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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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."
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.
Click here for other excerpts by other Governors.
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