Artur Davis Goes Upscale

Having watched former Rep. Artur Davis smoothly assume the always-in-demand role of aggrieved “centrist” Democrat sadly regaling conservative audiences with the perfidy of the Donkey Party, I wasn’t terribly surprised to read this on his blog, in response to rumors that he was going to run for Congress as a Republican in a Northern Virginia district the GOP lost in 2008:

I don’t know and am nowhere near deciding. If I were to run, it would be as a Republican. And I am in the process of changing my voter registration from Alabama to Virginia, a development which likely does represent a closing of one chapter and perhaps the opening of another….

And the question of party label in what remains a two team enterprise? That, too, is no light decision on my part: cutting ties with an Alabama Democratic Party that has weakened and lost faith with more and more Alabamians every year is one thing; leaving a national party that has been the home for my political values for two decades is quite another. My personal library is still full of books on John and Robert Kennedy, and I have rarely talked about politics without trying to capture the noble things they stood for. I have also not forgotten that in my early thirties, the Democratic Party managed to engineer the last run of robust growth and expanded social mobility that we have enjoyed; and when the party was doing that work, it felt inclusive, vibrant, and open-minded.

But parties change. As I told a reporter last week, this is not Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party (and he knows that even if he can’t say it).

You have to appreciate that until 2010 Artur Davis represented one of the poorest congressional districts in the country, in a state where Republicans violently resisted state financial responsibility for public education, considering it a welfare program for African-Americans. You’d hear him talk about the unmet needs of his district, and couldn’t quite
imagine he’d ever become a Republican. But he got the itch to run for governor, and triangulated against his own party so systematically and so unapologetically that it was only a minor surprise when he got trounced in the 2010 Democratic gubernatorial primary, losing his own majority-black district to a white candidate who didn’t spend every other breath distancing himself from every Democrat in sight. Indeed, Davis became a living cautionary tale for any southern Democrat seeking office in hostile territory by ignoring his own base.

Davis could have stayed home and mended fences and had a long career in Alabama politics. But by all accounts, he was bitter about the 2010 results, and he quickly decamped to that familiar limbo of recently defeated Congressmen who are not quite ready to become full-time lobbyists, the DC suburbs. His former pollster, John Anzalone, summed up Davis thusly: “Promised turned into sour grapes.” He’s gone upscale from Alabama, and seems comfortable with his new digs.

Perhaps the Republicans of Northern Virginia will be slightly less atavistic than those he left behind in the Heart of Dixie. But even in NoVa, GOPers do not cotton to anyone with anything good to say about Bobby Kennedy. He’s probably toast in a primary with a True Conservative. And Davis will soon discover his national Republican buddies will find him far less useful as a convert than as an apostate.

If Artur Davis does get elected to Congress, I do wonder how he’ll feel rubbing elbows in the House Republican Caucus with his new friends who don’t bother to hide their disdain for the looters and bums he used to represent, their hostility to the “government schools” he used to care so much about, and their hatred for the president that he endorsed for president just four years ago. It makes me too sad to feel angry.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.