Column: Do You Have to be a Democrat to Like the Jefford's Switch?





As a Republican I share the feelings of losing once again, the feelings of once again being slapped in the face for identifying with the party of"bible thumpers" and Attila the Hun. It was a defeat to have Senator Jeffords leave the party. It was a defeat to lose control of the Senate. I do not want to play any"sour grapes" role, however, by reflecting on the good that could come from the change. Quite frankly, as the story unfolded, I (like many other Republicans) wished and wished that a Democrat or two (Miller, Breaux, or perhaps Nelson) would switch the other way. But that isn't to be, and realistically, the Democrats are likely to have an even stronger majority within the next year if either Senators Thurmond or Helms have to leave public life"prematurely." The Republicans lost--I admit it. But then, just maybe, they also won, and maybe President George W. Bush also won. I'll return to my Republican perspective in a moment.

First, I wish to add that as an American, I am very content that Senator Strom Thurmond is no longer the President Pro Tempore of the Senate--that he is no longer third in line for the presidency in case some unthinkable multiple disaster could strike our leadership. It is much better that the much younger Democrat, Senator Robert Byrd, take over this role. If thrust into the role of the presidency, at least Byrd would not have to come out of a coma in order to select a new vice president (we'd just have to get Gore out of the Pizza Hut).

Second, as a Nevadan, I am thoroughly delighted with the results of the Jeffords switch. As a small state (two million people), Nevada now has the second most powerful Senator--majority whip Harry Reid. Party doesn't really count all that much in Nevada. Our state's (commercial) interest always come first whether we have a liberal Democrat like Reid representing us or a conservative Republican like Senator John Ensign. We have some big big issues on which Senator Reid's new" clout" can be a controlling factor in our favor. Consider that Reid engineered the Jeffords move. He negotiated the quid pro quo which gave the new Independent the chair of the environmental committee in the Senate, and I trust he assured Jeffords that in the future Vermont will be favored in all policy decisions made by the Senate. Jeffords must be grateful and so too must every other Democrat in the Senate. It is inconceivable that in this political milieu, Mr. McCain can be successful in his efforts to hurt our state's basic industry by banning all gambling bets on college sports events. It is inconceivable also that action will be taken to impose an unwanted nuclear waste repository on Nevada lands. Such a facility that would require nuclear waste shipments to move near our resort corridor or mingle with resort traffic every day. As a Republican I am dismayed, as a Nevadan I am happy about Jeffords switch.

But let me return to my Republican perspective. The Jeffords switch is not good in the sense that the party lost a moderate liberal voice. Liberals belong in the Republican Party--it is the party of Abraham Lincoln--the"Freedom" Party. And it is the party of the one president since Lincoln that did the most to honor the Thirteenth Amendment--Richard Nixon. The"liberal" in me (and the father in me) must forever be thankful that a Republican President Nixon (against Democrat opposition) ended the draft. My children and all other citizens can now heed the call for service without being forced to do so by threat of jail or having to freeze in the Canadian tundra.

But I see advantages for President Bush in the move. He will be helped by facing opposition party control in the Senate. Bush now has an opportunity to be held"responsible," and that is one of his themes that I support. His campaign claim was that he was a person who could build bridges to his opponents. He claimed to have done so in Texas; now we can see if he produces in Washington. With Republican majorities in both houses, he did not have an opportunity to prove himself. The change is good for him. Just think of the accolades he would be enjoying now if he had pushed the tax and budget plan through an opposition led Senate. Now think of his victories if energy reform or education reform passes Congress. Bush wants to deal with issues. Now the Democrats can put the issues on the open plate and we can see full debates on a patient's bill of rights, senior drugs, and campaign finance reform. And if Bush can engineer meaningful compromises, he can win credit, if he can't, he can take responsibility. The same goes for Daschle and Reid--they too have to produce--that means dropping the"rich man poor man""you're stupid" mantra we've heard for the past five months.

Having majorities in Congress has not been all that good for presidents in the past. Kennedy was stymied in his relationships with a Democrat Congress. Lyndon Johnson was considered a"great legislator" but all he really had was a flock of Democrat sheep that gave us a bureaucratic policy disaster called the"War on Poverty" and then acquiesced in support for Mr. McNamara's war.

On the other hand Democrat President Truman thrived with a Congress against him. He scored public victories by opposing the"Do Nothing Congress" of Republicans. Republican President Eisenhower floundered with Republican majorities and Joe McCarthy in Congress. However, toward the end of his tenure, his party suffered disastrous congressional losses in 1958, and Eisenhower then demonstrated his greatest strength as a political leader. And of course, Clinton was a eunuch when the Democrats controlled Congress. But once Republicans Gingrich and Lott took over Clinton became the poster child for virility. A man that stood for nothing flourished because he stood against Congress.

Moreover, Bush has been taken off the hook. He can now espouse social conservative views such as the"faith based" thing and anti-abortion policies, but he doesn't have to produce. He might actually send some strong anti-abortion judicial candidates forth, and he can then take credit for doing so. But when the Senate bottles up the appointments in committee, he can withdraw them and put forth persons who will be economic conservatives. He can let the Democrats take him off the hook with the far right. He can continue to get their campaign funds and their staunch support, but like Reagan, he can avoid causing policy decisions that the country doesn't want. I guess that isn't the height of responsibility but then that would be quite acceptable to this Republican. The Jeffords switch ain't all that bad for the new president.


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