Archive for February, 2012
On Thursday, February 16th, Artur Davis spoke with WAPI’s Matt Murphy on Birmingham’s Talk FM to discuss pertinent state district issues, class warfare and the economic recession, reducing inequality and indeed the launch of Official Artur Davis.com.
Click the link above to hear the podcast in full or view the original website link for 100 WAPI.
As originally published in National Review Online – I’m in the camp that is torn about Rick Santorum’s electability. On the plus side, he has proved resilient in reviving his career after it was all but destroyed: That kind of grit will be essential in the general. He is capable of the elegant, masterful speech he crafted on the night he won Iowa. He seems to know how to tap working-class anxieties in a way that Mitt Romney likely can’t.
But on the downside, he has a video trail on social issues that may be about to devour him. It’s no one thing, but a totality of them: the aversion to birth control even for married women, the skepticism of women at work, the evident fear that careerism is a feminist trap. Even on ground that a substantial number of Americans occupy, such as opposition to gay marriage, his mode of argument is often the most explosive available — in this case, that same-sex relationships are not much distinguishable from intra-family or polygamous arrangements. While a Chris Christie is adeptly resisting gay marriage in New Jersey by invoking the democratic value of voters’ choosing rather than politicians, Santorum is traveling a path the media and the Left will besiege, and that the Right will not necessarily embrace.
A conviction politician whose convictions don’t persuade is not who Republicans mean to nominate. At best, it’s a diversion from a case about the twin deceptions of Washington and Wall Street that Santorum makes when he is in full flight. At worst, it’s a precursor to a party spending the fall fighting to recover a culture that has vanished.
So, Santorum should consider a modest proposal. Santorum would benefit from one comprehensive, major address — à la Obama on Jeremiah Wright — that addresses the perception that his religion would embroil his administration in a culture war. He needs to describe a faith that is sensitive to the assault on religious liberty, but one compassionate enough to know that there is legitimate conviction on the secular side of the equation, and that realizes that even the faithful don’t always end up with the same views. He needs to confess the limitations of having been a politician who has had to compress moral matters into a sound-bite. Without retreating on what he holds dear, Santorum needs to be overt about the fact that his presidency would not demonize or impede a shift toward more autonomy for women.
The Iowa speech suggests he has the eloquence to do it. If he can’t, he is about to enter the week that undoes his surge.
— Artur Davis served four terms in Congress representing Alabama’s 7th district.
This is the season to dissect the white working class. Charles Murray has made the most controversial contribution, with his book “Coming Apart”, which describes a decline in social responsibility in downscale white communities that looks dangerously like the one he used to lament in African America neighborhoods. A variety of commentators, myself included, have identified middle to lower middle income whites as the pivotal voter bloc in the election, given the decisive role they played in overturning the 08 elections in the 2010 midterms. Add to the analysis a pointed article in the New York Times last weekend, “Even Critics of Safety Net Increasingly Depend on it”, by Binyamin Appelbaum and Robert Gebeloff.
What the Times describes in exhaustive detail is a web of government benefits, from the earned income tax credit, to Social Security disability (SSI), to the mortgage deduction, that augment more familiar components like the retirement prong of Social Security and Medicare. The Times observes that the share of federal benefits and tax breaks that serve the least affluent, bottom fifth of the population, has plummeted from a majority (54 percent in 1979) to 36 percent in 2007. In other words, three decades dominated by Republican presidencies or congressional majorities have coincided with the shift of the “welfare state” into a middle/working class cushion.
As originally published in POLITICO’s The Arena: JFK revisionism is always jarring, but no longer surprises. The disdain toward John Kennedy in conservative intellectual circles seems borne out of contempt that he was what the right suspects about Barack Obama – unaccomplished, stylistic rather than substantive, a media darling who rose on the wings of a star-struck press.
In my college years, it was the left-wing that was just as fierce – to them, Kennedy was a cold warrior who dug our grave in Vietnam and almost postured and bluffed into a nuclear war. To younger African American intellectuals, he was too passive on civil rights, too much of a follower to deserve the spot on the wall next to Dr. King in the grandparent’s living room.
There is something that is meaner, though, in this week’s round of coverage of Mimi Alford’s tell-all regarding an affair between herself and Kennedy during her stint as a White House intern. Timothy Noah, at the New Republic, tops it off with a headline, “JFK: Monster”. But he only goes where others have gone this week: a condemnation of Kennedy as a psychological torturer, a crude user of a 19-year-old, and a voyeur.
