Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category
Please click below to view Rep. Artur Davis’ speech at the ‘Accuracy in Media’ Conference, from September 21, 2012. “Not Winning Ugly: How Conservatives can Persuade” has additionally been transcribed in-full, available here.
On October 4th, Rep. Artur Davis spoke to the Colorado Conservative Political Action Conference on the coming election. Please click below to view the video in full.
Written by David Fahrenthold, this article appeared in The Washington Post on August 16, 2012.
Former congressman Artur Davis, who officially seconded President Obama’s nominationat the 2008 Democratic convention, said Wednesday that he will cap a remarkable political metamorphosis by addressing the Republican convention this month — calling for Obama’s defeat.
Davis, 44, who served in the House as a Democrat from Alabama from 2003 to 2011, said in a telephone interview that he has been given a speaking slot at the Aug. 27-30 Republican convention in Tampa. He said he was not sure yet of the day on which he would speak.
Written by Rosalind S. Helderman, this article first appeared in The Washington Post on May 30, 2012.
Republicans on Wednesday were celebrating the defection to the GOP this week of a former Democratic congressman and close ally of President Obama, saying that it underscored their argument that the president has led the country on a march to the left.
Former Alabama congressman Artur Davis, once a rising star in the Democratic Party and the man who helped put Obama’s name in nomination for the presidency in 2008, announced his intention to switch parties and said that he will vote for Mitt Romney in November.
A decade ago, the Hispanic political community and the gay rights lobby were in a substantially similar position: both with agendas that were largely under radar, far enough off the grid that their cause was neither a rallying point for friends nor a wedge issue for their adversaries. The demands of both groups were mostly inconsequential in a national election.
Adjust the dial to 2012 and both gay rights and immigration have turned into cultural flashpoints. But the fortunes of the respective constituencies have taken sharply divergent paths. By any measure, gay rights advocates are on the rise. A once far-fetched goal of theirs, repealing “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”, survived congressional gridlock to become one of the Obama administration’s signature achievements; an even more implausible seeming cause, full-fledged marital status for same-sex couples, has just won the endorsement of the President of the United States and has become a major policy commitment of that president’s party.
In contrast, Hispanic interest groups are in the midst of a bad run. They are winless at the congressional level in the preceding decade—losing badly in their campaign to open up citizenship opportunities for much of the illegal immigrant population, and failing in a more incremental bid to legalize young undocumented adults who join the military or complete college. During Barack Obama’s term, they have actually lost ground. Alabama and Arizona have passed sharply restrictive laws aimed at making their states all but unlivable for illegal immigrants. The Democratic Party that generally wins Latino votes has been an ambivalent ally, with two major elements of their base, labor unions and African Americans, skeptical of any broad liberalization of immigration laws.
The Hispanic lobby must wonder what went so wrong, and it’s a question worth pondering in the aftermath of the past week. I’ll venture two reasons. First, supporters of immigration reform have simply failed to define and caricature their opposition as effectively as has the gay rights movement. The GLBT constituency has deployed the high-minded approach, evoking comparisons with the civil rights activism of the sixties; the bare knuckled version, branding critics as intolerant bigots; and the thinly veiled knife, insinuating before New York’s gay marriage decision that certain on-the fence legislators might be trying to cover up their own closeted sexuality. At best, the immigration reform effort has shown some of the same brass in slowing the trend of state by state crack-downs, but it has struggled to effectively draw moralistic distinctions around any proactive strategy, whether a moderate measure like the Dream Act, or a more comprehensive rewrite like the 2006 McCain-Kennedy legislation.
A telling example is how the appeal for expanded rights, either marriage or citizenship, has tended to be framed by the respective camps. Supporters of gay rights have styled their appeals as a desire to be absorbed into the broader national community; shrewdly, they have often described marital rights as an assumption of responsibility instead of as a newly acquired freedom. Immigration rights forces, on the other hand, have struggled to brand their case as one of assimilation; all too often, it has been dismissed as a push for more benefits and more government resources in a decade of fiscal scarcity; and as a kind of special treatment rather than fair treatment, amnesty rather than responsibility.
Which leads to the second reason gay progress has outpaced Hispanic progress: opponents of immigration reform have skillfully depicted the cause as either a permissive rewarding of lawbreaking, or as an economic threat to another constituency, low-wage workers who face competition from cheap immigrant labor. It’s a blend that has solidified conservative resistance and eroded potential alliances within the Democratic base. Foes of gay marriage, in turn, have been far less effective in shaping a rhetorical case that can’t be easily slighted: social conservatives have stressed theological arguments that tend to fall flat outside evangelical circles, and more mainline conservative critics have seemed halting and uncomfortable. They have settled for weak deflections like describing Obama’s reversal last week as a distraction from worsening job numbers. Even an articulate phrase-master like Chris Christie has uncharacteristically stumbled around the terms of the debate: effectively defending the advantages of a democratic referendum over a judicial or legislative resolution, but unwisely pondering that southern blacks would have wished for a similar opportunity at statewide votes on their rights in the sixties. (actually: not at all, Governor, not then or now).
To be sure, the case for expanded gay rights enjoys other advantages: the cheerleading of the mainstream media and the entertainment industry, an affluent support base that can fund both allies and rivals to opponents, and the ubiquity of gay Americans in every identifiable demographic. But, arguably, not one of these factors is a new or unique phenomenon, and there are ample enough instances where the media’s blessing and deep donor pockets (the Equal Rights Amendment and environmentalists) haven’t had a lasting impact and where interests with much greater strength of numbers (labor unions) have run out of steam. In fairness, it’s a singular kind of momentum that gay rights proponents have managed to seize and one that has come in a center-right national political environment.
