CHARLOTTE–Tonight, the Democratic National Convention is scheduled to celebrate its version of what has become a staple at major-party conventions: the ideological turncoat. In Tampa last week, it was former Democratic congressman (and current Republican non-officeholder) Artur Davis. Tonight it's slated to be former Republican governor of Florida (and current unaffiliated non-officeholder) Charlie Crist, who was routed in a Republican Senate primary by Tea Party darling (and eventual senator) Marco Rubio.
So what happens to these turncoats after the last party logo gets nicked? National Public Radio last week had some fun at their expense, affixing the headline "For Party Defectors, A Warm Welcome (Then Maybe Siberia): There's a lot of glory in switching parties, but often not much future."
In fact, Charlie Crist's immediate predecessor, longtime North Dakota Iowa congressman Jim Leach in 2008, was quickly appointed by President Barack Obama to chair up the $154 million, 159-employee National Endowment for the Humanities. Whereupon he launched a three-year, 50-state, taxpayer-financed "American Civilian Tour." Before looking at the lowlights of Leach's forcible civility, let's recall why the leopard changed his spots in the first place:
The party that once emphasized individual rights has gravitated in recent years toward regulating values. The party of military responsibility has taken us to war with a country that did not attack us. The party that formerly led the world in arms control has moved to undercut treaties crucial to the defense of the earth. The party that prides itself on conservation has abdicated its responsibilities in the face of global warming. And the party historically anchored in fiscal restraint has nearly doubled the national debt, squandering our precious resources in an undisciplined and unprecedented effort to finance a war with tax cuts.
America has seldom faced more critical choices: whether we should maintain an occupational force for decades in a country and region that resents western intervention or elect a leader who, in a carefully structured way, will bring our troops home from Iraq as the heroes they are. Whether it is wise to continue to project power largely alone with flickering support around the world or elect a leader who will follow the model of General Eisenhower and this president's father and lead in concert with allies.
Whether it is prudent to borrow from future generations to pay for today's reckless fiscal policies or elect a leader who will shore up our budgets and return to a strong dollar. Whether it is preferable to continue the policies that have weakened our position in the world, deepened our debt and widened social divisions or elect a leader who will emulate John F. Kennedy and relight a lamp of fairness at home and reassert an energizing mix of realism and idealism abroad.
I trust that Leach is enjoying the political party that doesn't regulate values, doesn't take us to war with countries that did not attack us, doesn't jack up the national debt, and so on. At any rate, he's too busy using your money to teach you about civility!
[P]olarizing attitudes can jeopardize social cohesion and even public safety. […] Little is more important for the world's leading democracy in this change-intensive century than establishing an ethos of thoughtfulness and decency of expression in the public square.
The Weekly Standard's Andrew Ferguson wrote a funny profile of Leach and his Civility Tour last year. Excerpt:
"Civilization requires civility," Leach likes to say, and the chairman has ensured that civilization will trickle down through his agency and, he hopes, into the country at large. Each year the NEH hands out about $140 million in grants to roughly a thousand hat-in-hand humanists. Program directors who receive an NEH grant are now expected to agree to the agency's published "Principles of Civility," an Obama-era version of the old loyalty oaths. […]
"Evidence of growing social fissures is real," Leach said near the beginning of the tour, in the spring of 2010, when the premonitory rumblings of that fall's Republican landslide were first being felt. Leach mentioned the "comments several months back on the House floor" during the health care debate. "Citizens are becoming less open minded and more disrespectful of their leaders, other faith systems, and each other."
He had one particular leader in mind. "Many citizens have over the course of the last year charged our current President with advancing policies that were either 'communist,' or 'fascist,' or both…. Several in public life have even toyed with history-blind radicalism—the notion of secession."
Words like these, Leach went on, while "protected by free speech," are "a vocabulary of hate, jeopardizing social cohesion and even public safety."
How so? "Hate groups, some armed," he continued, "are on the rise." He didn't produce any evidence for this claim—Leach is not a detail guy—but still: "Vastly more rancorous, socially divisive acts and assertions are being made across the land."
As for Crist, his recent Tampa Bay Times Obama-endorsing op-ed would fit perfectly at this convention, so he seems an appropriate choice. ("President Obama has a strong record of doing what is best for America and Florida, and he built it by spending more time worrying about what his decisions would mean for the people than for his political fortunes," etc.)
Crist won't be speaking for another couple of hours, but through the magic of the phrase "embargoed for release on delivery," I can exclusively reveal that it includes the phrase "give him a hug for Charlie." We shall see what that hug is worth come December of this year.