Lincoln Chafee in Against the Tide, by Lincoln Chafee

On Abortion: Emotional & divisive abortion debate takes over other issues

I had seen firsthand how the divisive and highly emotional abortion issue could literally take over a debate focused on something else entirely. In 1985, my home state convened a constitutional convention to reform and improve Rhode Island government from top to bottom. It was my first elective office. Abortion quickly became the central issue. A majority of my fellow delegates voted to prohibit abortion in Rhode Island. It was all for naught, given that Roe v. Wade was the law of the land; but reason had no place in the debate.

One of our hundred delegates got down on his knees in the House chamber, clasped his hands, and beseeched us: Save the babies! Save the babies!

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p.160-161 Apr 1, 2008

On Abortion: Opposed Alito because he didn't respect right to privacy

I voted against seating Judge Alito on the US Supreme Court. After reading his decisions on the Court of Appeals and studying his testimony in the Judiciary Committee, I opposed Judge Alito on three counts:
  1. I feared he would not respect a woman's constitutional right to privacy as it concerns her own body;
  2. that he would not uphold the commerce clause as the constitutional protection laws;
  3. and that he would vote to expand executive powers at every opportunity.
I had cast the only Republican vote against the war in Iraq, and now I voted against seating Samuel Alito. That made for considerable political trouble for me back home in Rhode Island.
Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p.164 Apr 1, 2008

On Civil Rights: 1964: Opposing Civil Rights Act was wrong side of history

The Republican Party of George W. Bush did not suddenly spring into being in November 2000. Its roots go back to 1964, the year the Democratic South cast its electoral votes for Sen. Barry Goldwater, a determined opponent of the Civil Rights Act. I was 11, but old enough to know he was on the wrong side of history.

My father, Rhode Island governor John H. Chafee, had been asked to speak at the convention that year, in San Francisco. He was hoping to see his Republican Party nominate one of our moderate eastern governors. My father was among this new generation of forward-looking Republican governors, the "Rockefeller Republicans." But the delegates booed Rockefeller long and loud.

Their man, Senator Barry Goldwater, stood for unchanging tradition, a view of government so limited that even the Civil Rights Act was meddlesome legislation. It made no difference that everyone at the convention knew he had little chance of winning the presidency. Being right was more important than winning.

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p. 17-18 Apr 1, 2008

On Civil Rights: 2006: Marriage Amendment ignores states' rights

Republicans wanted gay marriage in the national political dialogue that fall, too, but there was a problem. The 50 states owned the issue. How could we in Congress claim jurisdiction? The leadership came up with the radical idea of transforming a legislative state issue into a constitutional federal issue. We would propose a constitutional amendment on gay marriage, one that would ban states from enacting their own social compacts on the issue.

Republicans are generally seen as the party that favors independence at the state level. But now we wanted to amend the US Constitution to forbid any state to allow gays to marry. Congress itself would not ban gay marriage; but the amendment would prevent liberal states from recognizing gay couples as married, even if most citizens in that state wanted such a law enacted. Democracy might be everything in Iraq, but we were declaring an urgent need to rein it in here at home.

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p.181 Apr 1, 2008

On Drugs: I doubt our culture would allow legalizing hard drugs

In 2002, in Uruguay, I met with President Jorge Batlle, who insisted that our decades-old battle against the narcotics trade was not working. He praised our efforts but urged us to consider legalizing drugs instead.

President Batlle advocated the libertarian approach: legalize drugs to reduce their street value and put the cartels out of business, then regulate and tax those drugs as we do tobacco and alcohol. I doubt that our culture would allow that. Most Americans do not want heroin and crack cocaine sold on store shelves as if they were no more addictive or dangerous than cigarettes and alcohol.

We will probably have this debate in the US, but not because Latin America is having it. The debate will come when we can no longer avoid confronting the destabilizing heroin trade in Afghanistan.

At some point we will have to acknowledge that our new democratic ally in the war on terror is on the opposite side in our war on drugs.

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p.194-195 Apr 1, 2008

On Energy & Oil: ANWR: Let's leave just one place off limits

If we open up ANWR to drilling, there are bound to be conflicts between the crews bringing out the oil and bears that want to get in among the mobile homes.

