Commentary Magazine


Topic: black President

Why Davis Is Leaving the Democrats

Yesterday, Alana noted the latest fallout from Cory Booker’s critique of the Obama administration on “Meet the Press” and the subsequent, utterly ridiculous “hostage” video he recorded after the Obama campaign reminded him that independent thinking is strongly discouraged in the Democratic Party. Booker’s communications director, Anne Torres, resigned, citing “different views on how communications should be run.”

It wasn’t clear whether Torres objected more to Booker’s defense of capitalism or the cringeworthy apology video–which would have been embarrassing for any communications shop to have on its record–or whether this was merely the last straw in a simmering dispute (possibly about the mayor’s famous obsession with Twitter). But considering that Obama’s Bain attacks made several high-profile Democrats uncomfortable, the fact that Booker was the only one to consent to a walkback video seemed to indicate that the campaign wanted no daylight between Obama and Booker on the issue, even if others strayed from the message. Buzzfeed’s Rosie Gray took a look at how race may have affected the campaign’s damage control strategy:

As Senator Barack Obama rose toward power in 2007 and 2008, he was sometimes taken as the avatar of a new generation of African-American leaders.

They were, PBS’s Gwen Ifill wrote, a “Joshua Generation” led by figures from Alabama Rep. Artur Davis to Newark Mayor Cory Booker. They were, like Obama, born too late to participate in the Civil Rights movement, and late enough to benefit from it with blue chip educations and direct paths to power. They were free of the urban machines that had defined black politics in America, and ready for a different and more hopeful sort of politics of race.

But as President Barack Obama struggles to keep his party united around him, few figures have proven more troublesome than that cadre of black leaders, each of whom was seen at some point as a candidate for the post which only Obama will ever hold: First Black President.

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Yesterday, Alana noted the latest fallout from Cory Booker’s critique of the Obama administration on “Meet the Press” and the subsequent, utterly ridiculous “hostage” video he recorded after the Obama campaign reminded him that independent thinking is strongly discouraged in the Democratic Party. Booker’s communications director, Anne Torres, resigned, citing “different views on how communications should be run.”

It wasn’t clear whether Torres objected more to Booker’s defense of capitalism or the cringeworthy apology video–which would have been embarrassing for any communications shop to have on its record–or whether this was merely the last straw in a simmering dispute (possibly about the mayor’s famous obsession with Twitter). But considering that Obama’s Bain attacks made several high-profile Democrats uncomfortable, the fact that Booker was the only one to consent to a walkback video seemed to indicate that the campaign wanted no daylight between Obama and Booker on the issue, even if others strayed from the message. Buzzfeed’s Rosie Gray took a look at how race may have affected the campaign’s damage control strategy:

As Senator Barack Obama rose toward power in 2007 and 2008, he was sometimes taken as the avatar of a new generation of African-American leaders.

They were, PBS’s Gwen Ifill wrote, a “Joshua Generation” led by figures from Alabama Rep. Artur Davis to Newark Mayor Cory Booker. They were, like Obama, born too late to participate in the Civil Rights movement, and late enough to benefit from it with blue chip educations and direct paths to power. They were free of the urban machines that had defined black politics in America, and ready for a different and more hopeful sort of politics of race.

But as President Barack Obama struggles to keep his party united around him, few figures have proven more troublesome than that cadre of black leaders, each of whom was seen at some point as a candidate for the post which only Obama will ever hold: First Black President.

But Davis was already uncomfortable with the leftward tilt of the Democratic Party, which had been driving out its moderates for years. After Davis left office, he began writing regularly for National Review, after being a go-to guy for leftish dissent for Politico’s “Arena.” Then rumors swirled that Davis was considering a party registration switch to possibly run for office as a Republican in Northern Virginia. Davis has now confirmed those rumors, and posted on his website a statement of explanation in which he airs his disagreement with the Obama administration (and mainstream Democratic Party) about taxes and healthcare policy as well as the “racial spoils system” the Democrats attempt to exploit each election cycle:

On the specifics, I have regularly criticized an agenda that would punish businesses and job creators with more taxes just as they are trying to thrive again. I have taken issue with an administration that has lapsed into a bloc by bloc appeal to group grievances when the country is already too fractured: frankly, the symbolism of Barack Obama winning has not given us the substance of a united country. You have also seen me write that faith institutions should not be compelled to violate their teachings because faith is a freedom, too. You’ve read that in my view, the law can’t continue to favor one race over another in offering hard-earned slots in colleges: America has changed, and we are now diverse enough that we don’t need to accommodate a racial spoils system. And you know from these pages that I still think the way we have gone about mending the flaws in our healthcare system is the wrong way—it goes further than we need and costs more than we can bear.

