A cautionary tale for Justin Amash from someone who knows

The memories had faded, but the feelings came back clear, crisp and sharp.

Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashThe Memo: Fears of violence grow amid Trump race storm Top Missouri newspaper condemns GOP's 'shameful silence' on Trump's 'racism' Amash responds to 'Send her back' chants at Trump rally: 'This is how history's worst episodes begin' MORE (R-Mich.) had just announced that he was leaving the Republican Party and becoming an independent. I knew a little bit about being a congressman during a time of turmoil in my party, about leaving my party over a principled stand and about grappling with the consequences of my decision.

On December 23, 2009, I switched from Democrat to Republican. The proverbial feces flew into the fan and out again, giving me no chance to duck, dodge or kneel to pray.

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The reaction was brutal from both sides of the aisle. The Democrats wanted their money back: the Democratic National Committee was going to sue me; the constituents who elected me were still on an Obama high, especially the black voters who were instrumental in my victory. I saw tears and hate in their eyes. It was all very heartbreaking.

The Republicans, raw and bleeding from the defeat my team had handed them, were so uncontrollably hysterical that some probably had to be medicated. Rabies, although rare in humans, was diagnosed in both parties. I had contracted Political Ebola.

I was the oldest member of the freshman class of the 111th Congress. I had had a long career before entering politics. My background was influential in my decision to switch parties. I am a cancer specialist. Health care for all Americans was important to me. I had seen too many people die because of a late diagnosis.

Because of my M.D., I was often consulted about the divisive Affordable Care Act (ACA). Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaMichelle Obama weighs in on Trump, 'Squad' feud: 'Not my America or your America. It's our America' Media cried wolf: Calling every Republican a racist lost its bite Rubio criticizes reporters, Democrat for racism accusations against McCain MORE was president, Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump telling aides to look at potential spending cuts if he wins reelection: report Budget talks between White House, Pelosi spill into weekend Trump says he won't watch Mueller testimony MORE (D-Calif.) was Speaker of the House and Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), who had been my mentor during my run for Congress, was now White House chief of staff.

I was a Blue Dog, one of the last of a dying breed of Democrat. The proposed ACA had ignited the Tea Party. In Alabama having a black president and a female speaker was like throwing gasoline on that fire. Nobody bothered to see if the proposed health care law was poisonous: the guns came out and the shooting started. I was everybody’s target.

The decision to change parties came after a meeting in the Speaker’s conference room. I was asked for my opinion of the proposed bill. Here’s roughly what I said:

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“If this bill passes, it will polarize the country and the newly-elected congressmen in this room who vote for it will not be back. We will flip the House to the Republicans. We cannot reform our health care system with a shortage of providers. It would be best if we increased the number of doctors and allowed nurse practitioners an expanded role in care. If we pass this bill, it will be for the leadership’s ego not for America’s health.”

My candid advice was met with frosty silence. Madam speaker and her team walked out.

The next day the House floor was buzzing about the Pelosi/Griffith exchange. A long-time friend sat down beside me. “She doesn’t forget a slight,” he said of Pelosi. “You will never be able to do anything.”

Days later I met with minority leader John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBoehner won't say whether he'd back Biden over Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP Amash's critics miss the fact that partisanship is the enemy of compromise MORE (R-Ohio). “I’ll switch if you put me on energy and commerce,” I told him.

He did. But nobody cared. The Tea Party beat me like a rented mule in 2010, and both parties were very happy I lost.

Since the switch I got back on the Titanic (the Democratic Party boat), ran for governor of Alabama in 2014, had a wonderful time—and went down in flames.

Benjamin Disraeli famously said, “Damn your principles. Stick to your party." Justin Amash and I fell victim to our egos and thought leadership really wanted thoughtful input.

Wisdom and good judgement in the young are usually an accident and rarely happen. I don’t know Justin. I do know he is smart. I also know the world is full of smart dummies and dumb smarties. I know which one I am, politically.

Now Justin Amash gets to find out which one he is.

Parker Griffith is a former U.S. representative from Alabama. A retired physician, Griffith was the first cancer specialist in North Alabama.

 

 

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