Apostasy Is A Tricky Business

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

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.