October 31, 2006

Is Pragmatism Enough for the Ideologically-Minded?

Marc Comtois

I'm burnt out on this year's elections, so it was by pure chance that I happened upon the tail end of the last debate between Senator Chafee and Sheldon Whitehouse last night. It's really become an election by and for syllogistic simpletons, hasn't it? Like most other Democrats, Whitehouse is running against BUSH. Like many Republicans, Chafee is running away from BUSH. That is really what their messages have become. Plus, both are bluebloods and to hear each tell it, the other is either corrupt and wishy-washy or inept and wishy-washy. You decide who is speaking about whom. I can't tell the difference anymore. Truth be told, I never could. What a choice...

But there is a difference between them, I suppose.

You see, if I were to take off my ideological lense and go all pragmatic on your a**es, I'd have to say that the "average Rhode Island voter" (whover she may be) would probably benefit more by sending Senator Chafee back to Washington. Tenured incumbents really do deliver for their constituents, after all. As much as fiscal conservative's hate to admit it, one persons "pork" is another's "special project" and multi-term incumbents are the most effective purveyors of pork. And most of their constituents won't take them to task for directing millions of dollars their way. In fact, and unfortunately, that's exactly what many folks think a politician's job is: to get other people's money to help improve our backyard.

Another related argument, and one made by Senator Chafee, is that having at least one Republican in our otherwise Democrat-dominated national political delegation is smart politics. That way, Rhode Island will always have at least one elected official who will be in the party in power in Washington, D.C. Hard to argue with the technical logic, though what benefit can be accrued is directly related to the ability of said politician to "deliver" the goods when his party is in power.

Based largely upon the aforementioned pragmatic reasons, I've narrowed my decision down to "No-voting" in the Senate race or voting for Senator Chafee. But is pragmatism enough? Aren't there any ideologically conservative justifications that can be summoned to legitmize supporting either Chafee or Whitehouse?

I've come to believe that, regardless of how this election turns out, any hope held by RI conservatives that we can somehow move the ideological ball toward us by electing or not electing either of these two candidates is unfounded. I believe that if Senator Chafee were to emerge victorious, he would be so politically tempered that it will be well-nigh impossible for anyone to beat him, whether in a primary or general election. That is bad news for conservatives.

By the same token, I believe that should Sheldon Whitehouse take the seat, the power of incumbency would serve him well and Rhode Islanders would get used to the idea of having an all Democrat delegation. Then there would be no turning back. Now, I suppose Mayor Laffey or even Governor Carcieri might have a shot in beating Whitehouse 6 years on, so maybe I'm being overly-pessimistic, but given the "navy blue" of the RI electorate (H/T: Maureen Moakley on the last Lively Experiment), I think my pessimism is justified.

Thus, electing either Chafee or Whitehouse will do nothing to help the conservative cause in RI in either the short or long term. Basically, we're screwed on this front, kids, and will be better served to look elsewhere for any conservative movement opportunities.

But back to the reality of the senate race. Like it or not, conservatives simply can't apply the standard set of ideological benchmarks to this race. If we're going to vote, we need to put ideology aside and vote based on other factors. For me, right now, I still don't know whether I'm going to swallow hard and vote for a liberal blueblood Republican or "check out" of the process and let the rest of the electorate decide who their (my) Senator is going to be. It will come down to me standing in the booth looking at that ballot and which decision will allow me to live with my conscience.

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For me, Chafee/Whitehouse is easy. The GOP needs Chafee more than Chafee needs the GOP. Why? We need to keep the Senate to prevent a rollback of tax cuts and non-stop investigations of the Bush Administration.

My bigger problem is with the AG's race. It looks like RI may re-elect perhaps the worst AG in state history and even more amazing, the Projo endorsed Lynch.

Why? The paper gave two basic reasons. First, Lynch prosecuted Esteban Carpio for killing a Providence police officer and second, he led the effort to punish adults who provide alcohol to minors.

Wow, he prosecuted a cop-killer who was found dripping in blood a couple of blocks away from the station. No offense, but I think a first year law student could have successfully prosecuted that case.

The law increasing punishment on those who provide alcohol to minors? An accomplishment, but a very modest one. Now really, who was going to step up an oppose it?

The two biggest cases of his administration were the Station Fire and the Smoke Shop Raid. He proved himself incompetent in both. The Projo didn't even mention the Smoke Shop Raid and gave Lynch a pass on the Station Fire. It makes you wonder just how many people the Lynchs have in their hip pocket.

Bill Harsch should be the next AG. Lynch has shown himself to be incompetent while Harsch has shown himself to be competent in his previous public service.

I think Harsch's clean government approach scares some insiders. Unfortunately, I think he scares insiders not only on the D side, but also some Republicans who reap a financial benefit from maintaining the status quo.

I'm on record as having criticzied Harsch earlier in the year for running a lackluster campaign. He has since taken off the gloves and challenged Lynch. I give him credit for that. I am now just saddened that many Republicans aren't rallying behind him they way they should.

Posted by: Anthony at October 31, 2006 3:13 PM

I have considered this question and my only solution is the following.

It appears that the Chafee/Whitehouse race is over based on the polls. I intend to show Senator Chafee the same lack of respect he showed the President in 2004. I will be writing in his father's name, John Chafee.

The national press still has the GOP holding the Senate majority. That means that Whitehouse will be a freshman senator in the minority party! What better punishment can there be?

