party label. But that election is four years away, and “a very long time” as he put it.
Otherwise, Davis said it is a decision he’s not in a rush to make.
“Unless I make the decision to seek office, I don’t need to address the question of what party label I would wear,” he said. “I would say this much — I’m not going to run in a party where the price of admission is pretty much repudiating your whole career or pretty much spending the whole campaign apologizing for positions you’ve taken. I’m not going to run in the Democratic Party if that means you spend the campaign saying ‘I wish I hadn’t done this, please forgive me.’ And I’m not going to run in the Republican Party having to explain ‘why did you support Barack Obama in 2008?’ So again, both parties need to have an openness to anybody who might not think like everybody in that party. If I make the decision to run for office again, because of the incredible difficulties one would face running as an independent, I would probably have to cross the threshold of choosing to run in one party or another.”
This much should be said in defense of Americans Elect, the ambitious new venture to place a third party on the presidential ballot in 50 states: It at least defends the idea that there is a vibrant center remaining in American politics. That’s no small thing in a season where both parties have based their strategies on mobilizing the Left and Right respectively, and when the most energetic grassroots forces in the last several years — the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street — denigrate the center as feckless and dishonest.
But virtues aside, Americans Elect is just a decently capitalized start-up that still hasn’t raised enough cash to compete in a California governor’s race, much less a nationwide election. It is ostensibly free from the interest-group matrix that dominates each party, but because its donors don’t have to be disclosed under federal tax law, it’s less transparent than any presidential campaign operation in the modern era. It has constructed a state-of-the-art formula for a virtual online convention to pick a nominee, but has apparently shopped its nomination to every retired or retiring self-described moderate who has done a few terms in the Senate. It is a movement of the “responsible center” whose online followers track Ron Paul — the avatar of a politics that stitches the extreme Right and extreme Left together — more than any other political figure.
If Americans Elect amounts to nothing more than a footnote, its failure will be attributed to the obstacles third parties encounter in American politics. But its shortcomings also hint at something deeper: the elite centrism embodied by Americans Elect doesn’t address the fault-lines that are dividing the country, and, as a result, does not resonate with the actual middle ground that, according to Gallup, may comprise as much as 40 percent of the electorate.To the extent an agenda can be gleaned from the impeccably credentialed insiders who form the vanguard for Americans Elect, from Tom Friedman to Mark McKinnon to Christie Todd Whitman, it is a Beltway/Wall Street–approved sensibility more than a program — a consensus of an affluent, cosmopolitan establishment that contentious social issues should be de-emphasized, that the Tea Party’s priorities have too much weight in the Republican party, and that President Obama has failed to summon the nation to an appropriately bold national challenge. The critique of Washington is descriptive — too many pledges, too many organized interests — but weak on details and actual proposals.
As a result, this version of elite centrism has been cryptically ambiguous on a range of policy disputes, from the merits or flaws of more government intervention in the health-care sector, to the balance between individual responsibility and entitlement, to the shape of immigration policy in a strained job market. This centrism is confident of what it doesn’t like — willful indifference to the science of climate change; flat-out refusals to raise taxes — but vague in its response to the erosion of the manufacturing sector and the wage stagnation of blue-collar workers. If elite centrism is troubled by the toll domestic regulations impose in a globally wired economy, or the weight of red tape on small businesses, it doesn’t say so.
On social issues, the silence is even more acute. Should a sweeping judge-made vision of equal protection trump federalism, and the prerogatives of states and communities to promote their own visions of the common good? It’s arguably the pivotal social question after a generation of constitutional rights expanding by non-democratic means, in a society roughly split on touchstones like abortion and gay marriage, but it’s a debate that elite centrism deliberately avoids.
It is not surprising, if Politico’s extensive story last week is to be believed, that Americans Elect has spent so much energy trying to draft either Evan Bayh, Bob Kerrey, Joe Lieberman, Lamar Alexander, or Chuck Hagel — all well-regarded Beltway personalities who are on the record denouncing hyper-partisanship and the collapse of bonhomie in the congressional cloakrooms. But their only major commonalities are an ambidextrous political profile and substantial time spent at a metro-D.C. address. The fact that they are equally appealing to Americans Elect is decisive proof that the organization’s convictions run broad not deep.
Americans Elect probably regards its lack of definition as a strategic asset. It may even be a necessity for an entity that is raising money around the value of an alternative voice, not around what that voice should actually say. But the carefully modulated, nuanced moderation that it embodies, the favored tone in the Acela corridor between New York and Washington, is probably the weakest possible catalyst for dynamic change.