Davis isn’t a Tea Partier–and certainly neither is Booker. But they also have been uneasy about the extent to which the Democratic Party uses identity politics as an end in itself. Obviously, both were hoping Obama would change that. Booker has shown support for school choice and defended Bain because he, like Davis, wants inner-city youth to get a better shot at an education and to have job opportunities thereafter. Obama may not be in danger of losing black voters’ support in November, but the party he leads is going to have to grapple with a new generation of centrist black politicians who are clearly bothered by a status quo–and the Democratic Party’s strict adherence to it–that remains woefully inadequate to their constituents.

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The Price of a Historic Vote

Glenn Reynolds writes:

I think Obama’s “charisma” was based on voter narcissism — people excited not just about electing a black President, but about themselves, voting for a black President. Now that’s over, and they’re stuck just with him, and emptied of their own narcissism there’s not much there to fill out the suit.

That’s fairly strong stuff. Plainly, Obama played to many voters’ needs — for whites to vote for a historic candidate, for urban intellectuals to vote for one of their own, and for younger voters to vote for a new generation of leadership. Obama quite purposefully did not fill in many of the blanks, leaving to everyone’s imagination what he might do once in the White House. Indeed, he had made a career and an art out of being just beyond definition so that everyone could form a pleasing portrait of the candidate they were voting for.

Now there is an emptiness at the center of the presidency, an odd passivity. Decisiveness and specific policy proposals are missing, creating a sense that Obama is fulfilling the role of head of state but not that of head of government. Part of this is accentuated by his own aversion to projecting American strength and power on the world stage. So whom is he representing (a new multilateral world order?), and what are his aims? Getting along with competitors and shrinking from conflict seem to be high on his list.

Obama clearly wanted to become president, defying many who suggested he hadn’t the experience and would get run over by the Clintons. The latter, at least, proved to be untrue. Now that he is president, he plainly has a domestic-policy vision of America at odds with the views of many who voted for him. Does he have the force of will and the know-how to accomplish that reordering of government — before he loses much of his congressional majority? It’s not clear. And on the international stage, meekness and incompetence have ruled the day, suggesting he’s not in control of events.

Obama, who was omnipresent and larger than life, now seems to be a bystander in his own presidency. And the public is left pondering whether this was the candidate they voted for. Well, yes, but it’s now becoming apparent the price to be paid for voting to make themselves feel enlightened.

Glenn Reynolds writes:

I think Obama’s “charisma” was based on voter narcissism — people excited not just about electing a black President, but about themselves, voting for a black President. Now that’s over, and they’re stuck just with him, and emptied of their own narcissism there’s not much there to fill out the suit.

That’s fairly strong stuff. Plainly, Obama played to many voters’ needs — for whites to vote for a historic candidate, for urban intellectuals to vote for one of their own, and for younger voters to vote for a new generation of leadership. Obama quite purposefully did not fill in many of the blanks, leaving to everyone’s imagination what he might do once in the White House. Indeed, he had made a career and an art out of being just beyond definition so that everyone could form a pleasing portrait of the candidate they were voting for.

Now there is an emptiness at the center of the presidency, an odd passivity. Decisiveness and specific policy proposals are missing, creating a sense that Obama is fulfilling the role of head of state but not that of head of government. Part of this is accentuated by his own aversion to projecting American strength and power on the world stage. So whom is he representing (a new multilateral world order?), and what are his aims? Getting along with competitors and shrinking from conflict seem to be high on his list.

Obama clearly wanted to become president, defying many who suggested he hadn’t the experience and would get run over by the Clintons. The latter, at least, proved to be untrue. Now that he is president, he plainly has a domestic-policy vision of America at odds with the views of many who voted for him. Does he have the force of will and the know-how to accomplish that reordering of government — before he loses much of his congressional majority? It’s not clear. And on the international stage, meekness and incompetence have ruled the day, suggesting he’s not in control of events.

Obama, who was omnipresent and larger than life, now seems to be a bystander in his own presidency. And the public is left pondering whether this was the candidate they voted for. Well, yes, but it’s now becoming apparent the price to be paid for voting to make themselves feel enlightened.

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