The Left has accused Republicans of a “war on women,” but New York Democratic senator Kirsten Gillibrand could wind up running against a woman in the fall. The contest for who will face Democrat Gillibrand is on, and Wendy Long discusses what a Senator Long would look like with Kathryn Jean Lopez.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: What do you have against Senator Gillibrand?
WENDY LONG: National Journal recently came out with its annual congressional rankings — the gold standard in political measuring sticks. Kirsten Gillibrand was tied for No. 1 Most Liberal Member of the United States Senate. She’s metamorphosed from a moderate, fiscally responsible, guns-under-the-bed, upstate, Blue Dog Democrat into an entrenched vote for the hard Left, carrying water for big government and special interests. She voted for Obamacare, for Obama’s failed stimulus that did nothing (not even build infrastructure in New York), for federal funding of ACORN, for Dodd-Frank (which will cripple New York as the financial capital of the world) — generally, for big, oppressive government. On jobs, debt, deficit spending, energy policy, taxes, and regulation, she’s out of step with mainstream New Yorkers, who gave Ronald Reagan two victories in this state. She has stood mute while Barack Obama has undermined and attacked our ally Israel, and while Iran has marched toward nuclear armament. She speaks in friendly bromides that seem designed to keep her in office, so that she can tell all the rest of us how to run our lives. It reminds me of a phrase that Tocqueville used: “velvet tyranny.”
LOPEZ: What’s the tenure of a Senator Long going to look like?
LONG: I would be honest with my fellow New Yorkers. Our nation and state are in dire circumstances. Serious people need to work hard to reduce the debt, reduce taxes, and slash regulation on the small businesses and families that are the lifeblood of new jobs and innovation in our state. I wouldn’t let a year pass by without producing a federal budget. This is the most basic job that we are paying her salary to do. I would vote to repeal Obamacare immediately, if the Supreme Court has not already invalidated it. I would support a real American energy policy, put American interests first in foreign policy, and be actively engaged on national-security matters, as Congressman Pete King is. New York needs not just a congressman but also a senator who is at the forefront of protecting our national security.
I would let our allies know that we are unequivocally on their side — particularly Israel. I would drastically revise much of the Dodd-Frank financial-reform legislation, which I call the “Bureaucrat Full Employment Act.” I would not waste time, as Senator Gillibrand does, on things such as dictating a national minimum driving age and sponsoring a “National Day of Play.” I’d help New Yorkers understand that we get less in value from Washington than what we send there in taxes. Our families and employers, and our financial, agricultural, medical-device, and other industries, are being crushed by taxes and regulation. I would fight to take those burdens off them.
LOPEZ: Why you and not the others in the primary mix?
LONG: I salute my two primary opponents: George Maragos, a real gentleman who embodies the American Dream and now serves Nassau County as comptroller, and Bob Turner, who inspired Republicans with his special-election victory in a Brooklyn-Queens district. We share many of the same views. I expect that differences among us will emerge over the course of the next few months. I have never run for elective office before, but I have significant experience working in or with all three branches of our federal government.
I have been in private law practice in New York City, where my husband and I are raising our children. I’ve spent a great deal of time over the past decade as a caregiver for various family members. It gives me a perspective on the struggles that many New Yorkers face with illness, disability, health care, insurance difficulties, and trying to work with and also take care of family members. I’ve also in recent years been involved in important national debates about our Constitution and Supreme Court, in the context of the confirmation battles over nominees of both President Bush and President Obama. My experience in those battles has given me a depth of experience and perspective on the problems facing our country — and how to solve them — that I think is unique.
LOPEZ: What would you bring to the Senate?
LONG: Two things: One, I have certain core convictions and principles, which stem from my understanding of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Those founding documents contain the answers to almost every problem we have in federal government today. If we had 100 senators who saw it that way, we would have a federal government that is smaller, less intrusive, and less burdensome to Americans in their daily lives, but also more vigorous in protecting America and her interests in the world.
Two, I would be honest instead of politically correct. Senator Gillibrand is good at saying things that sound nice but have little substance. I don’t think we elect our public officials to avoid taking a stand or a difficult position on anything. Public officials insult our intelligence and our goodwill when they paint rosy pictures about budgets, jobs, bipartisanship, and transparency, and alter their positions on issues simply to keep collecting their paycheck by never disagreeing or disappointing anyone.
LOPEZ: Does the “Daniel Patrick Moynihan seat” aspect of this race resonate with you in any particular way?
LONG: Absolutely. He was the kind of senator we need now. He had core convictions and principles, and he acted on them. He didn’t worry about being politically correct. He was honest with his fellow citizens. He was a brilliant man, but he did not talk down to people. He raised them to his level by speaking with clarity about difficult problems. He was a strong character, an independent personality — I think New Yorkers like that in their senators. We’ve had lots of different characters as senators from New York: Moynihan, Kennedy, Buckley, Clinton, D’Amato — some conservative like me, and some liberal. But what they had in common, which New Yorkers like, was independence and boldness, not pandering, flip-flopping, wishy-washiness.
