Artur Davis: I Admire David Brooks, Ross Douthat

Yesterday, as he embarked on a mini-media tour to talk about his possible future, I asked former Democratic Rep. Artur Davis where he and the party disagreed.

“If anyone looks at the course of my record,” he explained, “it was often at odds with the national Democratic party. And I’ve seen the party drive further to left in the last several years.”

The biggest failures, he said, have been the Democrats’ inability to think about the natural role of government or the best ways to make America competitive. “When I got into politics,” he said, “I thought, quite frankly, like a lot of other people in my community, that government passed a program and things got better. Over eight years, I didn’t always see that. I saw an awful lot of waste. We have an anti-poverty agenda on the books that’s not doing enough to reduce poverty. I don’t think our program on child hunger is working.”

Davis, out of politics since he lost a 2010 gubernatorial primary, had soured on the process in 2011. “We aren’t going to be able to afford Medicare and Social Security the way they exist,” he said, “and we aren’t going to be able to keep the promise we made to low-income seniors who really need the help. When I hear Democrats talking about entitlement reform, they’re talking about changes around the margins. If reform became a real possibility, you’d probably see opposition from the Democratic Party.”

So did he endorse something like the reforms in Paul Ryan’s budget? “We’re going to have to tell upper income people to pay for Medicare,” he said. The problem was that Democrats “weren’t even having the conversation,” on this or on education. “Candidly, I’m not satisfied with how Republicans talk about this issue. I don’t think it’s enough to say, let’s devolve it to the states.” He’s not a Republican, but “if you focus on the seven or eight things we talk about in this country right now, I don’t find myself aligned with the Democratic Party.”

Wheat did he still agree with them about? Well, Republicans were blowing it with Hispanics, “who are, frankly, one of the most socially conservative groups in America.” Nobody had a workable immigration policy. “The left’s going to have to realize that there’s no support for massive citizenship. The right has to realize there’s a cost to self-deportation strategies. You make a community unlivable for illegal immigrants, and sometimes, you make it unlivable for legal immigrants. But I understand why the law exists. Congress isn’t able to solve the problem.”

But Davis said that Democrats were overzealous as they tried to own the issue. “To say Arizona or Alabama have no right to pass legislation with ‘immigration’ in the name of it – that goes too far,” he said. “When I see Marco Rubio put forward legitimate legislation to rescue the DREAM Act, and when I see the Latino and Hispanic caucuses call him a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

How does Davis define himself these days? He doesn’t. “I admire people like Ross Douthat, like Reihan Salam, like David Brooks,” he said. “I’m a big admirerer of Yuval Levin. They’re all writing from a center-right perspective, but to put labels aside, they’re right that smart domestic policy, smart fiscal policy, plays a role in growing the economy. It’s not just about government taking its hands off the wheel.”