February 1, 2006

Re: That's Our Chafee

Carroll Andrew Morse

On Monday evening, Justin wrote…

I've been a little surprised at the intense interest in Senator Chafee's vote on [Samuel] Alito. From conservatives' standpoint, the only intriguing turn of events would have been a "yes" vote on the nomination and the questions that it would have raised about whether Chafee might make further efforts to court us.
Speaking as one conservative who was very interested in the nomination of Justice Alito, let me try to explain my (ultimately dashed) hopes.

I had held out hope – false hope, it turns out – that Senator Chafee was an unwitting prisoner inside of the liberal echo chamber. If the Senator is surrounded by typical Rhode Island politcos, then the Senator must usually be surrounded by people who blame the weakness of Rhode Island’s Republican party on the Republican association with conservatism and are thus unwilling to advance conservative ideas and policies.

Was it unreasonable to believe that Senator Chafee’s liberal voting record was, to some degree, the result of a lack of interaction with conservative ideas? A week ago I would have said not necessarily. Justin, I believe, would have replied "you’re kidding yourself" -- and been right.

The Alito nomination was too big to be contained inside of the echo chamber. To many conservatives, Supreme Court nominations are the #1 issue for electing a President. Conservative Rhode Islanders met with the Senator and made their case for confirming Alito; outside voices made their way past the usual filters. And with Samuel Alito clearly qualified to sit on the Supreme Court, the discussion would move right to constitutional issues, to ideas about the role of the courts, and to ideas about the role of government in general. Maybe Senator Chafee would gain a fresh perspective on some important ideas he tended to too quickly dismiss.

On one side, there was a Supreme Court nominee who had a commanding knowledge of the law, a record of adherence to precedent, and who had been praised by every law clerk he had ever employed and every judge he had ever served with. On the other side, there was little more than the usual boilerplate liberal shrieking.

Ultimately, the boilerplate mattered more to Senator Chafee than any real ideas. All that really mattered was contemporary liberalism’s visceral fear of change, manifest in a desire to forever freeze abortion law in its 1973 form, no dissent tolerated. To avoid appearing to have applied a litmus test, Senator Chafee tried repeating some other liberal boilerplate, that he may well believe to be meaningful.

But the repetition was disingenuous. On the issue of the environment, the fact Judge Alito does not believe that the interstate commerce clause is an unlimited grant of power to Congress was strectched by the Senator to become a threat the environment. And on the issue of executive power, what Judge Alito had said was so non-controversial, the Senator had to misquote it to make it sound controversial.

Now, I don't see how it's reasonable to ever expect anything different from Senator Chafee. The Senator can always be counted on to dismiss whatever honest debate the right brings to a problem and, instead, base his decisions on the loudest hysterics coming from the left.

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Andrew, good explanation of how unserious Senator Chafee continues to be. We all hoped for something different, but he has shown again that he is predisposed to hearing those voices in his left ear and ignoring those in his right. Him standing alone against Alito while all of the other RINOs voted yes says it all.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at February 1, 2006 8:16 PM

I was particularly incensed by Chafee's claim to be a "pro... Bill of Rights Republican." As if the rest of us are anti-Bill of Rights Republicans. That's the sort of rhetorical phrasing used against those of the other party, which makes one wonder whether that's truly what Chafee considers himself to be.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 1, 2006 10:33 PM

A good pickup by you, Justin. I think that Sen. Chafee likes having the support provided by a party, but identifies with the "independent" (ie; unaffiliated) RI voter and it is they to whom he consistently caters.

Speaking of which, why does RI have an "open" primary? Don't be surprised if those "unaffiliated" voters decide to come to Senator Chafee's aid in the primary. If that should happen, I don't think that the registered Republicans will have an accurate gauge as to where they stand ideologically. We are probably seeing a repeat of what Sen. McCain tried in 2000: an appeal to the non-Republican voter to get them to show up in the open primaries. All that being said, I suppose there are quite a few unaffiliated Laffey supporters, too.

Food for thought.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at February 1, 2006 10:56 PM

Thank you, Justin, for noticing. Of course, I personally love to use the Bill of Rights to wipe my feet on, like most other Republicans. Seriously, that assertion by Senator Chafee really irks me. It's amazingly ignorant and based on a complete fallacy.

As for Marc's comments, I have a different take. Although we have an open primary system, it's not quite as easy as it sounds to manipulate it (just ask Gary Reilly). Assuming that a Republican primary occurs (assuming Chafee will be running as a Republican as of the filing deadline 6/28), I believe that many unaffiliated voters would actually be more inclined to go for Laffey, as he is the challenger to the "establishment" candidate and represents "change." There are other reasons, too.

