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The Party Left Him

Artur Davis, a former Democratic congressman from Alabama, was the first House member outside Illinois to endorse Barack Obama’s presidential bid. Yet over the next several years he bucked his party on a number of high-profile votes and became the sole member of the Congressional Black Caucus to oppose the president’s healthcare reform law in 2010. After losing a primary bid for governor in his home state, Davis reemerged in 2012 as a Virginia Republican, floating tantalizing though decidedly noncommittal hints that he might run for office again. TAC recently spoke to him:

TAC: The Republican Party’s platform hasn’t changed much since the Bush years, except with a bit more fiscal stringency thanks to the Tea Party. So did your views change, or did the Democratic Party simply become inhospitable?

Artur Davis: The Democratic Party became more insular, and I finally decided over the course of the last year and a half that the things the Democrats were saying weren’t resonating with me and that the things that the Republicans were saying did. I’m certainly one of many Americans disappointed with the Obama presidency, one of many Americans who voted for promises that haven’t been delivered on. So my switching parties may be of interest to people because I used to be an elected official, but it’s frankly a fairly broad trend in parts of the country. And you’ll definitely see that in Virginia. Barack Obama got about 53 percent of the vote in Virginia. Barack Obama is running about 46 right now. There are a lot of people who left the Democratic Party.

TAC: To what do you attribute the Democratic Party’s failure to advance any credible plan for entitlement reform?

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AD: The Medicare program constructed in 1965 was for a different country and a different population than the one it serves today, but essentially it’s financed in the same manner. That’s not sustainable. We can’t sustain a system where Medicare is a universal program that is a God-given American right if you’re a senior with a certain income level. If we want to preserve the safety net aspects of Medicare, which we absolutely need to, we’re going to have to make changes to the program. We are going to have to give people a viable option out of Medicare, particularly when they’re affluent and when they can afford it.

Social Security will not exist like it does today for people under 30. It absolutely won’t. And if we don’t make smart, prudent changes in the system, we will end up with a system that can’t even meet basic safety net goals. And I think that’s the risk the Democrats are incurring now—that by their loyalty to the present system for financing and sustaining Social Security and Medicare, they are contributing to an insolvency that will eventually undercut the safety net goals that were a core part of these programs.

TAC: You’ve been a critic of both a laissez-faire approach to Wall Street and the new regulatory regime embodied in the Dodd-Frank Act. Are there regulatory solutions to the financial system without breaking up the big banks?

AD: I’m a Republican that believes that we do need regulatory reform in the next couple years. And I’m a Republican who does worry that some of the large banks continue to take on risk that is at an unacceptable level. I worry that the rules are entirely too hazy. I worry that the lines of what is permissible behavior and what’s not permissible behavior are more opaque than ever in the aftermath of Dodd-Frank.

I’m torn about the too-big-to-fail question. When I hear legitimate conservatives like Stephen Moore [of the Wall Street Journal], whose credentials are indisputable, say for the first time that they think there is something to the idea of preventing large investment banks from occupying such a large space of this economy, I have to take that seriously.

TAC: Who are some of your intellectual influences writing today?

AD: Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat, who wrote a very constructive book several years ago about Republicans refashioning themselves to be a middle-class friendly party, as conservatism was in the Reagan era. David Brooks is sometimes a mile wide and an inch deep, but at his best he makes sound observations about the challenges in the American economy and the limits of an untethered free-market approach to the capital markets. And he has made some sound observations about the need for conservatives to constructively address gaps in this society. We do have a gap in this country between rich and poor. We do have a gap between people whose livelihood is in the manufacturing sector and people whose livelihood is in the high-tech sector. They exist and it’s not wrong for conservatives to think constructively about how markets and public policy can meet those gaps.

Conservatism offers to the public a sense of responsibility, fiscally speaking. A sense of personal responsibility in terms of the obligations individuals have towards themselves as opposed to obligations government has towards them. And conservatism does contribute a sense of limits. I think conservatives ought to be pushing to inject that perspective into the questions of how we address the gaps in our society instead of acting as if they are somehow things we shouldn’t be bothered with.

Jordan Bloom is associate editor of TAC. Follow him on Twitter [1].

11 Comments (Open | Close)

11 Comments To "The Party Left Him"

#1 Comment By reflectionephemeral On August 29, 2012 @ 10:34 am

We spend 2.5 times the OECD average in health care costs per capita. The problem is *health care costs*, not “Medicare”, much less “entitlements”. As for Social Security, it’ll have to reduce benefits by about 20% in a few decades if we don’t do anything. A problem, yes, but not a crisis– particularly when we have 8% unemployment right now.