One point ought to be offered, perhaps not in Jack Kennedy’s defense, but in defense of those of us who still have not defined our view of him downward. I think that the theory that Noah articulates, that the president’s moral authority is further compromised, is just wrong. Kennedy’s moral dimensions never really drew on the shape of his private life: the sixties were too full of faithful men who burned crosses after church services, and shadowed men like Strom Thurmond, who defiled young black women while passing on dirt on Martin Luther King, for a conventional moral cloak to have meant much during that time.
Instead, the moral gloss that was Kennedy’s was the aura of a man brave enough to defend civil rights as a spiritually clear, compelling force. The night he went on TV and promoted integration that way, and queried if a white could bear to live the conditions of a black, Jack Kennedy did a moral thing. How he might have spent the rest of that night does not diminish it.
Kennedy was equally moral when he stood on a wall in Berlin and described capitalism and democracy as flawed instruments that still never had to stoop to build walls to keep their people in. That is the insight of someone offering the world a case for freedom that rested on dignity and not power or dogma – another word for that inspiration is morality. The same goes for the American University speech that embraced the seeds of detente as the need of a human race that “breathed the same air” and was equally at risk from missiles.
The fact is that Kennedy lived in the twilight between a time when politicians made no major pretensions of moral authority and a time when they over-did it, and their family portraits started obscuring the thinness of their records. His public morality seems gauzy, now, for two reasons: the tedium of the public debate today makes us forgetful about a more elevated era; and the term “morality” has been limited, and folded and stuffed in a box that the dullest of politicians can own (or profess to own).
What Jack Kennedy did with, and to Mimi Alford, is fodder for stone casters with no blemishes. When the couple of them get through, Kennedy will have some chinks. The moral authority will still be there.
You could have gotten a decent bet ten years ago that Rick Santorum would emerge as a finalist for the Republican presidential nomination circa 2012: He had the telegenic presence, the savvy required to dislodge incumbents in a fiercely competitive environment like Pennsylvania, and a reliably conservative record that was middle-class-friendly. Then the 2006 midterm intervened and Santorum’s fortunes seemed destroyed.
It wasn’t just that Santorum lost in 2006; that year was lethal for many Republican officeholders. It was the size of the loss — almost 20 points — and the trail of baggage from the race: a clumsy response to attacks that he had “gone Washington” and was barely in the state; impolitic comments on homosexuality; and a poorly run campaign that never seemed combat-ready. Instead of being offered a sinecure in the middle tier of the Bush White House, or getting a head start on the next governor’s race, Santorum faded into the oblivion of lobbying and consulting that is Washington’s graveyard.
That he has been resurrected, and has a genuine pathway to his party’s nomination, is equal parts perseverance and the unintended consequence of a weak, flawed field. The perseverance part is no small thing: Occupying the afterthought slot, and making the most of ten-attendee campaign events, is a demeaning kind of existence that can make a man choke on the “when I am president” line. But the larger part of the saga is that there is a vacuum in the top ranks of the GOP, and circumstances are requiring Republicans to fill that vacuum quickly.
Liberals are convinced that the Republican party is a captive of social conservatives who pine for a reconstitution of the early Sixties. The reality is that the elected Republicans who prioritize social issues tend to be buried in state legislatures or on the congressional back-benches. In contrast, the party’s congressional and presidential-caliber elite have been fixated for a generation on an economic agenda, and typically regard the values debate as a distraction. The party has not nominated a candidate since Reagan who made repeal of Roe v. Wade a point of focus (and it was his taped voice, not his actual presence, that anti-Roe demonstrators in D.C. received every January during the Eighties). Republican ideological enforcers, from Grover Norquist to the Tea Party, are free-market crusaders bent on limiting government, not growing its capacity to shape the culture.
That history explains why an open Republican nomination fight did not produce a top-tier social conservative. It clarifies why the conservative case against Barack Obama was, for most of 2011, a predominately economic one tied to Obamacare and big spending, and why the rare ventures into cultural territory — Gingrich on judges, Perry on school prayer — were fleeting and ineffectual.
But 2012 is taking on a different coloring. The economy is hardly robust, but is not cratering, either. An administration that assiduously dodged the culture wars for three years has plunged headfirst into a fight over contraception and Catholic hospitals. The Ninth Circuit’s ruling on gay marriage prefigures a Supreme Court ruling on the issue. One of the nation’s largest abortion providers, Planned Parenthood, just routed a respected, mainstream breast-cancer charity in a fight that left pro-life forces looking marginalized.
