BuzzFlash Interview, Congressman Danny Davis
THE THIRD IN A SERIES OF BUZZFLASH.COM CONGRESSIONAL INTERVIEWS
U.S. Congressman Danny Davis represents the 7th Congressional District, which starts at the shore of Lake Michigan in Downtown Chicago and belts its way across Chicago into the western suburbs. If there were a Congressional District in the nation that epitomized the disparities of wealth and poverty in America, it would be the 7th in Illinois. From Chicago's Gold Coast of wealth to West Side public housing, from well-heeled suburbs to blighted neighborhoods abandoned as the industrial sector left Chicago for cheaper labor overseas, the extreme disparities are all represented in Davis' district. So he knows a bit about the issue facing haves and have-nots in American society. He knows them first hand.
A longtime Chicago community activist, former alderman and former member of the Cook County Board, his district office is located in the heart of Chicago's West Side, about 5 miles West of the Loop. His constituents just call him Danny.
BUZZFLASH: Do you have any personal or political feelings about Bush or his policies?
DANNY DAVIS: I think Bush kind of got in front of the right wing movement but he didn't create it. He didn't generate it. He didn't even energize it. I'm saying I think it was there, and I think Bush was able to look out and say, "Hey, here's a tremendous opportunity for me." The army was already there waiting on the general and I think the right wing, the conservative forces were in existence, organized, well oiled and ready. Bush stepped forward and took command. And even having commanded, he rules not as an absolute but he moves in concert with the group.
for example, the faith-based initiative, all set and ready to go. Some
of the groups already saying there are some elements of this "we"
are not totally comfortable with so maybe "we" ought to look
at that a bit. Pat Robertson - people like that. You've noticed it's slowed
down. Slowed down considerably. Bush and his architects said, "Well,
I also think that his personality is such that it has helped to give the appearance of softening some of the right wing positions when it really has not. All it has done is deflect the focus. And Bush is 'aw shucks' about everything.
the Congressional Black Caucus meets with the President, we each only
get one shot in terms of a question. I remember my question was: "You
know Mr. President, there's a tremendous feeling among African Americans,
Latinos and other minority groups that there are two systems of justice
in this country when it comes to law enforcement as well as our judicial
system in that black people, Latinos and poor people don't get an equal
And he listened very intently -- and then you know what he says to me? He says, "You know it sounds like you've been reading my mind. That's what some of my Black friends in Texas been telling me -- and you know we can't have that. We're not gonna have that, so we gonna do something about it. We are gonna work with you. We are gonna work with you to do something about that racial profiling and all that stuff."
Well somebody in the back of the room, this was the day before the Ashcroft confirmation, somebody else from the caucus said, "Well Mr. President, if you want to do something about it, make sure that we don't confirm Ashcroft. If you want to do something about it, withdraw his nomination." Well, Bush is all like, "You know we can't do that."
BUZZFLASH: Is his "charm" working?
DANNY DAVIS: Reporters are always asking me, for example well, "Do you think the President's doing a good job of reaching out? What do you think about his outreach?"
Well, I want him to reach IN. I want him to reach into the treasury and pull out some of the money we need to get homeless people off the streets in my community and in other communities in America.
I want him to reach into the treasury and fund the new market initiatives, venture capital programs, and business links we passed in the last sessions of Congress that President Clinton and Speaker Hastert both were so much in favor of, as opposed to cutting the SPA budget by 43%. I want him to reach in and get some money for the COPS Community Policing Program. So that we can have some additional policemen in the inner city communities where drug dealers are standing on the corners hollering 'Crack' and 'Blow.' So that we can help clean up some of this activity. I want him to reach in and get the money so that we can continue towards the hiring of new teachers so that we can reduce class size so that there is a greater opportunity to learn, grow and develop.
want him to reach in and get the money to keep the hospitals viable and
alive so that the hospitals in my congressional district are not teetering
each year on the brink of disaster, wondering whether or not they are
going to be able to survive when we've cut too deep and taken out too
much. Or some money for these home health care agencies and other people
who besiege us every day telling us that they are on the brink of going
I want him to reach in and not just reach out. But in order to get him to reach in -- you know politics continues to be the art of staying one step ahead of your opposition or your adversaries. And I'm saying what we have to do is put Bush and the right wing on the defensive, as opposed to our just being the ones on the defensive.