Too much of the elite center was on retainer or in the boardroom when exotic financial instruments were distorting capital markets and Fannie and Freddie were collaborating to take the risk out of lending. Too many of them are immersed in a worldview that is famously tolerant and cosmopolitan, but tone-deaf about the anxieties of blue-collar Catholics and rural evangelicals, who fret that their social and economic moralities are under siege at the same time their communities are becoming poorer. The elite centrists are meritocrats whose children exercise every option of abundance, and are therefore too disconnected from places where ambition and work are not rewarded. Because power has been so good and so stable for them, they have only a thin understanding of how powerlessness and alienation are changing America’s civic culture.
The elite centrists are invariably charming, worldly people. But, to channel a line from Barack Obama channeling Alice Walker, if we want an upheaval, they are not the people we have been waiting for.
— Artur Davis served four terms in Congress representing Alabama’s 7th district.
Former U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, will return to his alma mater as a resident fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics.
Harvard University announced the seven resident fellows for the spring semester last week.
“Their public service experience throughout local, state and federal government and in journalism and international politics should create strong interest among students, faculty and the entire University community,” said Harvard’s Institute of Politics Director Trey Grayson.
The others are:
Farai Chideya, author, online journalist and host, National Public Radio’s News and Notes program (2006-09)
Margaret McKenna, president, Walmart Foundation (2007-11); president of Lesley University (1985-2007); former deputy under secretary of education and deputy White House counsel to President Jimmy Carter
George Nethercutt, U.S. representative (WA-5, R; 1995-2005)
Steven Schrage, former chief of staff, U.S. senator Scott Brown (R-MA); 2008 foreign policy and trade director, Romney for President campaign; former senior State Department, White House/USTR and G8 official
Ted Strickland, governor of Ohio (2007-11); U.S. representative (OH-6, D; 1993-95 and 1997-2007)
Kathy Taylor, mayor of Tulsa, OK (2006-09); Oklahoma secretary of commerce (2003-06)
The institute is part of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and its “mission is to unite and engage students, particularly undergraduates, with academics, politicians, activists, and policymakers on a non-partisan basis to inspire them to consider careers in politics and public service,” according to the Institute’s website.
Davis had been working in Washington D.C. as an attorney since his unsuccessful run for governor of Alabama in 2010.
Source: Daily Caller
Video footage of undercover reporters obtaining New Hampshire primary ballots intended for people who have died may appear shocking, but it is no surprise to Artur Davis, a former Democratic congressman and vocal advocate against voter ID fraud.
The way to prevent this kind of fraud, he told The Daily Caller, is simple: Require identification at the polls. The activists depicted in the film, released exclusively to TheDC on Wednesday, did not bring any proof of identification to polling places. (RELATED: VIDEO: NH poll workers shown handing out ballots in dead peoples’ names)
“Voter fraud is common in many jurisdictions,” David told TheDC. “I’m struck by the people who forcibly argue there’s no such thing, that it never happens. Many jurisdictions are slow to purge their rolls, so people who have been dead for a number of years can still be on those rolls, and people who have died more recently are certainly on them.” (RELATED: Democrat Artur Davis speaks out [VIDEO])
A law requiring voters to present ID, he continued, “is just one more step in the transparency process.”
“You can’t cash a check, enter a lot of private buildings in Washington, D.C. and New York City without one. It’s just not a serious impediment in peoples’ lives.”
When asked if videos such as the one obtained by TheDC will contribute to changing minds about voter fraud, Davis was skeptical. He was, however, positive about the overall chance of passing voter ID laws despite the opposition.
“In my experience, most people who are exposed to voter ID would not change their opinion if someone walked in front of them and admitted they committed voter ID fraud yesterday — they have their heels dug in. A number of people opposed to voter ID are opposed for political reasons, for reasons that don’t have substance.”
“People plead guilty to fraud,” he said, “and that doesn’t seem to move the opinions of some of those opposed.”
Lyndon Johnson was loathed enough that, in his final year in office, he dared not make a public appearance other than at a military base; it was commonplace for chanting crowds to gather and spray verbal obscenities at LBJ’s White House. Jimmy Carter’s presidency was a routine subject of cultural derision, some of it viciously aimed at his pre-teen daughter and his brother. Bill Clinton spawned so much hate that at least some of his adversaries spread strange rumors that he was connected to murder; then there was this thing called impeachment. George W. Bush inflamed some of his enemies enough that they carried signs crudely depicting him as a war criminal or a Hitler clone.
