Artur Davis should have learned a lesson or two from Barack Obama. Since Obama’s triumph in the 2008 presidential campaign politicians have heralded American politics’ entrance into a post-racial age. In many ways this is true: America in all her diversity and despite her difficult history, has finally fulfilled Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream: where all men are judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
Barack Obama is the literal embodiment of African and American, as the son of a Kenyan father and Kansan mother, he was elected because he was the best candidate, reflecting our higher ideals. Obama, alongside his wife Michelle, spoke to hearts and minds of the entire electorate, not just African-Americans. But at no point did he exclude the black vote, or take it for granted. This move was politically astute and reflective of his sincere concern for the issues affecting the most unwavering of the Democratic base.
Obama’s campaign conveyed that it is possible to be post-racial without being non-racial. There is no need to deny one’s blackness in order to move ahead, nor is it prudent to ignore the community for fear of being limited by it. African-American voters are mainstream. They need not be sidelined, marginalized or relegated to the fringe. The vast growth in our economic and political appeal makes us a growing vibrant nation within a nation.
Last night, Artur Davis, the U.S. Congressmen from the 7th Congressional district lost his bid to become the first African-American governor from the state of Alabama. He lost by taking the black vote for granted and deviating from the Democratic agenda. He lost to Ron Sparks, the state’s Agriculture Commissioner who happens to be white, but whose race is inconsequential to Davis’ loss. Sparks triumphed against Davis by winning 62 percent to Davis’s paltry 38 percent of the vote, but for once race played a role far more subtle and sophisticated than it had in the days of Jim Crow. Alabama’s African-American electorate made a choice to be heard, to be respected and to use the ballot box as their sounding board.
So where did Artur Davis go wrong? First of all, it seems Davis pursued white voters in Alabama without securing the support of African-American politicians and community leaders. In particular Joe Reed, the chair of the Alabama Democratic Conference, publicly scorned Davis’s approach and eventually endorsed Ron Sparks. Davis’ voting record in Washington did not do much to help his cause. He was the only member of the Congressional Black Caucus who voted against President Obama’s health care reform bill.
He has alienated liberals within the Democratic Party by supporting Defense of Marriage Act and voting against a bill to prohibit workplace discrimination. During his eight years in Congress Artur Davis has voted for a ban on partial birth abortions and supported the conservative agenda for oil drilling in previously protected environmental zones. His departure from Obama’s major piece of legislation was particularly disappointing to many of the working class families within his own district: hard-working Americans who have lost jobs and can no longer afford health care services. It appears Davis has a problem not only with maintaining ties with the black political elite, but the average black voters who make up his constituency. It was a flawed strategy and he has paid the price heftily.
And so what are the lessons here? African-Americans are vital to the election process of this great nation. This vibrant and resilient community has suffered disenfranchisement on numerous levels throughout the 400 years since our ancestors first arrived on the shores of the new world. For too long our story has been written with a dialogue that is entrenched in the language of doubt and struggle. But we are now writing a new story.
The Alabama Primary showed that we are voters who count. We are not simply concerned, but we are aware. And we will not suffer fools or foes, regardless of race, not even our own. Artur Davis’ loss proves that ignoring African-American voters is the best way to lose an election.