I thought, "Let's leave just one place off limits." A Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower, had signed ANWR into existence; I was not about to be a part of undoing his vision.

If ANWR is a wildlife refuge, wildlife should find sanctuary there, by definition. Letting in the oil companies while still calling it a refuge struck me as dishonest.

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p.109 Apr 1, 2008

On Energy & Oil: Close the SUV loophole and raise mileage standards overall

The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rules were enacted in 1975, after the shock of the Arab oil embargo of 2 years earlier. In my tenure in Washington, there were frequent votes on raising the mileage standards as well as closing the loophole that exempts sport utility vehicles from the CAFE standards. The loophole was designed to help the American Motors Corporation, which was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy at the time.

On vote after vote, we failed to close the SUV loophole and raise mileage standards overall. Unfortunately, American carmakers fight these efforts to mandate fuel-efficient vehicles and, predictably, foreigners are beating us in the marketplace just as they did in the 1970s. The industry has a history of fighting innovation.

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p.110 Apr 1, 2008

On Environment: 2000: Cleanup abandoned urban brownfields

After seeing the postelection Bush-Cheney agenda after the 2000 election, I wrote a letter to Dick Cheney as a fair warning:

Progress on environmental issues could do much to enhance the new administration's program, and a first step could be enactment of legislation I have sponsored to advance the cleanup of abandoned urban "brownfields," both to speed the redevelopment of these properties and to preserve the environment. There is wide bipartisan support for this legislation and I hope it can be made part of your agenda. In addition, I hope the new administration will be open to proposals to reduce the country's reliance on foreign oil, through energy conservation and greater investment in mass transit.

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p. 15-16 Apr 1, 2008

On Foreign Policy: War against Islamic extremism hinges on Pakistan

In 2003, I visited Pakistan, a country where Islam is the official state religion. There were people everywhere. Every street and marketplace and bus stop was teeming with people buying and selling, and not just the goods of everyday life; they were buying and selling ideas that will determine whether America wins or loses the fight against Islamic extremism. The shooting fronts were in Afghanistan and Iraq, but I knew the war could just as well hinge on what happened in Pakistan, a young and volatile country carved out of what used to be known as British India.

Every action we take in this Muslim nation tends to push Pakistanis to one side or the other of our roster of friends and enemies. In my time in Washington, I saw the Bush administration doing things that were virtually certain to promote extremism in this strategic country between the Middle East and the subcontinent [especially on the topic of getting] tougher on Afghan fighters taking sanctuary in Pakistan.

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p.114-115 Apr 1, 2008

On Foreign Policy: Castro doesn't want end to Cuban embargo

I asked the Cuban president, mischievously, whether he supported calls for an end to the US embargo. Even conservative senators from farm states were working to normalize trade with Cuba in the interest of opening new markets for their crops. Votes to end the embargo were increasingly close. Was it a given that Castro supported these efforts? I was betting he did not. Ending the embargo imposed in 1962 would change the way he had done business for almost his entire reign. He knew what I was getting at: The embargo works for him in a perverse way. Having a reason to lash out at the US has been his meal ticket with the Cuban people for a long time.

He dodged my question and zoomed off on a tangent that I no longer recall. But I was satisfied; by not answering my question, he had answered it.

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p.191-192 Apr 1, 2008

On Foreign Policy: Hugo Chavez does not fit into all-good-or-all-bad rhetoric

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela was elected in 1998, but is often caricatured as a "foreign dictator."

In the course of conversation, President Chavez allowed as how, unlike some of his neighboring heads of state, he had never been afforded an Oval Office photo opportunity. I sometimes wondered if this blow to his ego had played a part in escalating his fiery rhetoric [against President Bush].

I never got the feeling that Chavez enjoys being our enemy. Fidel Castro has made a living off playing David to the US' Goliath, but Castro is the past. Chavez is up-and-coming. It would make sense for him to forge the best possible relationship with us, and us with him. Of course, the clashists who came to power with President Bush would have none of that; they need every nation labeled and driven into one of two camps: all good or all bad.

When the clashists fanned the flames of enmity with Chavez, he ran with it, applying his talent for anti-American rhetoric in extravagant ways.

