Now that she has been officially sanctified by Pope Francis (even if the Vatican is now futilely distancing itself from Davis) as religious liberty incarnate, Kim Davis will be hailed far and wide as the conscience of a godless nation. In fact, she is already being compared to Mahatma Gandhi, who made civil disobedience a global philosophy in his fight for Indian independence.
It’s pretty rich to hear someone like Pat Buchanan evoke Gandhi in relation to Davis, when Buchanan had nothing but unkind words for Gandhi when the movie of the same name was released in the 1980s.
Of course, philosophical consistency is not what you expect from the right-wing. They’ll use whatever they can lay their hands on to make the argument. But in this case, the comparison is spectacularly off-base. By any standard, Kim Davis is no Gandhi.
Here are seven (of many) reasons how Gandhi had it all over the Kentucky clerk.
1 Gandhi wanted to win hearts and minds.
Gandhi had a fundamental belief in the goodness of humanity. He believed that by his example he would convince his oppressors of the worthiness of his cause. Davis isn’t interested in winning people over. She’s interested in making a statement, which is an entirely different proposition. She doesn’t want to engage those who disagree with her. She wants to show them that she’s righteous and they’re not. Her only audience is the religious right, whereas Gandhi wanted to convince an entire empire.
2 Gandhi respected everyone’s rights.
One of Gandhi’s greatest achievements was creating a movement that was meant to unify a nation of disparate peoples. In his world, the humanity of Muslims and Hindus were equal. He was far ahead of his time in respecting the rights of women. Moreover, he extended his belief to the lowest members of society, the untouchables, flying in the face of some religious leaders. It’s hard to construct a sentence that includes the words “respect,” “rights” and “Kim Davis,” who is limiting the freedom of others rather than liberating them.
3 Gandhi was an outsider.
Gandhi was deeply involved in politics, but he was not a representative of the state that he was pressuring for change. This is a key difference with Davis, whose actions require her to representative of the state. In essence, she is the law. That’s hardly a position of purity. Refusing to carry out the law when you are a government official isn’t civil disobedience. Refusing to bow to it as a citizen is.
4 Gandhi accepted his imprisonments.
Gandhi saw the punishments he received at the hands of the ruling British as an important tool in forcing change. In fact, he readily admitted he broke the law. In 1922, he actually told a sentencing judge, “The only course open to you, Mr. Judge, is…either to resign from your post or inflict on me the severest penalty.” Contrast that with Davis who wants to be honored for breaking the law but not be held accountable for it. (Davis also immediately went back on her word once she was released from prison.) You’ll also note that Gandhi believed that if you can’t carry out the law, you should resign your post. Say no more on that count.
5 Gandhi took a vow of poverty.
Gandhi’s philosophy was one of non-possession. Davis, meanwhile, has a death grip on her $80,000 a year job, to say nothing of the nepotism she’s exercised in her office by hiring her son. Of course, she learned that at her mother’s knee, since it was her mother who hired her and paid her more than the chief deputy sheriff of Rowan County.
6 Gandhi exercised decades of self-discipline.
Gandhi famously renounced sexual relations in more than forty years before his death as part of his commitment to self-restraint. (He was also a vegetarian). Davis’s self-restraint is comparatively short lived, based on her conversion just four years ago. Before that, self-restraint would hardly be the phrase to apply to her, having had three previous marriages, as well as becoming pregnant by her future third husband while still married to her first.
7 Gandhi had better hair.
That is, he had none.