Political Animal


August 16, 2012 10:45 AM Apostasy Is A Tricky Business

By Ed Kilgore

The least surprising news of the entire presidential cycle was the announcement that former congressman Artur Davis will speak at the Republican National Convention. Davis’ utility is three-fold: (1) he was an early backer of Barack Obama in 2008, and thus can express his “personal disappointment” that Obama did horrible, unexpected things like trying to implement the universal health coverage proposal he talked about extensively during the campaign; (2) he’s a self-styled “centrist Democrat” who can pretend to speak for others in claiming that Obama’s dragged the party back to 1972 and/or half-way to Sweden; and (3) he is African-American, and you just can’t get enough African-American validation when you are running a race-baiting campaign suggesting the first black president is focused on giving white people’s money to shiftless welfare bums.

It’s all more than a bit dishonest, of course. Davis may want to claim the Democratic Party left him behind. But memories are a bit too fresh of Davis’ own abandonment of Democratic positions in the House after he decided to run for governor of Alabama in 2010. As some maps published today by Dave Weigel remind us, Davis was trounced in the Democratic primary in his own congressional district, mostly losing African-American voters who preferred his under-funded white opponent. Without accusing Davis of any particular insincerity, it does look like he convinced himself his skin color enabled him to move as far to the right as he needed to appeal to Alabama’s conservative general electorate, and he wound up with no real constituency in either party.

So it’s not surprising he chose to move to the tony suburbs of northern Virginia, where it would be possible to switch parties without rubbing elbows with too many blatant neo-Confederates. And it’s equally obvious that he’d welcome the opportunity to speak in Tampa, which might make him enough of a celebrity to give him a chance in Republican politics in Virginia against people who did not endorse and second the nomination of Barack Obama in 2008.

I’d warn him, though: public apostasy is a tricky business. A lot of the people cheering for Davis in Tampa will be privately contemptuous of him, and he’ll also learn that it’s one thing to defect from a president and a party and another altogether to try to help destroy them. Look at poor old Zell Miller. Given the chance to snarl and rant and work out his unique psychological problems from the podium of the 2004 Republican convention, Miller was permanently affected, and to this day seems to be obsessed with proving no one can get to the right of him in his adopted party. Artur Davis should consider just getting out of electoral politics before it’s too late.

UPDATE: Commenter John C.’s reflections on his personal experiences with Artur Davis are precisely in line with my own. I know some Dems thought he was a scoundrel all along, but anyone listening to him speak passionately about the disastrous and overtly racist abandonment of public education by Alabama conservatives back in the day heard something different. But Davis seems to have decided going into 2010 that he had to move far outside the boundaries of the Democratic Party to win statewide (pace Ben, he did indeed repudiate some of his own prior positions, especially on health reform), suffered the logical consequences in the primary, and then bid his party and his state a rapid farewell. So when I say I wish he’d just get out of politics, I’m not being snarky, I mean it: he should do something else before he makes the fateful shift from bad to shameful politics.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Robert from upstate on August 16, 2012 11:00 AM:

    No one likes an opportunist turncoat, even other opportunist turncoats.

  • g on August 16, 2012 11:16 AM:

    It sure helped Zell Miller's career and public profile! I wish Mr. Davis as much success!

  • DJ on August 16, 2012 11:26 AM:

    Rather like when Wendall Willkie switched parties to run against FDR in 1940. He was confronted by a GOP bigwig, who told him "you have been a Democrat all your life. I don't mind the Church converting a whore, but I do mind them leading the choir on the first night."

  • c u n d gulag on August 16, 2012 11:28 AM:

    FOX might be able to find a spot for him.

    I think Juan Williams is getting a touch too Democraty for them lately.

    Or, not finding employment in the MSM, maybe he could earn a living wearing jockey attire, and standing by the entrance to driveway of the estate of one of Karl Rove's donors, holding a little lantern in his hand?

    Hey, any rich person can have a clay or plastic one of those - but imagine the cache at the Country Club when you have a former black Congressman as your lawn jockey?

  • danimal on August 16, 2012 11:33 AM:

    C U N D--you're better than that. No need to use crude racist epiphets like "lawn jockey" on Mr. Davis. His obvious opportunism will mark him forever.

  • Anonymous on August 16, 2012 11:44 AM:

    Here's what they call him behind his back: "Boy? Oh, boy - step 'n' fetchit!" And he replies "Yassuh, massa!"

    What a worthless piece of something I scrape off my shoe.

  • c u n d gulag on August 16, 2012 11:55 AM:

    Yeah, I think I might have crossed the line with that one.

    But the fact of the matter is, his new "friends" will disappear the minute their Convention ends, and he will have served his purpose.

    After that, he'll be very lonely, unless he can find some media outfit like FOX to hire him on as yet another person who is willing to sell his/her soul, and the people who are like him/her, for a few pieces of silver.