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p.196-199 Apr 1, 2008

On Foreign Policy: Strong supporter of Palestinian-Israeli land-for-peace deal

President Bush said he would chart a bold new direction in the peace process. Indeed his "road map" to the Palestinian state went far beyond any vision ever articulated by an American president.

I was a strong supporter of the land-for-peace principle, which amounts to Palestinians gaining a homeland in exchange for recognizing the legitimacy of the state of Israel.

The president and I had battled over many issues but if he meant what he said about a Palestinian state, I would be one of his most vocal allies on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. I was in a key position now, as chairman of the subcommittee that has jurisdiction over our policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p.212 Apr 1, 2008

On Homeland Security: Know your enemy: Al Qaeda wants US troops away from Mecca

On September 16, the president announced that "this crusade, the war on terrorism, is going to take a while." Bush cited passionately, "I will not forget this wound. I will not yield, I will not rest, I will not relent."

I felt differently. We needed to find and destroy this small band of international criminals, disarm their propaganda machine, and use hard-nosed police work to prevent future attacks.

He said, "Americans are asking why do they hate us? They hate our freedoms. Our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote." He had not invested 10 seconds in the central admonition of Sun-tzu: Know your enemy. He said not a word to address the presence of American troops near Mecca and Medina, or the Palestinian question, or sanctions against Iraq,

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p. 72-74 Apr 1, 2008

On Homeland Security: False WMD fear hurt efforts at nuclear nonproliferation

The "clashists" who had come to power and were now setting American foreign policy were out to satisfy their ideology's strong appetite for war and conflict. They were quick to seize on September 11 as its latest rationale for regime change in Iraq. The extremists working on the Project for a New American Century had been itching to invade Iraq ever since President George H. W. Bush declared victory in Desert Storm without marching on Baghdad.

As early as 1998, the New American Century was using the catchphrase "weapons of mass destruction" to take us down a very hazardous path. Of course, the real weapon of mass destruction is nuclear; but by whipping up fear over nonexistent chemical and biological weapons the Bush administration has actually harmed international efforts at nuclear nonproliferation. With an extremist White House in power today, we have many unstable, hostile regimes springing to acquire nuclear weapons.

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p. 82-85 Apr 1, 2008

On Principles & Values: 1994: two dozen moderate GOP Senators; by 1999: only 5

In the decades before the seismic congressional elections of 1994, 2 dozen moderate Republican senators would meet for lunch in the US Capital every Wednesday.

By 1999, when I became the Republican senator from Rhode Island, the party had drifted so far right that only 5 Republicans were willing to be seen at the moderates' table on Wednesdays. We had no one there from, say, Wyoming or Kansas anymore. Our most senior member was Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Like me, the rest were New Englanders: Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, and James Jeffords of Vermont, who would later quit the party to become an Independent.

The real action was at the Conservative Steering Committee, which had probably started out at a table for 5 and then grew to include almost the entire Republican caucus.

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p. 1-2 Apr 1, 2008

On Principles & Values: 2000: GOP promised Americans an end to political conflict

[At a meeting of GOP moderates] we sat there and listened as Cheney made divisive pronouncements of policy that would come as a complete surprise to many of the Americans who had voted to elect the Bush-Cheney ticket.

The contentious and destructive agenda that Cheney dropped on us was troubling enough, but what really unnerved me was his attitude. He welcomed conflict. We Republicans had promised America exactly the opposite.

Cheney tore our best campaign promises to shreds and the moderates acquiesced instead of pelting him with outrage. It was clear to me then that there would be no key bloc of moderate votes helping to shape legislation and reunite America over the next 4 years. In any event, Cheney was not asking for support--he was ordering us to provide it. The president-elect had his agenda; we were just along for the ride.

My heart sank as my colleagues peeled away, one by one. It was the most demoralizing moment of my 7-year tenure in the Senate.

