Thursday, September 28, 2006


One of my favorite Bill Cosby bits has always been ‘Tonsils.’ Little Bill was taken to the doctor with a “bad sore throat” and the doctor informed him that he had tonsillitis and they had to go. Bill, of course, whined and complained; the doctors response was perfect…’Look, son, your tonsils sit at the back of your throat with tanks, bazookas, machine guns and hand grenades and attack anything bad that comes into your throat. *Bang! Boom! Blam!* Well in your case, your tonsils have lost the war. In fact they’ve gone so far as to join the other side. And they’re going to kill you if we don’t take ‘em out!’

Not a perfect quote, but close enough.

Well, the Republican party is facing much the same difficulty; we have our own set of tonsils in the form of Lincoln Chafee. In short, it’s time to throw him over. One ‘symptom’ of Chafee-itis is the lack of support that the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee (NRSC) has had in raising funds from the base. In my own case, all my meager donations that would normally be sent to the NRSC during this election cycle went instead to Chafee’s primary opponent. Instead of money, NRSC chair Libby Dole received a letter saying I’ll do nothing that will contribute to Chafee’s campaign. Other bits and pieces of news I’ve come across have reflected the trend (here, here, and here).

A few questions and objections can be anticipated…

Aren’t you cutting off your nose to spite your face? Not really. The GOP has had a huge majority and done surprisingly little with it. The constant tripping over the likes of Chafee turns what should be expected in legislative results into mush. That’s one big reason why we’re having problems this election in the first place, and why the base isn’t contributing to the NRSC like it has in the past. The GOP base expects results from all the hard work it took to get a 55 seat majority.

But thanks to GOP obstructionists like Chafee, we still have well qualified judges that have been stalled in the nomination process for years, no energy policy that includes retrieval of our own domestic resources, economy-growing tax cuts that STILL have not been made permanent, etc. etc. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, ‘Never have so many accomplished so little for so long.’

Won’t that make it more difficult to keep the Senate this year? Well, yes, it probably will. Like the tonsils above, taking them out does hurt! It’s more difficult to swallow afterwards and you feel more miserable than you did when you were sick. But there are two considerations here; the post-operative pain passes, and you eventually become healthier as a result of going through the discomfort of removing what was REALLY hurting you.

Secondly, other ‘mavericks’ might notice that repeatedly going against the party grain has actual consequences. When push comes to shove on important issues, I’d rather have 53 Senators that can be counted on than 50 Senators plus 5 prima donnas flitting about elsewhere (usually in front of TV cameras and microphones).

But what’s wrong with having a few mavericks around? It’s not so much a matter of ‘being’ as ‘how much.’ The balance between being a maverick and supporting your party is a zero-sum game; if you’re 75% maverick, that leaves you only 25% Republican. At some point the maverick becomes a liability. An arguably good mathematical tipping point would be 50% of the issues that most concern the base.

But isn’t the GOP supposed to be a big tent? We are. And we’ll still be. The misconception here is that Chafee is in the tent.

Let’s remember a few things about the ‘big tent’ theory…it’s nice be ‘diverse’ and all that, but parties are meaningless unless they stand for things and everyone inside the tent needs to be sufficiently supportive of the party’s positions or the tent collapses. “A house divided” and all that.

Why pick on Chafee? There’s been a wonderful debate in the conservative side of the airwaves and blogosphere between Michael Medved (keep Chafee) and Hugh Hewitt/Dean Barnett (dump Chafee, here and here). I won’t rehash their arguments, but Hugh’s are more thorough, forward-looking and convincing. One of his reasons is that eventually, no matter what, the GOP is going to find itself in a much closer Senate chamber. As we’ve seen, when the Senate is 50-50 or 51-49, the GOP’s most left-ward member calls the tune. Based on his voting record (according to American Conservative Union ratings), Chafee is most likely to be the next Jim Jeffords when the opportunity arises. He couldn’t even bring himself to vote for Bush during the last election, ridiculously writing in his father, G. H. W. Bush.

To be sure, the Senate leadership hasn’t helped, here. I doubt that Chafee has been called into a conference with the leadership and said, ‘Look, we need to count on you for a few things here or you can’t count on us when it comes to tight primaries or general elections.’

Chafee won against your candidate in the primary. What are you going to do with your “normal contributions?” I’ll be sending them to his opponent, Sheldon Whitehouse (contribute here). Some will probably go to Joe Lieberman as well.

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