Smile Politely

Unrepresentative: Rodney Davis year in review

“How sad and bad and mad it was – but then, how it was sweet” — Robert Browning

It’s a funny thing, nostalgia. You wouldn’t think that after spending the past year being extremely critical of Congressman Rodney Davis, I would look back on any of that time fondly. However, as I began the process of putting together this year-in-review, I found myself doing exactly that.

It seems difficult to imagine now, but in some of my earlier pieces, I was almost hopeful in regards to the type of representative I believed Rep. Davis should be or could become. Hopeful that the criticisms I had of Rep. Davis were things for which the solution was something other than “vote him out of office.” Hopeful that things could only get better, instead of infinitely worse. Hopeful that despite everything I feared was true about our beloved Congressman and the future that awaited us, I would be proven wrong. If you tilted your head and squinted, you could almost see a world in which we weren’t embarrassed by the cynicism and profound ignorance of our congressman. I want that hope back.

In hindsight though, it’s clear that holding onto that slim hope was naive, even then. As Rep. Davis has demonstrated time and again this past year, he is completely incapable of/uninterested in living up to his end of the “representative” bargain.

Our first sign came by way of Rep. Davis’ excitement at being invited to the Inauguration. His posts on social media in the days/weeks leading up to the event could have been written by a tween looking forward to their first homecoming dance and nobody would have noticed the difference. While no less embarrassing, this behavior might have been expected/excused were the person behaving this way an enthusiastic Trump supporter during the election. However, just a few months before inauguration Davis called on then-candidate Trump to drop out of the race after he was caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women.

After toying with the idea of having a conscience or sticking to his principles, Rep. Davis quickly abandoned the moral high ground in the hopes of increasing his standing within the party. This was, as we now realize, the beginning of a pattern that would continue throughout the year.

Time and again we saw that Rep. Davis’ words rarely lined up with his actions. For example, his calls for “disagreeing without being disagreeable” and putting an end to “vitriolic rhetoric” so we can have “civil discussions” was a common refrain. To a passive, uncritical audience this probably sounds great, and you could be mistaken for giving Davis credit for his efforts. To anyone that knows anything whatsoever about Rep. Davis, this is another example of the glaring contradictions between his words and actions, as Davis’ public request for increased opportunities for dialogue doesn’t match the steps he’s taken behind the scenes to do the exact opposite.

From his avoidance of public-town halls, to blocking constituent comments on facebook, sporadic tele-town halls in which his staff control the questions and allow no opportunities for follow-up, and faux-open office hours in which 8 constituents are crammed into a room for 10 minutes while Rep. Davis argues with them, Davis has walled himself off from the people he was elected to represent, making these “civil discussions” nearly impossible to have. In addition, the same “vitriolic rhetoric” Davis routinely clutches his pearls over is used by he and his staff to dismiss his constituents’ requests for the exact sorts of discussions Davis pretends to want. When the people that live and work in Rep. Davis’ district pressured him to hold a public town hall, he labeled them the “opposition” and even went so far as to claim that they’re “paid protesters” (a claim supported by absolutely zero evidence). Things took an even more disgusting turn when it was revealed that Rep. Davis’ “no town-hall” rule only applied to non-donors, as numerous examples of paid town halls were uncovered by local researchers.

This may be why Rep. Davis and his staff have given up any pretense of actually working to facilitate these discussions by going months without a tele-town hall, only holding office hours in the more sparsely populated areas of the district, and keeping his appearances limited to talk-radio shows in which friendly interviewers ask Davis softball questions while he regurgitates party talking points. This strategy says a lot about the lack of faith his staff has in him, and how much contempt Davis has for his own constituency. I can’t say it’s not a smart strategy though, considering that whenever Davis finds himself in a situation where he’s asked to respond intelligently to difficult questions, he’s demonstrated that he is completely (and embarrassingly) incapable of doing so. Still, it was disappointing to watch the flimsy excuses give way to unapologetic cowardice.

Given that Rep. Davis has made little to no effort to actually hear the concerns of his constituency, it shouldn’t be surprising that when it comes time to vote, Rep. Davis routinely makes decisions that would harm his district and the people who live there. From healthcare to the current tax reform bill, Congressman Davis doesn’t seem capable of thinking for himself. His support for these consequential pieces of legislation seems has more to do with what he’s been told to support than an actual understanding of the legislation itself. It’s why Rep. Davis routinely finds himself in opposition to the experts and the evidence most people rely on to make informed decisions.

That’s not to say the year has been a complete disappointment. I’ve actually got a lot to thank Rep. Davis for, surprisingly enough. For starters, I’ve always felt that Rep. Davis benefited from an appalling lack of critical analysis, particularly from the traditional media outlets in the area (most of whom are still asleep at the wheel). The election of Trump and the grassroots resistance to his presidency have put a long overdue spotlight on representatives like Davis. As we’ve seen, and why I’m thankful for everything Davis has done over the past year, this focus has exposed his glaring for flaws for all to see. The milquetoast, inoffensive, midwestern politician has convincingly shown himself to be the worst kind of partisan hack. A feckless, insecure, and ignorant individual completely unqualified for the job he currently has. One whose desperation for recognition within his own party supersedes his responsibility to his constituents. Davis clearly saw two paths before him early in the year. He could either be the moderate, reasonable Republican he’s spent his career telling people he was or dive headfirst into the shallow end of the reality-adjacent pool Trump and his sycophantic supporters routinely swim in.

I want to thank Rep. Davis for making it abundantly clear over the past year which path he chose, and for leaving the voters of IL-13 with an incredibly easy decision come November 2018.

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