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p. 8-10 Apr 1, 2008

On Principles & Values: Mayor of Warwick RI, as the All-But-Lone Republican

I was mayor of Warwick, Rhode Island, a city of 90,000 on scenic Greenwich Bay. I had governed successfully for 7 years as the All-But-Lone Republican. My party never held more than 2 of 9 seats on the city council. We had our battles, but Democrats knew I was fair and kept my word and that I respected them. My Democratic council president and a rival for my job, once honored me by telling reporter, on the record, "His word is gold." On the whole, our two branches of government made Warwick a better city by negotiating differences and, in most cases, cooperating once we had ironed them out as best we could.
Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p. 19 Apr 1, 2008

On Principles & Values: As mayor, I'd rather take a beating than be a no-show

In my first few weeks in office, a crew excavating for a new sewer line dislodged a natural gas pipe. Gas seeped through the ground into a family's home, fortunately unoccupied at the time. When the thermostat kicked on and made a spark, the house exploded. It was a miracle that no one was killed.

We had a meeting about it, and the room was packed. Residents were understandably frightened and angry, and I wanted us to listen and not say anything that would raise the pitch. My supporters said, "Don't go to these things. Send low-level bureaucrats who don't have to stand for reelection."

That struck me as not only poor leadership but poor politics. I would rather take a beating than be labeled a no-show. I wanted to explain my point of view and take my chances on winning people over as best I could. That is a huge part of the art of politics, and, more important, governing. I think Warwick people liked that I did business that way. By 1994, I was tested, scarred, and comfortable as mayor.

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p. 27-28 Apr 1, 2008

On Principles & Values: 1999: Appointed to Senate when his father died

My father gave me his best advice on both the personal and political dimensions of life in Washington. He saw that a rare chance was opening in Rhode Island for another Republican to go to the Senate, and I decided to step through it.

I will always feel sadness that Dad died before I won the race to succeed him. He died in office before he got to enjoy even a single day of retirement he had announced. He had undergone back surgery in the summer of 1999, and though he returned to work in Washington I could see that he had never fully recovered. He died suddenly that October.

Assuming his duties by appointment made for a jarring transition. One day I was raising money and building support for my Senate run, the next day I was the incumbent senator.

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p. 32 Apr 1, 2008

On Principles & Values: 2004 election: Voted for George H. W. Bush, underlining "H"

I voted for George W. Bush but resolved not to make that mistake again in 2004. It was a problem because I had always voted the straight Republican ticket and wanted to be able to say I had never voted Democratic when a Republican was on the ballot.

I knew I could not vote for John Kerry in 2004. His campaign had cast real doubt on his judgment as far as I was concerned. I planned to write in a Republican candidate of my choosing.

"How can you vote for George Bush when you oppose everything he wants to do or isn't doing about the environment?", reporters asked.

I said, "Who said I'm voting for George Bush?" The feeding frenzy was on.

Voting for the president's father would make the point that there was nothing personal in my criticism of the president. I just could not abide his habit of saying one thing and doing another. On election day, I wrote the name George H.W. Bush on my ballot. Than I underlined the "H".

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p.124-125 Apr 1, 2008

On Principles & Values: Real flag desecration is ignoring the First Amendment

This Republican-sponsored amendment to the constitution would create a restriction on the First Amendment. It would authorize Congress to pass laws fining or jailing anyone who desecrated the flag.

Everyone knew the flag desecration vote would be close. Veterans groups were energized on the issue and were after me to vote in favor. In meetings with veterans I argued that almost no one desecrates the flag. I had not seen an American protester burn an American flag in 30 years. It was just plain wrong and irresponsible to use our own partisan political agenda to poison 50 statehouses with the emotional nonissues.

The House passed the amendment by the required 2/3 majority. After a dramatic call of the roll on a proposal to amend our Constitution, it failed by one vote. I had never been prouder to cast a vote, a vote to uphold the 1st Amendment. I found many of the yea votes baffling. Using the flag for political gain was the real desecration.

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p.182-184 Apr 1, 2008

On Principles & Values: Disenchanted centrist voters will seek 3rd-party candidate

If one or both parties do not start heeding the center, the voters will make a tectonic shift in politics on their own. They will leave their most partisan fellow citizens behind, in ever shrinking tents of red and blue.

I believe this is the way forward in American politics: centrist Americans, disenchanted with Republicans and Democrats alike, coalescing around 3rd party candidates who are focused on the future; on solving, not exploiting, the problems we face, whether those problems were thrust upon us by others, or we foolishly brought them on ourselves.