Right-leaning independents would naturally go for Laffey as a meaningful alternative to Chafee. Pro-life independents and Democrats should naturally flock to Laffey, as he's their only real choice. If there's any significant disaffiliations from the Democrats, I actually think they will be pro-life ones. Chafee can absolutely kiss goodbye to the pro-life vote, which is a significant factor in RI. I know many pro-life Republicans, Independents, and Democrats that voted for Chafee against their better judgement in 2000. Fool me once...

As you've probably read on that lefty website, some left-leaning independents would go to Laffey, simply because they perceive him (I say wrongly) to be the weaker of the two Republican candidates, and are focused on defeating Chafee in the primary to get a real Dem into position for the general election. The remaining left-leaning independents would simply be voting in the Democratic Primary, where they have a choice of leftists to choose from. Why should a liberal vote for democrat-lite, if he thinks he can get a real Democrat into office?

I can tell you that the numbers have been run, and the various scenarios drawn out, and I can only say, Chafee has a lot of bridges to unburn across the ideological spectrum between now and Primary Day. Burning bridges is a lot easier than building them.

Posted by: Will at February 2, 2006 1:34 AM

And yet, with all those bridges to unburn, he chose to burn such an important one pointlessly. If ever there was a political no-brainer, it would be voting yes on Alito. Caters to the base, makes nice with the Italian constituency, and doesn't hurt his credibility at all, even to the other side of the aisle, because it's the right thing to do. That the same body which voted unanimously to confirm Ginsburg should break the Alito vote along party lines shows the vilest sort of partisan pettiness. It's also bad strategy -- Alito was going to be confirmed anyway, so why not wrap themselves in the mantle of civility and reasonableness? If the Democrats don't get a majority back, their future protest votes are doomed.

How a Republican could watch this sorry spectacle and think, "yeah, I'll have me a piece of that" I do not know.

I admit, I haven't paid much attention to local politics (I drag myself unenthusiastically to the polling place, but everything I vote for goes down 75/25). Chafee can't simply be a deeply stupid man, can he? So, what gives?

Posted by: ballottra at February 2, 2006 5:55 AM

He is somewhat stupid (or at least throughtless)- what else would explain why he brags about being a Benedict Arnold or tells students that their and his votes don't count. Someone who responds to a detailed Laffey initiative on renewable energy by saying "I drive a hybrid and he doesn't". A lot of what he says is sophomoric, sandbox stuff. He is just not a very mature man.

Yet his actions are dangerously disloyal to the voters, the state party, the national party, and the country.

The true explanaton for his aberrant and traiterous behavior is a pathological need for the spotlight on the part of a man who cannot get it by virture of leadership, charisma, or initiative. development. So he "pulls the fire alarm" - in the words of Ian.

Unfortunately, his charade has been exposed. He has been caught with the ink from the alarm all over his hands.

Posted by: bountyhunter at February 2, 2006 10:24 AM

Chafee seems just plain strange to me. Not being a Rhode Islander, it was explained to me last time I posted that the people of the Ocean State love the indecisive Senator who can’t make up his mind on whether to attend committee meetings (see the NYTIMES Mag article on Chafee from last year). But when I read this blur from the Washington Post (which was cited on The Corner), I began to question whether Rhode Islanders really think Chafee’s quirks are an assets or whether the think he is becoming a joke:

"For Alito, who trudged through meeting after meeting, sometimes with a dazed look, the drill was overwhelming and often alien. One 25-minute meeting, with Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.), a key Republican moderate, took place on the Capitol steps at Chafee's insistence so they could both be looking and pointing at the Supreme Court when they spoke."

Posted by: Tom M at February 2, 2006 11:58 AM

Not just a joke - but a dangerous one. Like fraternity hazing that results in accidental homicide. It starts out fun enough, but then the inebriated frat pledge with a b.a.c. over 3.0 ends up dead, floating on a lake.

Why RIers tolerate the Chafee charade is beyond me. I would have to think the average IQ in RI is higher than the national average. The political awareness of RIers seems to be quite high. Does the whole state suffer from egomania and narcissism, just like Linc? Is there something in the water? (Is that why chafee spent all that federal money to improve Kingston's supply)

I'll offer up a theory on the seeming tolerance up to this point. Chafee has not been exposed - until recently. His re-election in '00 was a breeze: The challenger was underfunded and totally spent from a tough primary; there was significant afterglow from Chafee Sr.; he had no record to speak of at the time. The party has since kissed up to him in the worst kind of way becuase of their misguided notions about vulnerability.

He crafted this 180 degree-wrong and Orwellian image as a courageous maverick. Few called him on it. No one said what he really is - a dangerous, disloyal traitor.

The tipping point will prove to be the Alito vote. Laffey has been relatively civil in his comments about Chafee, but they have had a softening up effect over the last few months.

The Alito vote was the knock-out punch. Most interesting, and sure-to-be fodder for the therapist's couch, is that Chafee delivered it to himself.

Posted by: bountyhunter at February 2, 2006 12:25 PM