Although the prevailing sentiment seems decidedly against him, the May commencement speaker David E. Davis is not without his defenders. LSA John Laich speculates in a letter to the editor today that the administration has “finally made the decision to play it smart and safe and pick someone more local and sanguine rather than some pompous celebrity from the East Coast who flies in, ridicules us provincial Michigan types and smugly runs back to wherever he or she came from.” Expressing exactly how glad he is that the administration is getting away from “the usual Ivy League commencement blather,” adding “hopefully Davis will impress us at graduation.” I hope so too – I must say I rather like the “usual Ivy League commencement blather.”

Commencement speakers at top universities last year included former president of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo (Harvard), President of Peru Alejandro Toledo (Stanford), 1984 Nobel Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Penn), Queen Noor of Jordan (William & Mary), and of course secretary-general of the United Nations Kofi Annan (Duke). First, it’s difficult to characterize these people as “pompous celebrities from the East Coast” since none are from the U.S. And second, I doubt that any of them issued the “usual blather,” but I suppose that’s a judgment you’ll have to make. Oh, my source? The Young Americans Foundation (similar politics to the other YAF).

What, exactly, does Mr. Davis stand for? According to a recent column in Automotive magazine, he thinks a $1-per-gallon “War on Terrorism” tax might be a good idea:

“If you would like to defray some of the cost of the War on Terrorism and, at the same time, do some worthwhile good on the automotive home front, please consider slapping a one-dollar War on Terrorism Gasoline Surtax on every gallon of gasoline sold in these United States of America. At the same time, however, I beg that you resist the natural and near-irresistible temptation to impose a similar surtax on diesel fuel.

But wait, let’s consider all the things the money could be used for:

“If the War on Terrorism Gasoline Surtax were fairly and consistently applied across the gasoline-burning universe – no exemptions, no loopholes – it would generate some $133 billion in 2003 alone. This would not pay for a full-scale war, but it would buy an awful lot of 5.57-millimeter community relations ammunition and warehouses full of whatever those things were that turned a carload of al-Qaida enthusiasts into a grease spot on the floor of the Yemeni desert. This fresh stream of revenue might allow our republic to pursue the War on Terrorism with less dislocation among the day-to-day governmental activities that help to make this the one nation in the world where everybody else wants to live. And since the politics of oil are all bound up in these disputes, let oil pay its share of the cost. … “

I actually like his idea of a gas tax, which, he notes, would incidentally help encourage public transit, save fuel, and encourage auto companies to develop smaller, more efficient vehicles. I don’t, however, share his same relish for recycling the money as wars on whole peoples who haven’t done anything but live within a few hundred miles of someone we’ve determined needs a “regime change.” In another column, titled “Our Neighborhood Auto Show,” Davis suggests the auto industry itself should do a bit more to help out Detroit, after noting that the Detroit he knew as a child is no longer:

” … The automobile industry didn’t cause this, but the automobile industry didn’t throw itself on the barbed wire to prevent it, either. Clearly, many automotive executives, most particularly the late Henry Ford II, have worked hard to help salvage something from Detroit’s half-century of decline, but the industry itself, working as a team, never really put its shoulder to that wheel. Everybody building and selling cars in Detroit ought to visit Wolfsburg, headquarters town for Volkswagen in northern Germany. It’s an automotive and civic tour de force, a city that really celebrates its role in the automotive universe. If you were the North American automobile industry, wouldn’t you want your hometown to be an absolute showplace, the best-case scenario for the automotive metropolis?”

He’s no Tom Sugrue, but it’s a start I suppose. Now, I know a Detroiter who might have made very interesting speaker: Grace Lee Boggs.

Author: Rob