There is a deeper implication that goes beyond the aspirations of the affected communities and their organized loyalists. The nearly half the country that is skeptical of gay marriage but is dismissed as regional, generational, and on the wrong side of history, and the slim majorities of Americans who favor more moderate immigration policies but seem perpetually on the defensive, actually have the same grievance: they are losing ground in spite of their size and their proximity to the middle ground. Each side is paying the price of culture-based politics.
The prism of the culture wars rewards a sharp, even if simplistic, not altogether factual depiction, of the moral terms of the debate (in my previous essay on gay marriage, I mention Ross Douthat’s very smart column on this point). Taking advantage of that prism is the surest technique in modern politics for out-smarting a majority or near majority. It’s all one more reason the middle seems so robust in theory, so ineffectual in practice.
March has opened cruelly for conservatives. One of their icons, Andrew Breitbart, died prematurely; another, Rush Limbaugh, lives on, and valuable time is spent apologizing or distancing from his choice to punch down at a young woman. Between the recollections of Breitbart, and both the real and canned outrage over Limbaugh, the pugnacious, caustic side of the political Right is in full public view.
In the normal course of the ideological firefight, one favored tactic is to minimize antagonists as irrelevant and undeserving of attention. The critics of Breitbart and Limbaugh are actually just as quick to dramatize their importance as their defenders. For the left, the ferocity of both men helps prove their case that the Right is an intolerant, mean-spirited crusade that bullies its detractors. For much of the right, the two epitomize a conviction activism that has been indispensable in outwitting and outlasting the mainstream media and its liberal biases. It’s worth examining each claim for signs of inflation.
Breitbart first: to the extent the general public was aware of Breitbart, it was largely based on three episodes, one of which reflects poorly on him. On the plus side, he drove the exposure of ACORN as a loopy, madcap farce that was living off the public dime and an unmerited reputation for good works. On the neutral side, he outed Anthony Weiner as the kind of guy who milked his mini celebrity to bait attractive twenty-somethings, and who thought his best features are the kind that require public covering. It all seemed seedy, but small and trivial then, and looks even smaller and more trivial now. On the inexcusable side, his expose of Shirley Sherrod as a racist avenger didn’t survive the light of day: Breitbart may have been a white guy lost in interpreting colloquial black to black banter, but his confusion seemed willful and strategic.
The movement wing of the Republican Party knew Breitbart much more intimately as one of its sharpest ideological warriors. That’s a loaded compliment, to be sure: it identifies him with a zone of politics which regards opponents as blood enemies who need to be leveled. But for all of his bark, if memory serves, the vaunted Breitbart exposes tore more at bureaucracies and institutions than lives. Weiner’s is the one reputation he seemed bent on crushing, and Weiner’s efforts to make Breitbart out to be a hacker and a fabricator made that zeal at least understandable. As these things go, Breitbart’s foes didn’t exactly pull their punches either. Anyone who peruses online comments knows that Breitbart was the target of more than a few unproven smears about his own life, and the gusher of left-wing Internet responses that amounted to “good riddance” or “there must be more to his death” exceeded the viciousness of anything he ever wrote.
Limbaugh, meanwhile, seems to occupy two competing functions within the life of the political right: he amplifies its grievances by providing an echo chamber for individual conservatives who wonder if anyone out there is thinking what they’re thinking; then every so often, like clockwork, he vindicates the left’s darkest fantasies of who conservatives really are. To a liberal-leaning media that is quick to probe for signs of right-wing bigotry, there is Limbaugh labeling Obama “Puff the Magic Negro” ; for Democratic operatives eager to demonize right-wingers as misogynists who want to reverse feminism, there is Rush, making a martyr of an unknown law student by branding her with a barnyard sexual slur.
For all of their complexities, and their mixed legacies, both the left and right tend to miss the essence of both men: they are a symptom of a movement that instead of bristling with bravado, feels it is under siege, and worries that it is in danger of being outflanked by a hostile press and a confluence of liberal interests. It’s a curiously defensive sensibility for a cause with which roughly 40 percent of the country identifies and whose strongest critics make up only about 20 percent, and it is a sensibility that is coming to make conservatism seem more cranky than visionary.
The self-doubt, by the way, shortchanges the Right’s own recent string of victories: the surge in pro-life sentiment to the point that it is half the country; the discrediting of the Affordable Care Act, which is less popular now than the day it passed; the defeat of comprehensive amnesty for illegal immigrants and its failure to resurface even in a Democratic Congress; the preservation of the Bush tax cuts; successive 2011 budget deals that downsized spending without giving an inch on taxes; and a Democratic president’s wholesale adoption of the terror-fighting techniques of his Republican predecessor. If it’s not exactly the stuff of conservative fantasies, it’s a more than respectable win total given the devastated state of Republicans in early 2009.
Surely, the late Breitbart and Limbaugh deserve their share of credit for a successful guerilla movement that has limited Democratic gains; they both may well end up mattering more in the scheme of things than Romney or Santorum. But the claim that Breitbart and Limbaugh are emblematic and vital to conservatism? That distinction belongs not to the provocateurs, but to a host of politicians who in their own way trouble liberals much more: a Chris Christie, who is remaining popular while skillfully overturning the priorities of public sector unions in a Democratic state; a Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal, who refute the myth that Republicans don’t represent the textures of a changing country; and a Mitch Daniels, who won’t let go of the notion that conservatives have to care about abandoned, shuttered communities.
These voices are the ones that will re-embolden conservatives. Otherwise, the right returns to what it was in the nineties: a master of grassroots discontent suited to undermining more than leading; a vigorous, crafty insurgency that functions better out of power.