Friday, November 18, 2005

Failing Democracy: Danny Davis and Mark Kirk

Jim Ascot, running against 9th year incumbent Cong. Danny Davis, in the 7th CD Democratic Primary, is making an issue of Davis’ coronation of Rev. Sun Myung Moon as the Messiah [see here for more about the show with Jim Ascot and here to watch the Jim Ascot webcast itself]. Cong. Mark Kirk [R-Highland Park, 10th CD] has described Davis as having the Voice of God. Apparently, Davis has taken that description to heart and set out in March, 2004, to crown the Messiah, or the Son of God, in the form of one Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

Chicago Tribune columnist and blogger Eric Zorn, picking up on our show with candidate Jim Ascot and Ascot’s criticism of Davis for disrespecting and abusing his office by using it to “crown Moon,” refers us to his Tribune column of June, 2004, in which Zorn noted:

The most disturbing thing is not that U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D.-Ill.) attended an elaborate coronation ceremony in Washington for the controversial Rev. Sun Myung Moon and his wife…

No, the most disturbing thing is that, to this day, Davis expresses no regret about assisting in the pageantry designed to burnish and inflate the reputation of a man who, divine or not, wants to abolish Western-style democracy, compares gay people to dung-eating dogs, and in exhorting Jews to convert and follow him, told them: "You have to repent. Jesus was the King of Israel. Through the principle of indemnity, Hitler killed 6 million Jews."

But, I will “see,” Zorn’s “most disturbing thing,” and “raise,” him one.

The most disturbing thing is not that Davis expresses no regret over the coronation. It is not even that Danny Davis has now reached that tenure of an established Congressman where he can avoid sustained questioning from challenging journalists on tough topics and adopt the Rose Garden Strategy. Sure, Davis did take a few questions from Zorn-- and Davis responded with answers that make no sense. But, even that is not the worst of it.

Davis must have hoped that would be the end of it. That is the benefit of Davis' handlers making sure the boss does a phone interview instead of, say, a thirty minute, in studio interview. In the former, you can say good-bye when the questioning gets tough. In the latter, it is not so easy to walk out of the studio after five minutes of questioning, with the cameras showing you doing a "cut and run."

"Cooperating journalists," unlike Zorn, will serve up softballs in exchange for airtime with the man who crowns Messiahs, and of course they will avoid any questions about the Moon Coronation. The cooperating journalists know it, Cong. Davis knows it and yet the few people who watch such sham journalism may not know it. Just another day at the office for the "Davis flak catchers."

Of course, years ago, less secure in his position in the House, Davis would actually deign to be interviewed by challenging journalists such as yours truly, with Davis making two appearances on “Public Affairs.”

But, now, although our studio has re-located to Skokie from Winnetka, and therefore is closer to Davis, Davis’ flak catcher tells us the 7th Congressional District congressman can’t spare the half hour to drive up to Skokie, so that 60% of his constituents could tune in for a half hour to see and hear his explanations for his coronation of his Messiah-- Rev. Moon, not to mention what Davis is doing, or not doing, to improve the access of his constituents to good jobs, good education, good housing and good health care.

And, of course, Davis is way too busy to appear side by side with his competitor, Democrat Jim Ascot, so that the voters can compare and contrast, in their effort to determine if Ascot or Davis is the best person to represent the Democrat Party in the 7th Cong. Dist. general election But, even that is not the most disturbing thing.

Now, to be fair, Cong. Danny Davis is surely not the only stealth incumbent Congressman in the Chicago Metro area. For example, we also have the aforementioned 5th year North Shore Cong. Mark Steven Kirk, who has blessed the voice, if not the substance, of Danny Davis. When Cong. Kirk was competing in a tough, ten candidate primary in 1999-2000 and then with Democrat Lauren Beth Gash [Highland Park] for the open seat in the 10th Cong. Dist. general election in the fall of 2000, candidate Kirk couldn’t get enough of “Public Affairs,” challenging questions or not, appearing five times on our show in the primary and general election.

Similarly, Republican candidate Kirk appeared opposite Democratic candidate Gash in thirty-three forums in the 2000 general election, not counting their joint appearances on "Public Affairs." At that time, Kirk was all about the public’s right to know—what Kirk’s and Gash’s position on issues were and the public’s right to know how they handled tough, challenging questions.

In November, 2000, Kirk squeaked by with a 5500-vote margin of victory out of more than 200,000 votes [thanks in large part to Committeeman Tolbert Chisum's strong New Trier Republican Organization . With some re-districting help in 2002, the power of incumbency, the largesse of corporate support that goes with incumbency and weak Democratic candidates, Kirk won in 2002 and 2004, with 71% of the vote and 64 % of the vote, respectively.

With that kind of congressional incumbent power, similar to that of Danny Davis, Commander Kirk flexes his political muscles, and the cooperating print and electronic media decline to challenge his frequent non-answers, say on issues such as social security reform, or his dramatic drop-off from thirty-three forums to one or two in each election season.

Democracy in action? Not with incumbents Davis or Kirk. Not by a long shot. Are Davis and Kirk the only such sinners in the Illinois Congressional Delegation. Of course not, but they will do for now. However, even Davis' and Kirk's actions, or lack thereof, in this regard, are not the "most disturbing thing.".

No, the ,"most disturbing thing," is what transpires when we ask:Will any of the cooperating journalists [which of course does not include Eric Zorn] reverse their ways, step up to the plate and offer respectful, yet challenging questions to Kirk and Davis? Will they risk not getting the interview or not getting the air time by letting Davis and Kirk know that they will no longer cooperate with their media charades.

I wouldn’t bet on it. Now, that is the "most disturbing thing."

Even more than the Coronation of the Rev. Moon as the Messiah by Cong. Davis. Even more than Davis’ failure to express regret for his participation in the zany coronation. Even more than Cong. Kirk becoming the stealth 5th year North Shore incumbent. Even more than Cong. Davis avoiding challenging media questions by hiding behind his flak catcher and his phone.

Time for Zorn to reach for that Hatchet and to start chasing those Chickens, as he promised he would, almost four years ago. Or, since the Thanksgiving season is upon us, Chickens? Turkeys? Cooperating Journalists? They are all the same. Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! Go Zorn Go.
Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of Public Affairs and an Executive Recruiter doing Legal Search, can be reached at