I mention all these instances of ugliness directed at presidents because they are apparently unknown to Andrew Rosenthal, a New York Times columnist, who caused a stir last week by implying that strident opposition to Barack Obama is racially motivated, and that it’s all part of a racist tide building in advance of the November elections. In fairness, Rosenthal said nothing that is not an article of faith in many liberal circles, and he at least deserves credit for saying it in the light of day and naming names. However, it’s still a lazy smear that twists recent history and is worth refuting.
Personal animus toward political opponents is a venom that has disfigured politics for a long while and has had little to do with skin color, but everything to do with self-righteousness and hyper-ideology. The fringe Right wielded it against Carter and Clinton; the Left wielded it against Johnson, as well as the younger Bush, Nixon, and Reagan; and before television and the digital age captured it, the same thing was done to FDR and Harry Truman. I’ll exercise an artificial statute of limitations and not dredge up slurs hurled at Lincoln and Jackson, or the bile in 1796, when Jefferson’s rivals tagged him as an atheist and Adams’s labeled him a monarchist.
To be sure, some of Obama’s enemies have depicted him in dumb, outrageous ways. Their bad behavior ought to be denounced, but accuracy demands that this be done in the context of rejecting the personal demonization that is par for the course in partisan politics. Rosenthal does civility a disservice by deploying it narrowly, to make a smear of his own, and by falsely suggesting that the toxicity in politics is a right-wing product.
Rosenthal compounds the offense by citing recent rhetoric from Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum about poverty, and statements from Mitt Romney regarding concepts of “entitlement” and dependency, as racially tinged “code.” The best defense of Rosenthal is to suppose that his ideas and facts got clipped in the editing room. Otherwise, it’s inexcusable to accuse Romney of talking in code when he criticizes the president for promoting an “entitlement society”; as Rosenthal must know, that’s a familiar conservative trope against liberalism and expansive government that is arguably older than Obama’s fifty years.
It’s equally obnoxious to cry racism against Gingrich, who has regularly chided his own party for having a blind spot on poverty, and Santorum, who supports a pathway for restoring federal voting rights for convicted felons. Unless Rosenthal denies the appalling fact that African-Americans are disproportionately incarcerated, the effect of Santorum’s position would be to expand the voting rights of a sizable class of blacks, especially black men.
I will grant that race is a fiendishly difficult subject to talk about; that’s why even the well-intentioned stumble. That’s why conservatives with legitimate bona fides like Santorum and Gingrich sometimes end up sounding clumsy on the subject. Perhaps it’s why some Southern white Democrats can lapse into the most condescending jawboning when they describe their get-out-the-vote strategy for blacks in unmixed company; or why they were so quick to describe black statewide candidates in the last several election cycles, from Florida to Georgia to Mississippi to Alabama, as uniformly “unelectable.” By Rosenthal’s lights, because they aren’t conservatives, these descendants of Dixiecrats must have meant well.
There is certainly unconcealed racism on the edges and in the center of our culture. The many-centuries-old civilizations in the rest of the world would remind us that Selma is a bat of an eyelash away; and that Appomattox was virtually yesterday. Rosenthal and a crowd of liberal critics do no good, however, in describing racial bias as the affliction of one party and one philosophy. Gutting historical memory to make today’s political blows seem unique — or, in Rosenthal’s reasoning, previously “unthinkable” — only adds heat instead of light.
I do wish Rosenthal had remembered the most bald-faced use of race to win a recent election. It was 2003; the candidate was a man belonging to a racial minority who was surprisingly leading in the polls in a governor’s race in a southern state, Louisiana. His opponents produced flyers with an artificially darkened photograph of the candidate taken when he was in college, with unkempt hair, which they circulated to the rural areas that had had once been enraptured by George Wallace. The stunt worked, and in that cycle, the candidate came up short. It was a blunt, hard racism that didn’t bother with code. The injured candidate was an Indian-American Republican named Bobby Jindal, and the people who knee-capped him were neither conservatives nor Republicans.
The last part is a true enough description of the largely impact free zone of the contemporary football star. The first observation, however, is flawed memory. It was not Simpson, for all his California glitter and celebrity, who was the last of a kind—it was a Mississippian who migrated north named Walter Payton. Jeff Pearlman, in his 2011 biography of the Chicago Bears Hall of Famer, “Sweetness”, reminds us that for about a decade, well beyond the normal career span of an NFL back, Walter Payton was the exemplary star who resonated well beyond his sport–especially if you were a Chicagoan eager for a hero in the aftermath of that city’s dismal decade of the seventies; an African American who relished the style of a charismatic HBCU grad effortlessly crossing racial barriers; or a lover of an underdog story who understood the depths in the South from which Payton ascended.
