Posts Tagged ‘Artur Davis’
A version of this essay was posted in the Recovering Politician.com on December 7, 2013
There is a legitimate and unsentimental case that Nelson Mandela should rank as the Politician of the 20th Century. If Franklin Roosevelt overcame a broken body and marshaled the world to conquer a monster, remember that 27 years in prison should have broken both a body and a spirit, and appreciate that Mandela had no global army to conquer his beast. To be sure, Ronald Reagan’s crystal ball about the fragility of global communism was a crucial hinge in the Cold War, but it is plausible to imagine the Soviet empire unraveling out of its own weaknesses: can anyone sketch a peaceful path away from apartheid that didn’t require Mandela?
There were other democratic founders who were tested in prison—Walesa, Havel—but no one else mastered conciliation so skillfully that they made their captors voluntarily negotiate the terms of their own political demise.
Other visionaries spoke to the soul, from Gandhi and John Paul II to Martin Luther King, and they all rivaled Mandela in his capacity to build a moral authority that outlasted repression. But none of them translated vision to power deftly enough to re-make a nation so thoroughly and so swiftly as did Mandela.
An additional measure of Mandela’s stature is that in the imitative culture of the last generation, there are still no pseudo Mandelas: in fact, to emulate him seems superhuman, well beyond the effect of copying a rhetorical cadence or mimicking a style. It turns out that moral authority is the one leadership trait that image makers can’t fake. And the moral nature of Mandela, from the forbearance to the forgiveness to the restraints he self-imposed in response to a people who would have made him a civil king, is about as foreign to our fractiousness, and our self-promoting mindset, as our technology would be to a caveman.
There is one other aspect to Mandela that gets overlooked. He understood that the measure of a society is not its elegant constitutions or robust markets or even the most egalitarian laws but the extent to which its values enshrine mutual respect. (Pay attention, liberals and conservatives!) The pursuit of that insight disappointed leftists who would have preferred to redistribute wealth in South Africa with a Cuban or Soviet style brutality, and it explains why Mandela put so much stock in rich symbolism: he spent time and capital persuading blacks of the value of an integrated rugby team flying the colors of the old Afrikaans ruling class.
That campaign for respect across lines of race and privilege and blame happened to be the one crusade that Mandela couldn’t master. The heartbreak of Mandela’s life may well have been watching the ways apartheid kept diminishing his country, years after its rules were buried: the insidious manner in which the children of apartheid were too predisposed to turn into thugs; or demagogues who lined their pockets; or men who abused their women or women who debased their own bodies. The most gifted politician of the 20th Century knew that politics by itself cannot rebuild what a culture breaks.
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.
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.
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.