    I was trying to find a slightly more colorful way of putting that. And I thought "lawn jockey" was less offensive than "Sambo statue."

    But, I realize, both are very offensive.

    So I'll leave it at this - he'll find himself very lonely, as a greedy and stupid man, with little foresight, and less loyalty to people like himself, deserves to be.

  • Renai on August 16, 2012 12:07 PM:

    Does Davis actually have some merit to these people? Because it stinks of the usual exploitation for cheap political points and potentially self-embarrassing ex-Dem quotes for future use in Mitt ads.

    Nothing the Republicans do these days carries any note of authenticity or internal party dignity. It seems all political score sheets, Fox face time, and artifical drama. They're just wasting time appearing to be continually busy Saving America while actually accomplishing nothing.

  • Josef K on August 16, 2012 12:17 PM:

    As I said yesterday, I shalln't weep a single tear if Davis's little 'rebel yell' (I refuse to capitalize either word) leads to the same result as its more famous counterpart did for Pickett's Charge.

    May he harvest all that he has planted with this.

  • Diane Rodriguez on August 16, 2012 12:20 PM:

    Davis must perceive some significant monetary benefit to jumping aboard the GOP clown car. As John Sununu careened up to his house, Davis jumped aboard and seated himself in the people of color/women section. Lots of room there. He was relieeved to see that Allen West was occupied with his toy soldiers and didn't notice him.

  • Ben on August 16, 2012 12:30 PM:

    Davis hasn't said that the Democratic Party left him so it's a little bit pointless to argue against and produce maps regarding a statement he never made. Also, he didn't move very far to the right in 2010, as he was a moderate Democrat. You may recall he won by challenging incumbent Earl Hillard from the right in 2002, and most members of the CBC opposed him.

  • June on August 16, 2012 12:57 PM:

    It's painful to watch these brothers such as Artur Davis, Herman Cain and Allen West blithely provide cover for a party that disenfranchises their own.

  • JC on August 16, 2012 1:06 PM:

    I've been active in local Dem politics here in Jefferson County, AL (greater Birmingham) for many years, and altho I claim no special knowledge or insight into Artur Davis, I have heard him speak and have met and talked with him on many occasions over the years. At the risk of stereotype and offense to the PC Police, he's intelligent and articulate. Most importantly, he was always passionate about a legitimate role for government as an advocate for those left behind or in need of help. He's steered a conservative tack on any number of issues over the years for whatever reason, but his internal center always seemed to be about how government can be a force for good in peoples' lives. As an elected delegate to the Denver Convention in '08, I took special pride in Davis' role in placing Barack Obama's name in nomination there. There seemed to be any number of paths for him to enjoy a successful career in politics, so how we ended up here is an utter mystery to me and many others here. The only plausible explanation I can conjure is how incredibly intelligent people can do incredibly stupid things - think NASA missing the basic math on the original Hubble mirror design, or Bill Clinton falling for Monica Lewinsky. In Artur's case, running for governor in this state. In the 2010 election cycle. And taking for granted a notion that blacks in particular and other Democrats in general would support him in the immediate aftermath of his vote against the first black president's signature and historic healthcare bill, a bill that would materially help Davis' constituents lead better and healthier lives. In one of the many ironies of this man, I recall a big public panel discussion here he organized and moderated on, of all things, universal healthcare. That day he played Macbeth and openly expressed his torment about whether to support the healthcare legislation being debated at that time, but he was unequivocal in his commitment to access for ALL people to basic quality healthcare. So, Artur Davis was and continues to be a mystery to the Democratic community here. Recollecting his primary concession speech that night after getting his ass handed to him, where he bid his supporters and his state not only Good Night but Goodbye, I can only conclude that it's nothing more than bitterness and opportunism that's driving him now. So good luck with that, Artur. It's an ugly crowd you've chosen to run with now. It's a fair bet that not only will you not find what you're looking for, you'll get what you deserve...

    John C.
    Birmingham, AL

  • Doug on August 16, 2012 7:40 PM:

    Ben, ANY Democrat, whether he's called "moderate" or moderate, who willingly goes to the 2012 GOP Convention in order to blast the sitting Democratic President for, among other things, the ACA is NOT moderate.
    Why? Because today's GOP is NOT a moderate alternative to the Democratic Party. The GOP hasn't been a moderate alternative to the Democratic Party since at least 1994 when Gingrich said Democrats were responsible for that woman killing her children - and wasn't immediately rejected by HIS constituents.
    A truly moderate Democrat would remain in the party, cultivate his constituents, run for re-election (with a good chance of winning, I understand) and, by influencing legislation in the House, show his true credentials as a moderate.
    Mr. Davis has decided, seemingly, that route doesn't suit him. Fine, but doing what he's planning (the convention speech) destroys any credibility as a moderate he may once have had.
    And that's with or without apostrophes...