The upshot is that the 40 percent of Republicans who are evangelicals, many of whom fear that their values are under siege, are stirring. Their votes are more crucial than ever for Republican candidates, who can’t count on the economy to defeat Obama. The void that is left by Romney’s history of social moderation, and the chaos in Gingrich’s past, is the one Santorum, an unmitigated values conservative, is beginning to fill.
The conventional wisdom on Santorum’s revival is that Romney is simply inspiring buyer’s remorse, or that Bain Capital and a month of gaffes on his wealth are taking their toll. These are indeed factors, but in addition, social conservatives’ stakes in this election grow stronger by the week. A culture that has historically preserved conscience as a safe haven from majoritarian sentiment is now degrading conscience as “dogma,” or bigotry, deserving of being slapped down. Religious orthodoxy is being reconceived as another special interest that has to stand in line in the public square bidding for approval.
I’ve observed before in these pages that Santorum’s brand of conservatism may be too demanding for the section of the independent electorate that leans right on social issues but is not preoccupied with them. No one seriously questions that pocketbooks first, and national security second, have decided every election in our times. But it’s worth noting that this year, conservative candidates need to take up the classic liberal challenge of asking just what kind of country, and what kind of people, we claim to be. For all of Romney’s rhetoric about the “soul of America” being at issue, his history is one of managing systems. In his one stint in power, his triumph was not changing the culture of Massachusetts, but bending its edges just enough to get by.
An argument can be made that Romney’s approach is safer, and that it might be better suited to addressing problems in a country that is not about to surrender its entitlement programs or regulations. But I will venture a guess that communities of faith, and the integrity of religious associations, may require a sterner defense — and that a brief against big government has to also address the overreach of Washington’s pronouncing church doctrine dead. Conservatives must sense that making this case is not Romney’s strong suit.
The nasty dust-up over the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s abandoned plan to rescind $700,000 in gifts to Planned Parenthood has not yielded much middle ground. The left’s view is that it has scored a major victory for women’s health and reproductive rights. Conservatives are appalled by Komen’s surrender, and enraged that the constellation of pro-choice forces in the media and political elites proved so instantly powerful and intimidating.
Each side has the short-term politics on abortion about right. The Komen group shares a bloody nose with the pro-life movement, which seemed marginalized, evasive and defensive as the week wound on. Planned Parenthood ended the week with its grant restored, and its coffers richer after a surge of new donations. I’ll venture a guess, though, that both sides on reflection will find good reasons to reassess their view of what just happened. Conservatives should appreciate that the strategy of tying dollars to an ideological agenda has become a common liberal power play, one that they should hesitate to copy. Liberals in turn will recognize that the case Planned Parenthood just made – that the recipients of their good works shouldn’t be punished for the organization’s politics — is exactly what the Catholic church will say when its policies on contraception and homosexuality come under fire from government funders.
To be sure, conservatives have not seemed to equate the decisions of a private philanthropist like Komen with the Obama administration’s efforts to deny federal Affordable Care Act dollars to Catholic hospitals if they persist in their anti-contraception practices, or Illinois’ plans to withdraw state support form Catholic adoption services if they refuse to place minors with same sex couples. To most conservatives, government conditioning its largesse on whether sectarian institutions follow official policies is a threat to First Amendment freedom, distinguishable from a private donor’s moral authority to disengage from a group whose practices it rejects.
The distinction is a real one, but it can obscure the fact that the Department of Health and Human Services and the state of Illinois have also done damage to a core conservative value – that private associations are an instrument of public good, and serve the cause of small government by filling gaps left by bureaucracies. It’s a point elegantly made by Ross Douthat in the contraception context. These associations flourish because they are drawing on the energy and loyalty of their own constituencies and their own sense of the common good. The conservative theory has generally been that if that sense of mission is threatened with the strings of an external agenda, the associations will wither and disengage.
An ardent pro-lifer has every right to conclude that Planned Parenthood’s 300,000 abortions annually corrupts its entire enterprise. But there is a class of conservatives that might concede that Planned Parenthood has secured for itself a prominent space in the field of women’s health services, and that it reaches places government couldn’t touch without getting bigger, more expensive and more intrusive. Under that view, the work that Planned Parenthood does to combat breast cancer is valuable and stands apart from its much more controversial portfolio on abortion. This, after all, is almost certainly why an organization with nonpolitical roots like Komen aligned itself with a lightning rod like Planned Parenthood in the first place.
