Originally published in Official Artur Davis
Having offered my perspective about the shape of a conservative rebound, I will end the year with a bout of wishful thinking about what 2013 might bring, if the stars align in just the right way. Here are twelve hopes for the next twelve months:
(1) That George HW Bush and Nelson Mandela have more good health in front of them. They are not a commonly linked pair, but their lives epitomize the values of political tolerance and forgiveness. The elder Bush had his brass-knuckled side, as Michael Dukakis can attest, but he is arguably the last president who regarded election to federal office as a compact for Republicans and Democrats to achieve some rough consensus around the country’s challenges. Some of the deals cut, on federal employment laws and acid rain, looked then and now like sensible compromises; the 1990 tax package only preceded a recession and more rounds of rampant spending. But Bush’s four years were notable for their absence of intense division; it is no accident that he is the only president in my adulthood given the moral credit of never being despised by his partisan foes. And Mandela: what more needs to be said other than that he forged a political peace with a regime that jailed him and snatched the prime of his life away?
(2) That the missing cause of 2012, education reform, is discovered alive and intact. For that to happen, liberals will need to extricate themselves from the embrace of the teachers’ unions that have wilted the Democratic reform agenda down to charter schools and not much more; conservatives will need to remind themselves that no other initiative satisfies the right’s goal of upward mobility through self determination more effectively.
(3) That some influential observer will write the seminal book or article documenting the degree to which modern Democrats have abandoned the political center. For all the hand-wringing over Grover Norquist and the Tea Party, it is today’s House Democratic Caucus that refused to supply a single vote for continuing the Bush tax cuts for all but millionaires, until recently the favored position of Democratic moderates; this year’s Democratic platform that discarded the notion that public policy should strive to make abortions rare; and the current Democratic mainstream that has declared opposition to the Affordable Care Act or same sex marriage—views that thirty- five to forty Democratic congressmen held just a few years ago—as, respectively, stone-hearted or hateful.
(4) That at least some of the influx of dollars Jim DeMint will attract to the Heritage Foundation will be spent generating a conservative agenda to reverse poverty. A conservatism whose only approach to the poor is to denigrate the Great Society as a failure and to propose gutting the safety net not only shortchanges the Foundation’s traditional mantra of widening opportunity, it ratifies every liberal gibe about the right’s indifference.
(5) That Governor Bobby Jindal achieves a genuine star turn as a plausible presidential contender. From ethics standards to tort reform to parental choice, no other serving governor has written more of his campaign platform into law, and he has done so in the notoriously retrograde swamp of Louisiana politics. Jindal’s five years in office is what principled, smart conservatism looks like.
(6) That Atlanta’s Mayor Kasim Reed, the only African American Democrat in the South who could conceivably become governor or senator from his state in the next decade, start to receive a measure of the acclaim his fellow forty-something mayor in Newark, Cory Booker, has obtained. In fact, the less telegenic, less Twitter friendly Reed has built a substantially stronger portfolio than his New Jersey counterpart, including being more nimble in drawing his community’s businesses into reinvestment in the decaying inner city.
(7) That Terry McAuliffe’s over the top blend of boosterism and bravado won’t win him the governorship of Virginia. As a cocktail party companion, McAuliffe has his virtues; as a skeptic of right to work laws in a fiercely pro-business state, as one of this political generation’s most shameless dollars for access promoters, it’s hard to imagine a worse fit to follow Bob McDonnell’s run as a stalwart job creator without a single ethical blemish.
(8) That the rambunctious, idiosyncratic Steve Almond emerges as a more relevant voice on the left. On the substance, he is wrong far more than he is right, and ends up in a predictable left-leaning place on virtually every issue. But his 2012 New York Times essay, “Liberals Are Ruining America. I Know Because I am One.” is a rare statement of contrition about liberalism’s tendency to disrespect conservative sensibilities, and an admission that a sneering, eye-rolling dismissal of the opposing point of view is as much a feature of the MSNBC inspired left as it is the Fox-loving right. Had he written the same critique of hyper-partisanship from a conservative’s perspective, the media would have deified him.
(9) That a troika of young, under the radar thinkers—Reihan Salam, Ross Douthat, Yuval Levin—come to signify the political right as prominently as do the nameless wonders at Fox and Friends and verbal firebrands like Sean Hannity and Eric Erickson. While they lack the mouthpiece of a cable network, Salam, Douthat, and Levin are charting a path that constructively worries about the erosion of the middle class and the diminishing returns of the working class. They have their blind spots, especially Douthat on immigration, but each is contributing to the modernization of conservatism in a profound and eloquent way.
(10)That social conservatives develop a sharper, more coherent voice on gay marriage before the argument is lost altogether. The traditional refrain, that expanding the definition of matrimony diminishes conventional marriage, resonates poorly if at all with a generation that has received alternative lifestyles as just another cultural norm. There is still a substantial case to be made, ranging from the unpredictable and racially unbalanced consequences of same sex couples monopolizing the adoption market, to the communitarian principle of fifty states resolving their marital laws as opposed to a command decision from the Supreme Court that blithely sweeps aside 36 state laws. But the case weakens the more conservatives resort to silence or slogans in the face of the left’s unmistakable momentum on this subject.
(11)That the sports world’s most compelling narrative, the ascension to superstardom of a modest, family oriented college graduate with a 3.7 GPA, better known as Robert Griffin III, continues unabated. There may be over a dozen quarterbacks with higher passing yardage, but not one of them threatens a defensive game-plan in the complex way that Griffin does. Potentially, he will change the strategic imperatives of playing quarterback in the NFL; more consequentially, he may actually earn the role model’s label that star athletes wear so uncomfortably.
(12)That on some issue of national importance, a discernible number of conservatives and liberals rises above their ideological stomping grounds to forge a new way forward. Perhaps it will be liberals conceding that racial quotas are outdated, or entitlements unsustainable in their present form, or conservatives acknowledging that it is much too easy to assemble a personal firearms arsenal. Or barring this most implausible wish, the fallback desire that political debate are a little less rancorous and toxic a Christmas from now.