The next mass movement of American voters may come out of an existing party apparatus, such as the Greens or the Libertarians; but it seems more likely to gather around a personality first, than a platform.

When a 3rd way mounts a serious challenge to the Republican and Democratic parties, I suspect it will come out of nowhere and gather strength with surprising speed.

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p.239-241 Apr 1, 2008

On Tax Reform: 2000: Repeal the marriage tax penalty

After seeing the postelection Bush-Cheney agenda after the 2000 election, I wrote a letter to Dick Cheney as a fair warning:

In the Fiscal Year 2000 federal budget, majorities from both parties in Congress expressed support in the past year for reform of the estate tax and repeal of the so-called marriage tax penalty. This appears to be an area of great promise for early bipartisan cooperation. Democrats can be expected to support reform in both these areas at least to the extent contained in the substitute amendments proposed this past summer by the fiscally irresponsible Senator Moynihan.

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p. 15 Apr 1, 2008

On Tax Reform: Draw down budget surplus to pay to abolish Marriage Tax

It was a longstanding inequity in our income tax code that an unmarried couple filing separately pays less than a married couple filling jointly. We would have to draw down some of the federal budget surplus to pay for abolishing the "Marriage Penalty Tax," but what a good use for the surplus. I thought eliminating this inequity would honor the political sacrifices that Republican and Democratic presidents alike had made to end deficit spending in America.

Now that we no longer had to spend enormous sums to counterbalance the former Soviet Union, it was time to do constructive things with our hard-won surplus. Both parties overwhelmingly supported fixing the marriage penalty.

I parted ways with my leadership on these votes and supported Democratic amendments that targeted the relief where it was needed. I argued, "We're in the majority. Let's pass a bill that President Clinton will sign and then remind the voters that it was our bill."

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p. 38-40 Apr 1, 2008

On War & Peace: Deny future Bin Ladens recruitment propaganda tools

In September 2001 those of us who wanted to know what drove bin Laden's rage against us were looked upon with suspicion. Bin Laden had talked extensively about 3 grievances:
  1. American military bases the holy sites of Mecca and Medina, in his native Saudi Arabia;
  2. the plight of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank;
  3. and the misery of the Iraqi people living under UN sanctions.
As I read the materials my staff gathered, I felt we had to define two missions ahead: to pursue bin Laden with every ounce of vigor and bring him to justice, and to deny future bin Ladens the propaganda tools that had recruited the 19 men who brought down our airliners in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p. 69-70 Apr 1, 2008

On War & Peace: 2002: War authorization just ratchets up the hatred

In October of 2002, how could any Republican senator vote to send his country over the precipice again based on party loyalty? How could any Democratic senator follow suit out of political cowardice? When the president declared that Saddam was an imminent threat to America from 7,000 miles away, veteran lawmakers in both parties failed to fight back. They let the administration go unchallenged when it sent up witnesses who did their best to get us into the war the president wanted.

On October 9, roughly 36 hours before the vote, I went to the Senate floor to say that the war authorization would serve those who believe in "ratcheting up the hatred."

In the end, even a majority of Senate Democrats voted for war. Only 23 senators voted to check a reckless president. I was the lone Republican among them.

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p. 91-92 Apr 1, 2008

On War & Peace: Only Republican vote against Iraq War

I had cast the only Republican vote against the war in Iraq.

Like every American, I looked at the facts and reached my own conclusion on whether Pres. Bush and V.P. Cheney knew, before they ordered our troops into Iraq, that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction. Behind the scenes, I think, key figures in the administration had a variety of reasons for wanting to topple the dictator. But none were willing to suggest to the American people that their sons and daughters should fight and die for any of these reasons. Instead, the White House marketed the war on chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and the threat of "the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p.164&203 Apr 1, 2008

The above quotations are from Against the Tide
How a Compliant Congress Empowered a Reckless President

by Lincoln Chafee.
Click here for other excerpts from Against the Tide
How a Compliant Congress Empowered a Reckless President

by Lincoln Chafee
Click here for other excerpts by Lincoln Chafee.
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