Even for Americans who only dimly knew the fine print of Payton’s athletic feats, he was the 80s sports celebrity who died too early and through no fault of his own, and his demise in 1999 from a rare liver cancer at 46 provoked tributes fit for the civic legend he had become.
“Sweetness” is a minutely researched, powerfully written narrative that gives the iconic side of Payton its due, but may be the most controversial sports biography of the past year. The football side of the account is not in dispute; to a degree not well remembered today, Payton was uncommonly good for an astonishingly long time. From 1976 to 1986, Payton amassed over 1200 yards each full season, topped the NFL record books for career rushing yards (and still ranks second, behind only Emmitt Smith), and at one point held the record for single game yards and consecutive 100 yard games. In a sport where the brutality of contact erodes skills quickly, Payton’s prolonged brilliance still arguably makes him the finest running back the NFL has produced.
It is the rest of Pearlman’s excavation that has provoked raw anger from old Payton associates. According to Pearlman, it is the character based side of the Payton legend that is in need of reexamination. If Pearlman’s sources are to be believed, Payton was as aggressively promiscuous as Tiger Woods; self-centered enough that he visibly pouted after a Super Bowl rout for his Bears because he failed to score an individual touchdown; and so ungrounded after football that he careened from one failed business venture to another, and even spiraled into pain-killer abuse.
It is the personal expose that is the most jarring, particularly if one is familiar with Payton’s skillfully manicured image. After all, it was Payton whose wife and children memorably appeared beside him at his press conference pleading for a liver donation, and who chose his 12 year old son to present him at his Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Pearlman alleges that the wife had been estranged for a decade and that Payton was wounded by her presence at his final press conference; that the same induction ceremony was marred by the proximity of Payton’s mistress a few feet away from where his wife was seated; and that the 1985 Chicago’s Father of the Year shunned a son he bore out of wedlock months before the award.
A host of Payton’s cohorts have savaged the book as a combination of voyeurism and character assassination. To be sure, Pearlman has crossed the invisible line of sports journalism, which treads lightly on sexual revelations around athletes until those revelations somehow explode into public view: Tiger Woods’ exploits, for example, were open fodder for PGA tour gossip but did not see the light of day until an accident, a police report, and a media feeding frenzy “outed” him. Given the pristine quality of Payton’s reputation, and the absence of scandal during his life, Pearlman has done the dirty work of lifting up the details, and sorting out the reliable from the untrustworthy. He can’t possibly have every claim right. Not only is he dependent on the word of figures whose own accounts mark them as deceptive, or embittered, he is prey to another flaw of the character cop: once convinced of a subject’s moral perfidy, it is easy to credit every stray rumor.
But at the same time, the most slavish defender of Payton can’t deny that there is a volume of alleged misdeeds that also can’t all be untrue. The question, then, is how much of it is relevant in a biography about a dead man, not a politician cloaking himself in a “family values” guise. It’s a fiendishly difficult question. Pearlman’s thesis, that Payton regularly said one thing and lived and thought another, and built an image around values he didn’t hold, may be true, but is hardly atypical in Payton’s field or any other. To deserve the attention Pearlman gives it, there should be some linkage to Payton’s legacy as a football legend, which after all, is why we know his name and why a sportswriter is telling this story at all.
Pearlman falls short here—while he pokes a few chinks in Payton’s reputation for altruism and good works toward the disabled and the young, the good works are still there and Pearlman acknowledges that they genuinely enhanced the recipients. Certainly, Pearlman never sheds any doubt on the proper size of Payton’s legacy on the field; indeed, that side of Payton’s life looks larger as Pearlman recounts the second half of his career, when he excelled and outlasted peers like the forgotten George Rogers and Earl Campbell even as his raw ability diminished.
The best defense of Pearlman is that he reminds us that character is wrought with complexity. There are a few thoroughly unredeemed figures whose public and private existence is corrupt. There are the few legitimate saints who are worthy of emulation in every way. Neither describes most of us, nor the heroes we venerate. If this biography has a value beyond being a good weekend’s read, it might be to temper the adulation we reserve for our heroes. Since their cobwebs may just be hiding in the dark, we might do well to put our admiration several rungs lower. Better yet, we might honor them for the forgotten virtue of being sinners who knew how to keep getting up.