If you're a real conservative, vote for John Chafee for US Senate in 2006. Send Linc a message as you send him packing.


Posted by: Ben at October 31, 2006 4:14 PM

Ben -

I respect the sentiment - but in this state I'd be afraid that the poll workers would "think" that you meant "Linc" and put it toward him.

I'm either going to follow in Linc's footsteps and write-in "George H. Bush" OR write-in "Steve Laffey."

Posted by: Tom W at October 31, 2006 5:08 PM

For those of you who are trying to rationalize a Chafee vote, I urge you to keep in mind the following. If the Senate is 50/50, do you really trust Chafee to stay a Republican? A switch to the Dems or, a la Jeffords and independent voting in the Democratic caucus,is a reasonable hypothsis. Now think, if you voted for him on the grounds that he will, at least, keep a Republican majority, how angry would you be? I'll bet more than his vote for Bush1 in 04; more than his vote against Alito; more than..........you get the point.

I don't know about many of you folks out there, but I'm not a masochist. I'll be voting for Whiteshouse.

Posted by: paul zisserson at October 31, 2006 8:38 PM

"Wow, he prosecuted a cop-killer who was found dripping in blood a couple of blocks away from the station. No offense, but I think a first year law student could have successfully prosecuted that case."

Yes, this struck me as a silly reason, too. The only question in that case was in which institution the defendant would be spending the rest of his life.

Posted by: SusanD at October 31, 2006 10:35 PM

The ProJo, Dan Yorke,...who else does Lynch have incriminating photos of?

Posted by: Rhody at November 1, 2006 2:16 AM

I endorse Hugh Hewitt's analysis of a few weeks ago. Chafee has been a disaster on the committee votes. John Bolton's confirmation is a prime example. Republicans hold a 10-8 advantage in the committee, but Chafee votes (or threatens to) against Bolton, resulting in a tie. Absent Chafee, Bolton would be through the committee on a 9-8 vote. So, the Republicans would be better off with a smaller majority as long as that majority is reliable. I plan to write in George W. Bush for Senator from RI.

Posted by: Dave P. at November 1, 2006 11:43 AM

I'm taking the big-picture/long-view approach. I'm voting for Whitehouse because as long as Chafee holds the seat, the RINO's in this state will cling to him. A Senator Whitehouse makes me wanna spit, but a REAL Dem in the seat will unite the state GOP around any reform-minded conservative who opposes him. The current party, fractured along liberal/status-quo and conservative/reform lines, prevents us from waging war for the reforms that our state and country desperately need.

The party-without-a-platform has been rendered incapable of defining a vision that doesn't contradict its incumbent U.S. Senator. As long as the state GOP leadership plays protector and enabler to Lincoln Chafee, and liberals in the party like him, the Republican party will continue to stagnate, like it has for years.

I considered writing-in Laffey, but I want to vote in a way that ensures Chafee's defeat. (My wife agrees, so there's two votes)

It's hard to fire someone you know is a good person. It's easy to rationalize why you should keep him. But for the good of the higher purpose and the future of our state and country, we really need to let Linc Chafee go. Our future looks bleak if we don't.

Posted by: George at November 1, 2006 1:10 PM

Question for all the Chafee-haters in here: What do you do if he runs for governor in '10 (probably his smartest move to sit out til then)? It's not like the GOP has a deep bench.
Before anybody shouts "Laffey!", would Laffey hold out four more years (which will leave you with the same mud wrestling you had this summer - AND a Democratic governor), or will he try to take on Jack Reed?

Posted by: rhody at November 1, 2006 3:36 PM



Posted by: Matt at November 1, 2006 7:44 PM

>>I considered writing-in Laffey, but I want to vote in a way that ensures Chafee's defeat. (My wife agrees, so there's two votes)

George -

I was thinking that for a while. But then Whitehouse started running his "cut and run from Iraq" TV ads.

Whitehouse isn't only a closet socialist, he's a dweeb. What could be a worse combination?

I just can't, can't pull the lever for a creature like Whitehouse.

Chafee is a liberal. Bad enough. But then he solicited Democrats to steal the Republican primary. Unforgivable.

Hence my decision to either write-in George H. Bush or Steve Laffey.

Posted by: Tom W at November 2, 2006 12:46 AM

Writing in Laffey.
Re: Projoke pimping Lynch for prosecuting Carpio - I guess he didn't have the "guts to take on the Latin Kings"? LOL. I wonder how Roger Lord feels about the Dupont deal...

Posted by: rhodeymark at November 2, 2006 9:37 AM

PIMF: Peter Lord

Posted by: rhodeymark at November 2, 2006 9:39 AM

Tom W, I hope you didn't take my comment as criticizing your vote for Laffey. While I have the utmost respect for Laffey and zero respect for Whitehouse, I will hold my nose and do the unthinkable on Nov. 7 because my priority is to get rid of (or as I believe you said before) flush Chafee. For me it is not a vote for Whitehouse, it is the strongest vote I have AGAINST Chafee.

Posted by: George at November 3, 2006 11:52 AM

George -

No, I understood your intentions - and won't argue with your choice.

I too seriously considered voting for Whitehouse, and for the same reasons.

It's just that after his "cut and run" ads I decided I couldn't do it.

My final decision is to properly honor Linc by exercising "the sincerest form of flatter" - I'm going to follow his lead and write in "George H. Bush."

Posted by: Tom W at November 5, 2006 1:28 AM