New York is a place where people have strong convictions. Senator Moynihan was living proof of the value of great public- and Catholic-school education. He was ahead of his time on entitlement reform and the dignity of work as connected to welfare. I intend to bring back his Fisc Report, in which he told New Yorkers each year how much they had paid to Washington and what they had gotten back. Laurence O’Donnell, the liberal pundit who used to work for Moynihan, observed that Moynihan did something “inexplicable for a late 20th-century politician: He [said] what he thinks.” I’d like to emulate that. I think people are tired of lowest-common-denominator statements crafted by political consultants designed to say as little of substance as possible in order to offend as few people as possible. What is the point of politics unless you have a real discussion?
LOPEZ: What do you make of our secretary of state, who once held the seat you’re hoping to win and who recently warned that there are extremists out to control women?
LONG: Disappointing. Hillary Clinton is an extremely bright woman who has strong convictions, most of them very different from mine. But I took a page from her book when I recently did a “listening and learning” tour around the state of New York. Her “listening tour” of New York during her Senate campaign was brilliant, and what I learned from following her example was extremely helpful to me. But her recent speech about “extremists out to control women” was really beneath her. She’s so bright, and she knows how to debate and marshal evidence. And yet she’s throwing these wild charges with no evidence and no analysis behind them. Is she “controlled” by someone? I don’t think so. Neither am I. And I suspect if you asked most women whom they feel most “controlled by,” it would likely be the federal government. It strikes me as an embarrassing lack of perspective about the incredible freedom and opportunity that we as women have in America today, as compared to every other time and place in the history of the world. We can do anything we want to, such as run for the Senate and the presidency.
LOPEZ: Is this Health and Human Services mandate important to New Yorkers?
LONG: It is important, in two different ways. One, because of the gross distortion of the issue by people like Kirsten Gillibrand, who try to convince people that the Catholic Church wants to take away women’s freedom to use contraception. Many people are working hard just to earn a living and put food on the table and take care of their kids in challenging circumstances, and when they hear their senator say things like this, over and over, they tend to give it credence. So, some New Yorkers have a mistaken notion about its importance, because they believe the absurd charges of Senator Gillibrand against the Catholic Church.
On the other side, I know that many New Yorkers are deeply troubled that the federal-government mandate would force Catholic schools, hospitals, and other institutions to violate their religious beliefs. Women are free in this country to have all the contraception they want, and no one is proposing altering that. But there is no basis whatsoever, morally or constitutionally, for the federal government to force anyone to violate her conscience. That freedom of conscience — not the freedom to use contraception — is what is really at stake here. And to attack the Catholic Church — particularly in the state of New York, where, of all places, one ought to appreciate the children it has educated, the sick it has treated, the poor it has fed, the souls it has healed — is inexcusable. All people of good will — not just Catholics — should stand up for the basic right of conscience in an institution that has done so much for so many, and sits in judgment of no one.
LOPEZ: What does the Susan B. Anthony List endorsement mean to you?
LONG: It means a great deal to me. Respect for human life has been close to my heart since I worked for two pro-life senators after college, during the Reagan years, and first began to think about the issue. It has taken on a really tangible aspect for me since having children, and since taking care of dying parents and grandparents — particularly nursing my mother through five years of decline and death from ALS. It’s something I really had not thought much about before I was in my mid-20s, but I began to think it through, as a human-rights issue. I think a society as civilized and advanced as ours has an obligation to take care of its weakest and most vulnerable members. Any human society does, really, but ours does especially because of America’s principles: The Declaration of Independence mentions that we’re endowed by our Creator with a right to life — and as an advanced society, we have the ability to take care of those who are weak and powerless. I don’t think we should pit the interests of the unborn child against the interests of her mother; we should help both of them thrive and flourish. We bring out the best in people when we help them to take care of each other. I think the Susan B. Anthony List exemplifies perfectly the profound truth that respect for human life is part of respect for women. I’m emboldened by their endorsement.
LOPEZ: Can a pro-life woman really win in New York?
LONG: Yes. First of all, abortion, euthanasia, and the whole spectrum of “life” issues are properly matters of state law, not federal law, and I’m running for federal office. Foremost on the minds of New Yorkers in this federal election are jobs, federal debt and deficits, taxes, energy prices and independence, health care and insurance, and over-regulation by Washington. I am far more in line with mainstream New Yorkers on issues of limiting government and creating jobs and economic growth than Kirsten Gillibrand is. But once you get past labels, I’m closer to most people’s views on the life issues, too. I don’t think that seniors should be denied the kind of care they will be unable to get under Obamacare. I don’t think care for the elderly, sick, or disabled should be curtailed and rationed because some panel of bureaucrats says so. And even on abortion per se, Senator Gillibrand’s views are far more extreme than most New Yorkers’. She would not permit even very mild and reasonable restrictions on abortion that most New Yorkers, and most Americans, support. She is trying to throw labels at me because she has no facts, reason, or arguments to support her views. If you ask people if they support late-term partial-birth abortion, or sex-selection abortion, or regulations ensuring safe and sanitary conditions for women, or laws that protect a baby who is born alive but is unwanted or disabled — a child who Barack Obama said was properly subjected to infanticide — people do not agree with Kirsten Gillibrand. So the answer is yes: I can win, because my views are actually mainstream, and what New Yorkers don’t know about Kirsten Gillibrand is hurting them. This campaign will help to shine light on her record and views, which most New Yorkers simply don’t know about.