I think we've been out-organized over the past. I'm not just talking about the Bush presidency, I'm talking about leading up to the Bush presidency and our ability to actually jell around issues sufficient for the members of the Democratic coalition to feel comfortable with each other.
BUZZFLASH: The Republicans seem to have a more solid, unified message and discipline. The Democrats are by their very nature more diverse in their opinions and strategies.
DANNY DAVIS: I think that that is true. I think we have to be disciplined enough to be true to ourselves. Whatever we call the progressive elements or the progressive coalitions, I think we have to coalesce with each other and each other's issues and say, "Here's where we are." It's kind of hard to say I am with you on this, but I'm not sure we can go down the same road on that. I've got some real problems with that. We have to define who we are as Democrats and progressives.
me about a story about a flower that couldn't decide what it wanted to
be. This little seed lay on the ground and it began to sprout, and asked,
"Which one of the flowers will I be when I come out? I could be a
rose, but roses are just too red. I could be a violet, but violets are
too blue. I could be a chrysanthemum but of course that would just
So the point is that if you can't define and decide, then of course you have some difficulty bringing other people along. It takes a lot of discussion and it takes a lot of give and take. It takes a lot of confidence.
BUZZFLASH: Do you think this day will pass in terms of Bush's first 100 days being so monumentally extremist?
DAVIS: I think so, because as people get an opportunity to evaluate
how he is looking, the question is what is there to evaluate? People said
he's looking good, but I say what have we had to evaluate. You can look
at the first blush, but the devil is in the details. And so when you get
down to looking at him, you know you kind of pull the cover off and you
get into the details and lo and behold there the devil is. We're talking
about tax cuts almost anybody will support on first blush. "I'm gonna
let you keep this money in your pocket. This is gonna be your money. You're
not gonna have to give the government any of it, you just keep it."
That sounds good at first. But then when my constituents get
People were eager to start privatizing social security. Well lo and behold, the market started doing some flip-flops, and many of the people who were talking about how great it was to privatize and let people do individual investment and roll that into the stock market, well, some of those people have reconsidered.
Or if you're trying to get from one city to the next, and your airplane can't land because there aren't enough air traffic controllers to be on top of everything. Well, that gives you pause for thought. So you just sit up there in the air for a couple more hours. You can't build more runways or new airports because there's been a tax cut, so you just fly around up there for a few hours.
I'm saying as people begin to see that you can't get blood out of a turnip, and that you can't operate a government off of thin air, that all these big tax breaks to the wealthy is helping the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer, and squeezing to death all those in between, that as people begin to experience that, then they will better understand that the Bush Program is not for a majority of the American people, that, yes, Thanksgiving is coming and somebody is going to have a good time, but it won't be the turkey. And most Americans will be the turkey.
BUZZFLASH: So you're not going to let the current downcast skies of the Bush administration keep you from your agenda.
DANNY DAVIS: Absolutely not, cause one of the things I have learned is that a winner never quits and a quitter never wins.
you want to win--I'm not talking about winning an election or winning
on an issue; but if you want to help America become the America that it's
never been and yet must be--if you want to help America realize some of
the potential that it has never yet experienced, if you want to help America
demonstrate that you can love being number one, and at the same time love
justice, that you can love being number one, and at the same time love
equality, that you can love being number one, and at the same time abhor
So that's worth the fight and worth the effort. That's worth remaining involved. We often close our community meetings with a saying that says, "I am not all people but I am one. I cannot do all things, but I can do some. That which I can do, I will do and do it true."
That I think becomes the spirit of democracy and what it means to live in a free and democratic society and take on the responsibility of helping to shape and mold that society into becoming whatever it is you the individual believe that society ought to be. To do anything less than that is to be less than a citizen.
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