Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Throwing Out the Chafee with the Chaff?

KausFiles raises an interesting issue in the burgeoning field of Chafeeology:

Suppose the Republicans were to pick up three Senate seats in the coming election, giving them a majority of two. Is there the slightest chance that Chafee would then bolt and become a Democrat -- which would involve leaving the majority party to join the minority? No, there is not a chance. What does that say about how principled Chafee's chafing is?

KausFiles has a good point. The Man Without Qualities is not among Lincoln Chafee's greatest admirers. It is hoped in these quarters, for example, that the Rhode Island Senator will at least have the decency to leave his first name behind if he becomes a Democrat. But one must keep in mind that Senator Chafee has endured the past two years married to the minority Senate party clearly not to his tastes, during which time Senator Jeffords has been partying it up as a pseudo-Independent with all the benefits of a Senate Democrat. Indeed, at the time Senator Jeffords jumped, Senator Chafee likely could have cut a deal similar to Jefford's arrangement with the Democrats. At that time just a little collusion between Senators Jeffords and Chafee would have prevented their undercutting each other in their dickerings with Senator Daschle. So the evidence to date does not point to Senator Chafee being strongly motivated by the power that would accrue to him from his being in the majority party.

It is not clear to the Man Without Qualities exactly what does drive Senator Chafee. But Senator Chafee - for all his imperfections - seems to have more of a center than Senator Jeffords does. There are many parallels between these two New England Senators. It is highly unlikely that either of them could have been elected to their current offices as an Independent or a Democrat. Each of them relied on votes from the remaining Republican base (a base which knew it could never obtain anything better than these RINO's) plus a substantial portion of unaligned or independent voters and a few Democrats. Both of them would have been too conservative to even pass the Democratic primary in their state, and each would lose the benefits of Republican financing and party base as an "Independent" candidate. Switching parties after the election was (or would be) a true fraud on the voters and the election process in both cases. To the unboundedly narcissistic Senator Jeffords, that fraud meant nothing. But Senator Chafee seems to have more of a sense of responsibility, at least so far, even if that sense is not as strong as it should be.

So I'm not sure how much could be read into Senator Chaffee's remaining a Republican if that party gains, say, three seats in the Senate. I would prefer to think that he just again couldn't bring himself to break faith with the voters who put him in office. Call me a romantic.

FOR THE RECORD: From my mail, there seems to be some confusion over how Senator Chaffee obtained his current office. Lincoln Chafee was appointed by the Governor of Rhode Island to fill the unexpired term of his father, the late Senator John H. Chafee, in November 1999. On November 7, 2000, Senator Chafee was elected to a six-year term in the United States Senate.


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