LOPEZ: What’s so special about Mary Ann Glendon, whom you studied under?
LONG: Where do I start? She’s brilliant, brave, and generous with her intellectual and spiritual gifts. I studied under her for my last year of law school at Harvard, and I was received into the Catholic Church in Boston that year. I’ve continued to learn from her ever since. For example, I observed how she handled her position as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, and how she in 2009 declined to accept Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal because the university decided to give the stage to President Obama for a commencement speech. She said at the time that she could not accept the award from Notre Dame, because in honoring President Obama, Notre Dame disregarded the U.S. Catholic bishops’ express request that Catholic institutions “should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.” Talk about a profile in courage, and a prophetic one at that. Three years later, I hope Notre Dame sees its error in putting Obama instead of Glendon on its commencement stage.
More recently, Mary Ann and I have worked together as legal advisers to Governor Romney’s presidential campaign. It’s a privilege to be engaged with her in the most important election of our lifetime. And her most recent book, The Forum and the Tower, inspired me when I was weighing whether to get into the U.S. Senate race in New York. The book examines the intersection between philosophy and politics — questions that Aristotle examined — but she goes through history and looks at the lives of great men to reexamine some of those ancient questions. She discusses how Cicero’s friends tried to dissuade him from going into politics, for the same reasons that many of us — myself included — hesitate: The Roman Forum was full of schemers and bribe-takers, they said. One’s reputation will be assaulted. One’s family may be attacked. It might get so nasty that my children will cry. One has to either give up one’s principles or else be marginalized and unable to accomplish anything. To digest her broad sweep of perspective, across the political and philosophical history of the Western world, is to be comforted that these are not new problems. Mary Ann discusses that Cicero pondered all the same things that I wondered about before plunging into politics, and she recounts that he concluded: “What better reason could brave and high-minded men have for entering politics than the determination not to allow the state to be torn apart by the cowardly and the wicked?” I want my children and other young people to learn that lesson, and not to be dissuaded from engaging in self-government.
LOPEZ: Would Maureen Dowd like you if she got to know you?
LONG: I don’t know. I’ve never met her, but from reading what she writes, it seems she cares about things deeply. She has a great, sarcastic, entertaining sense of humor. We obviously differ tremendously on many significant issues in the public debate. I hope she’d be open-minded enough to have a rational discussion with me, instead of just ripping me for having views different from hers. Maybe we would learn a thing or two from one another. The one thing that really bothers me, however, is the way she has written about Justice Clarence Thomas, who is one of my great heroes and is my former boss. He is a deeply honorable man — a brilliant man, who understands the Constitution and does his best every day to be faithful to it, and to be generous to every other human being who crosses his path in life. She’s really wrong about him. We all make mistakes — what she has said about Clarence Thomas is one of hers.
LOPEZ: What do you make of President Obama’s recent alarm over “judicial activism”?
LONG: As with many other things, Barack Obama thinks he can just say anything that he wants — that words mean whatever he wants them to mean, and it matters not at all that his statements are not rooted in any reality. He knows that the Supreme Court must strike down laws that violate the limited, enumerated powers given to Congress under the Constitution. He’s just appropriating language that others use to accurately describe something — in this case, the term “judicial activism,” which means judges using their perch on the courts to invent law that is not in the Constitution, or to ignore law that is in the Constitution. He thinks he can just step through the looking glass and make it mean something else. But “judicial activism” does not mean the Court overturning a law passed by Congress. President Obama has misrepresented the charter for judicial review by the Supreme Court in Marbury v. Madison. He feels perfectly free to twist words, twist the law, and mislead people if it suits his immediate spin needs. To defend Obamacare, he has to do a lot of spinning and deceiving.
LOPEZ: You could be doing much less frustrating things right now. Why this race?
LONG: First of all, it’s not frustrating. It’s a sacrifice — mostly of time with my family. But I’m doing this for my children, too, and when I think of the sacrifices others have made to give us the country we need to protect, my own seems quite small. It’s a privilege to meet people all around this state — serious, good, hardworking people who understand what America and our Constitution are all about, who are sincerely worried about what has happened to our state as manufacturing has declined, as employers have been crushed by taxes and regulation, as young people have left because of the lack of opportunity, and as the quality of education has declined. I’m reminded every day of what William F. Buckley said about preferring to be governed by the first 100 names in the Boston telephone directory than by the faculty of Harvard. I’d rather be governed by the first 100 names in the phone book in any one of the 62 counties in New York, than by the Obama-Gillibrand crowd.
As to why I’m doing this right now: I believe everything is on the line for America in this election year. Everything. The year 2012 will go down in history as a time when we chose between two radically different paths. The solvency of the federal government, the future of free enterprise, the security of our people, and the very character of our nation are all in the balance this year. In politics, the stakes don’t get any higher than that.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is an editor-at-large at National Review Online.