Artur Davis' Almost Principled Defection

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(The Root) — If, as Jesse Jackson said a couple years back, "you can't vote against health care and call yourself a black man," then put me down in the almost-black category of former Alabama Democratic Rep. Artur Davis, who took a principled stand in 2010 as the only Congressional Black Caucus member who voted against the Affordable Care Act.

Like Davis, I thought it was an ill-conceived legislative expedition that saw President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats use up all their political capital jamming through a bill that most Americans never fully understood, that was barely held together by chewing gum and baling wire, containing an individual mandate that Obama originally opposed, and that's likely to be found unconstitutional in the near future.

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But unlike Davis, I'm not quite sure that this one particular setback of the Obama presidency is a logical reason for him to sever ties with Obama, the Democratic Party and his former constituents. Yet that's exactly what Davis is doing, announcing this week that he's becoming a Republican, voting for Mitt Romney and moving from Alabama to Virginia.

Despite what Jackson said, Davis is still a black man. But you can't really call this a principled stand — his move is just a bit too convenient. Here's why:

Carpetbagging?

As a son of the Deep South, Davis should know that his move to Virginia — calculated, by his own admission, for a possible future political run — is carpetbagging. If he were to run for office again as a Republican in Alabama, then credit would be due for making an ideological move that, presumably, he believed was in the interests of his constituents.

But as recently as 2010, Davis sought — and lost — Alabama Democrats' nomination for governor. It's hard to ignore that he's now not only switching parties, but ditching the 7th District — which includes Birmingham and Selma — and forum-shopping for a center-right constituency that just happens to neighbor Washington, D.C.

Obamacare?

Give him credit, at least, for voting consistently: Davis is one of a handful of congressmen to vote against both Obama's health care reform and President George W. Bush's Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit. But while he told Fox News' Neil Cavuto on Wednesday that he opposed Obama pushing "a major piece of domestic legislation that over 50 percent of the country opposed," it was just four years ago in The Root that Davis declared "a country energized by Obama would write a new social contract on health insurance."

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Plus, he's neglecting to note that according to a PPP Poll taken at the time (pdf), his vote against Obamacare — disagree or agree — ran counter to the preference of 80 percent of Alabama Democrats and very likely a majority of the people he represented in a district that's more than 60 percent African American.

So much, then, for the consent of the governed.

What Else?

And in explaining his break with Democrats, Davis blogged, "I have regularly criticized an agenda that would punish businesses and job creators with more taxes just as they are trying to thrive again" — even though marginal tax rates haven't risen since Obama took office. He also writes that "the law can't continue to favor one race over another in offering hard-earned slots in colleges." It's a fair point, but one that contrasts sharply with his wish in 2008 that Obama would defend Affirmative Action as an "opponent of race-blind admissions that would destroy diversity on our elite campuses."

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Presumably Davis has issues with other Obama-era policies, too — but he hasn't said recently if he's still OK with tripling the number of women on the Supreme Court, preserving the banking industry or eliminating Osama bin Laden.

If he's really a better fit with Republicans, then there's nothing wrong with Davis switching sides of the aisle. He's a reasonable, earnest politician who'd certainly be a more credible alternative to the current chorus of two-dimensional black Republicans ranging from the ideologically lazy Rep. Allen West to the absurd Herman Cain.

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Minds change, after all, and in the post-Obama era (which may begin sooner than you think) black voters will almost certainly — if slowly — realign as both parties grapple with an array of 21st-century problems. But Davis shouldn't pretend he's having a Reagan-esque, "I didn't leave the Democrats, the Democrats left me" moment.

Democrats, Obama and Alabamans didn't toss Davis overboard. He's jumping ship.

David Swerdlick is a contributing editor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

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David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter

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