Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Walrus Was John, or Lincoln, or Jim

By now most online sources have thrown in their two cents about President Bush claiming a need for bipartisanship and then immediately kicking John Bolton's nomination for United Nations Ambassador back up to Capitol Hill. I suspect this is not passive-aggressive, just thoughtless. Either way the lame-duck Congress is poised to ignore the re-nomination. Lincoln Chafee, the newly-rejected Senator from Rhode Island, played a decisive role in whether Bolton would proceed through the Foreign Relations Committee. With the loss fresh in his mind, Chafee refuses to support the final push to get Bolton permanently installed in the post.

"The American people have spoken out against the president's agenda on a number of fronts, and presumably one of those is on foreign policy," Chafee said. "And at this late stage in my term, I'm not going to endorse something the American people have spoke out against."

I was working as an intern for Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) when Chafee's father, Senator John H. Chafee, passed away in 1999. Lincoln was appointed to serve out the remainder of his father's term--he was handily re-elected on his own right in 2000-- and was brought to Washington, D.C. to be sworn into office. Because my duties were minimal (running the mighty autopen, amongst other things) I was able to sneak into the Senate chamber and watch Lincoln take his oath with his family at his side. It was a truly American moment, backlit with the clarity and majesty that only the Capitol can offer. Out of a slight reflex of pity, I recall saying a quick prayer for the fellow. When a political death occurs, this country loves to instantaneously pass power through familial lines to place some profundity upon those who grieve. The pound of pressure instantly placed on Chafee's shoulders was highly evident to me, even way up in the vistor's gallery.

Lincoln Chafee suggested today that he was considering leaving the Republican party and becoming a Democrat. Of course, politically this is no longer of any import. But philosophically it would be an important gesture, and the Democratic Party would be better off with Chafee within its general ranks. He served as a Senator with the same independence and thoughtfulness exhibited by his father John, leading the fight to protect the environment and work for fiscal responsibility even when his party refused to follow. Like Iowa's Jim Leach, Chafee was a great man in the wrong party. Both should make the party switch and say goodbye to an out-of-control Republican Party mindlessly beholden to leaders that spend and preach without consequence.

I noticed that Jim Leach had this to say after his defeat, and find it inspiring.

“I would like a new direction... I feel quite upbeat about the circumstances. I look at it as a 30-year career I entered with very strong desire to set the model of representation that I wanted to be consistent with... I said it last night, people thought it odd, but for a number of years I said when it’s my last election, whether I’m seeking office or being defeated, I will consider it the happiest day of my life... I've been privileged to represent some of the nicest people in the world. I look at some of my colleagues and they have to deal with imperfect groupings everyday. What great fortune I've had.”

I hope and expect that Sheldon Whitehouse and Dave Loebsack will forcefully honor the careers of the rare men they are replacing this January. We will have to wait and see.

1 comment:

chris said...

i was thinking that if he mis-placed his car keys he could mutter to himself "now just where did i put the keys to lincoln's continental".
alternative fuels.
your blog is very well done, mr. justice. keep up the good work. we'll take it one pelosi at a time (the term "pelosing" is picking up steam).