FLORIDA, October 2, 2012 — Artur Davis is one of our country’s fastest rising political stars.
A former four-term congressman from Alabama, he left the Democratic Party earlier this year to join the GOP. In August, was a keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention. This is especially significant as only four years ago, he was a co-chair of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
In the first part of a candid discussion with me, Davis explained his views about partisan polarization, national security policy, and what attracts minority voters to the Democratic ticket.
Now, he tells us about how Citizens United might play a role in our future, the Ron Paul movement’s place in the American political spectrum, what inspired him to seek public office, and much more.
Joseph F. Cotto: Today, the Republican Party is becoming far more diverse. Nonetheless, it is struggling to keep up with America’s changing demographics. What do you think the GOP should do to increase its appeal?
Representative Artur Davis: Given the direction of my previous answer, I will address this question solely in terms of Latinos. Republicans should not be reluctant to stand by their current instincts on border security, the threat from an undocumented low wage labor force, and the cost to the rule of law from an across the board amnesty. But at the same time, it is a major error to treat the challenge of illegal immigration as primarily a social threat, or a potential danger to the national identity. That kind of language suggests, (often unfairly) that is multiculturalism, not jobs or security, which really raises hackles about immigration.
Conservatives ought to disassociate themselves from any argument that denies the value of our country absorbing the talents and work ethic of legal immigrants. Similarly, conservatives ought to never find it palatable to choose policies that break up families, even in the context of immigration enforcement. Any proactive policy ought to distinguish between families and individuals, and ought to be able to separate those with roots in a community from undocumenteds who are rootless and are failing to contribute.
Cotto: Issues such as abortion rights and same-sex marriage are lightning rods for extremists in both parties. Particularly in closed primaries, radical, unelectable candidates often win by campaigning on these alone. Do you suppose that this will prove to be an enduring problem?
Rep. Davis: I have not seen a single primary in the last several cycles in either party where abortion or same-sex marriage proved decisive, so I take some issue with the premise. But as to the larger point, I do think that the left is rapidly moving toward the more extreme set of public positions: that abortion should be available on demand, in a virtually unrestricted manner, for any rationale; and that there is a fundamental constitutional right to same sex marriage, regardless of 36 state laws to the contrary and a divided state of public opinion. What’s more, any Democratic presidential candidate who did not share either sentiment could not conceivably be dominated in 2016.
There is a substantial middle ground on both contentious issues: one that defers to states to define the scope of their marital laws and to determine the availability of abortion within their borders, and to fashion local policies that make abortions rare and hard to obtain. Ironically, there is much more debate on the political right as to whether a hard-line or middle ground is preferable, than there is on the left where abortion rights and gay marriage are orthodoxies.
Cotto: Across the political spectrum, libertarianism is on the upswing. Specifically in the Republican Party, followers of Ron Paul are attempting to take on the establishment. Do you believe that libertarianism is a viable philosophy for governing? What do you think about the Ron Paul movement?
Rep. Davis: I am not so sure that the Paul movement is libertarian as much as it is fiercely anti-establishment and skeptical of bureaucracy in all its forms. (Paul and most of his conservative followers are no social issue libertarians and his opposition to the War On Drugs seems rooted to me in a hostility to all manner of police power and its structure not some affinity for personal freedom). I also don’t know that Paul intends to represent a model for governance; I see his philosophy as an entrenched suspicion of public power. At its best, Paul represents a healthy skepticism toward the scope of federal authority, and he is not off base when he laments the outsized powers of the Federal Reserve Board or the persistent waste in every government sector.
On foreign policy, Paul is dead wrong at most every turn. His view of the world would leave us stripped of our allies, incapable of asserting our values, and feckless in the face of threats like radical Islamic fundamentalism. It is a world the McGovernite left might have dreamed up, and I can’t imagine that more than a fraction of conservatives would choose that future.
Cotto: Due to the Citizens United ruling, millions of Americans have become nervous about the influence which money plays in politics. Do you share these concerns? Or is Citizens United merely formalizing what has gone on under the table, so to speak, for generations?
Rep. Davis: I remain of the opinion that the Supreme Court got it wrong in Citizens United. The Court’s conceit that the financing of independent expenditures creates no appearance of corruption or influence peddling, while direct contributions do, is the kind of distinction that only a court whose members have never run for so much as city council could contemplate. While I recognize that most conservatives disagree, I subscribe to an older view that preserving trust in public institutions is a conservative value in its own right. I think over time, conservatives will lament the ruling, as the left invariably uses it to maximize its own special interest influence.
That said, the Court has spoken and candidates who try to second-guess Citizens United by practicing unilateral disarmament are taking the wrong course, and denying their supporters the effort they deserve.
Cotto: Now that our discussion is at its end, many readers are probably wondering about your life and career. What inspired you to seek public office?
Rep. Davis: In every race I have run, I sought public office for the simplest of reasons: I knew I could the job better than the alternatives, and I have never let the doubts others have about the system or their communities constrain me. If I ever run again, it would be for the same reason—that I am convinced I have something unique to offer and that the job is one that can make a difference.
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