Look, Davis thought he could become governor of Alabama by moving to the right. He’d sail through the primary by being black, then win the general by being conservative. Alas for him, most African Americans vote on ideology, not tribalism. So he got waxed in the primary. He had nowhere to go but the GOP.

He’s a Republican because of his strategic miscalculations, not a sudden recognition that we have to change Social Security & Medicaid in the next quarter century.

#2 Comment By Jack Ross On August 29, 2012 @ 10:37 am

This guy is pretty much a whore. He was an arch-right DLC/Israel lobby shill when that could get him elected, Obama’s shadow when that was where opportunity knocked, and now this. How do I know he’s just making it up as he goes along? The individual mandate was at the heart of the Douthat-Salam proposals.

#3 Comment By SteveJ On August 29, 2012 @ 12:38 pm

Kind of a strange piece. Obama is typical center left.

If Arthur Davis wants to become a Republican that’s fine, but that is because he has changed his views, not because the Democrat party “moved” anywhere.

If any party has changed, it’s been the Republican Party under George W. Bush that became inhospitable to Conservatives and Conservative thought.

Hopefully, that is changing.

#4 Comment By SteveJ On August 29, 2012 @ 12:58 pm

Come to think of it, with Mitt Romney as the nominee, how exactly does a Democrat change his views to move to the Republican Party.

Does he move to the left?

#5 Comment By Sean Scallon On August 30, 2012 @ 2:11 am

“Look, Davis thought he could become governor of Alabama by moving to the right. He’d sail through the primary by being black, then win the general by being conservative. Alas for him, most African Americans vote on ideology, not tribalism. So he got waxed in the primary. He had nowhere to go but the GOP.”

I wondering if he believes, or is starting to believe, that black officer holders, particularly in the South, cannot get elected statewide unless they are Republicans. Does he believe a white electorate will not trust a black politician unless he is a Republican?

#6 Comment By Snertly On August 30, 2012 @ 5:28 pm

Artur Davis is neither Democrat nor Republican. He is merely a power seeking opportunist who thinks he can get a better deal today from the GOP.

#7 Comment By Maria On August 30, 2012 @ 9:55 pm

Oh, whatever. The Republicans suck, too. The R’s and the D’s look more alike than different.

#8 Comment By Mr. Patrick On August 30, 2012 @ 11:22 pm

Too bad he didn’t get into Americans Elect, he’s be great with Tennessee Harold Ford for VP. Slogan: A Ticket for People Who Believe Coke and Pepsi are Really Different!

#9 Comment By Markus On August 31, 2012 @ 10:48 am

I had this man pegged as an entirely unconvincing careerist. He was given a seat more or less by machinations of the Israeli lobby, angry at nutball Cynthia McKinney’s anti-Zionism. He could have kept it forever, but quit after few years on that quixotic bid for Governor.

I must say he says more interesting things as a moderate Republican than he did as a shill for AIPAC and DLC. But he’s still got “phony” stamped all over him.

“Alas for him, most African Americans vote on ideology, not tribalism.”

This is true. His electoral future is dim. What seems doable career wise is cabinet appointment in a Republican administration.

#10 Comment By Tom T. On August 31, 2012 @ 1:49 pm

Artur Davis was one of the special political guests who attended the meetings by the Secretary of Agriculture on the issues of fraud in the meats industry. He saw first hand how those with money and power did not have to follow the laws that protect the market (and capitalism) for family farmers.

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Artur is like many politicians who are chasing power through those who control it through their wealth instead of being a public servant of the people. It is this following of the principals with money and resources over the principles that has brought our country to the edge of the precipice and it is what is preventing accountability of the actions of the elite paying off political operatives for their own benefit.

In looking out for his own self interests, Artur has denied the interests of the 99% in favor of the 1% who pull the political puppet strings. In this, Artur is not just incompetent, but just another corrupt politician following the money and power.

“Alas for him, most African Americans vote on ideology, not tribalism.” –That tribe is one of the elite who fund our political operatives, not the 99% or the basic rules of free market capitalism on the books that make it work. Truly, Artur Davis is following the money, not the morality or the interests of the public.

Tom T.

#11 Comment By Republican David On September 3, 2012 @ 11:19 am

Let’s look at what Mr. Davis said instead of trying to divine his heart. Is it true or not? He seems right in his analysis of both parties. The GOP needs to recapture its middle class roots and the Democrats are stuck in the Great Society with an every increasing appetite for statism. I can see why no one wants to discuss what he says and would rather attack him.