It’s debatable, in the haze of last week’s back and forth, whether Planned Parenthood needed Komen for its breast cancer prevention efforts in the same urgent way that Chicago’s bishops need state grant money to place foster kids or Catholic hospitals need federal resources to treat indigents. But the principle of voluntary, independent associations can’t turn on the details of a balance sheet; in an era where private power can dominate a space as decisively as a public source ever could, one worried about the vigor of private associations should worry about the chilling effects from any donor. A champion of community associations should also appreciate that politicizing government grants is a means rather than an end; its coerciveness will be invoked by philanthropists on the left who will have the media support and political clout to hold their ground much more firmly than Komen did.
At least Planned Parenthood has made the case for its autonomy in a way that should inspire the Catholics who are in jeopardy of losing government funding over the church’s stances on reproduction and same sex relationships. Americans who believe that access to contraception is a fundamental right and that the church’s failure to recognize gay relationships is discriminatory aren’t shy about using the power of donor purse strings to compel others to fall into line — their cash source just invariably happens to be taxpayer dollars. If Planned Parenthood is right, though, that its noble efforts on mammograms shouldn’t be compromised, the Catholics have an equally powerful case on healthcare and adoption services. The reality is that Catholic institutions are a principal provider for inner city blacks and Latinos in numerous urban centers; similarly, the incredibly difficult work of adoption and foster placement needs every helping institutional hand it can get, including the church. Cut the purse-strings and the vulnerable and marginal will be the ones who are punished.
Back to why conservatives should be more reserved about Komen’s initial decision. The next round of culture wars will look more like the fights in Springfield and Washington. They will be waged invariably from the left, they will involve the power of funding to coerce viewpoints and they will have the undisguised agenda of favoring private associations who see things one way and diminishing those that don’t. If they win, the private, charitable sector will weaken. Conservatives ought to be very leery of imitating that agenda.
Barack Obama’s election was supposed to consolidate the millennial generation, 18-29 year olds, as a current and future element of the Democratic base. It was an article of faith among Democrats that Obama’s multi-cultural persona, his cool, and his persistent outreach to millenials are a far stronger draw than a Republican Party whose leaders are older, duller, and, according to liberals, absorbed with the idea of recreating America along pre Mad Men, circa 1950s lines.
Reality has proved more complex. While Obama has steadily led Mitt Romney with 18 to 29 year olds by a comfortable double digit margin, in every published sample, Gallup late last year placed Obama’s approval rating with millenials below 50 percent, only marginally greater than his overall totals. Given that a third of the age group is composed of Hispanics and blacks who are dramatically more supportive of Obama, it follows that his approval with white millenials is no better than the low forties. Not a disaster, but not a precursor of a realignment that will shape inclinations for a generation.
The most striking data, though, is not in the Obama numbers, but in a surprising set of results buried in the details of a 2000 plus person sample of young adults by Harvard’s Institute of Politics last December. (Harvard conducted the survey; the survey is not of Harvard students). It seems that the supposedly left leaning millenials tilt to the right on the entitlement debate that may dominate the decade after the Great Recession. 78 percent of them have doubts that Social Security will be able to meet its benefit promises, while 56 percent favor revamping the entitlement to permit re-investments of their FICA contributions into private accounts.
This is a mindset at odds with the liberal orthodoxy that entitlements are a moral commitment that can’t be altered, and a sympathetic identification with what has heretofore been one of the most maligned Republican policy proposals in the last decade. It also suggests that Republican proposals to partly privatize Medicare, and to means test its benefits, could resonate.
The predictable response is that young adults are simply too detached from the plight of old age to make icons out of the Great Society entitlement structure, and that as their parents decline, their own obligations will push them back toward the left. Maybe; but it is just as likely that they are discomfited by the prospect of leveraging one class of workers to subsidize another class of retirees; and that they sense that Medicare and Social Security are exactly that kind of redistribution and not the “pay as you go” devices that Democrats tout.
It would be a ground-breaking thing, and a destabilizing thing for the left, if the generation energized by Obama distrusts Democrats on the core issue of inter-generational fairness. It’s also a window into the fact that not all of our current inequities are rooted in the concentration of wealth in a narrow tax bracket, or even in the chasm between effort and reward in the modern labor market. Some of that inequity is based on the perishable value of promises government makes and can’t plausibly keep, and the certainty that the aftermath of the broken promises will do damage in an unequal, unfair manner.
It’s dumb politics and bad policy for a Republican to run on the idea that government ought to get out of the social insurance business. But the politics of entitlement reform may be about to shift, and so might an edge that Democrats used to think they would own.