Let’s get one thing straight, now. There are no liberal Republican Senators. But the GOP’s got a secret-play in its handbook: the media carte-blanche from being an “independent”-minded poseur. And 2006 showed us it works for Republicans..
There were only two liberal Republicans in 2002: Jim Jeffords and Lincoln Chafee. Jeffords left the GOP and is now out of the Senate. Chafee was defeated by an even better Senator, Sheldon Whitehouse, in 2006.
I refuse to bow to partisan idiocy at worst and abandon plausible ground at best: Arguably, Lincoln Chafee was a good or decent Senator. That’s bare decency and it’s fair. Not least compared to some Democrats (who joined him in the Gang of 14). Unlike “Moderatists” named McCain, Snowe, Collins, Smith, ad nauseum, Chafee was clearly against the Iraq war, and favors gay marraige.
And this free-thinking spirit cost him.
John Nichols of The Nation penned a 2004 article on the seething conservative hatred for any liberal-leaning Republican,called “Hunting for RINOs“, in which he wrote:
It is possible to point to just one senator, Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chafee, and two members of the House, New York’s Amo Houghton and Iowa’s Jim Leach. Those three Republicans have regularly been rated as more liberal in National Journal measures of Congressional voting patterns than many prominent Democrats with whom they serve. A somewhat larger circle clings to the moderate GOP mantras of a Gerald Ford or a Richard Lugar, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But they are fading fast as a force in Congress.
These decisively pit him against other Republicans, and explain why they abandoned his re-election chances (Chafee subsequently left the party, citing increasing intolerance for unorthodoxy). Then there was his liberal stances on death penalty, minimum wage, health care. Pro-environment and pro-choice.
“But they are fading fast as a force in Congress”.
American politics moves in cycles of roughly thirty-five to forty years. A New Deal re-alignment in 1932 which made the Washington Consensus of the 50s and 60s decidedly liberal, enough so for LBJ’s social spending in spite of the hawishness of Korea, the Cold War, Bay of Pigs, Space Race and Vietnam. In 1968, Nixon used societal unrest and generational friction to instigate a Conservative Realignment. which laid the groundwork for Raygun and Bush the Elder, Clinton’s New Democrat coalition and the DLC, and Dubya-Cheney.
We are set for a new Realignment, a progressive one. Like previous realignments, responsive to demographic shifts, population booms, war and economic changes, et cetera. Though I would love for the GOP to drive itself off the cliff of immigrant hysteria, religious bigotry, et al, both parties are changing. If McCain captures the White House the GOP will have a markedly easier time, but either way the GOP is a declining party, without the “ideas” which fueled them twenty years ago. McCain would win against assumed pickups (to what number is unknown) in the House and even Senate and an increasingly liberal electorate.
It’s the kind of environment where “moderates” like Snowe, Collins and Gordon Smith can survive or pass the torch to younger moderate-poseurs, though the party has been moving increasingly hardline on every conservative issue only last election cycle (as well as the current one). Thanks to a complacent, lazy and all-too-easily impressed media, political illteracy and incumbent advantage. If they succeed now, the future generation of Republicans will have an early start at posing as reasonable, tolerant and “reality-based” on any host of issues, when in actuality they will only side with progressives for political expediency.
Collins is the most liberal-appearing Senator up for re-election this cycle, and that is why she is the most popular. Her entrenched advantage is not so resolute, however. Smith is perhaps the second most liberal, and, speaking of expediency, made some convincing grandstanding against the Iraq war one month after the 2006 mid-terms.
And yet, Collins voted with Bush 82% of the time. She’s liberal?
We can afford to let her keep her seat on progressive turf when we’re facing a health epidemic, an endless war and climate change? What can the forward-thinking voters in Maine get from Collins they can’t get from Tom Allen, who’s sponsered legislation in the House to provide for health and mental screening for our servicemen and women?
And for all Smith’s grandstanding, what have we seem since that speech that convinces us we wouldn’t have an easier time with Democratic candidate for Oregon Senate Steve Novick (or Jeff Merkley)?
In 2006, the GOP found its loophole. Republican enabler Joe Lieberman got ousted from the Democratic party, but held onto his Senate seat, convincing a majority of voters that he was reasonable and liberal because he voted with Democrats “90% of the time”. Olympia Snowe was re-elected in Maine, and polling found she had a favorability rating in her state of 79%, the highest of any sitting Senator, because she is the most liberal Republican. (If worlds apart from progressives like Feingold, Whitehouse and Leahy.
For the GOP, a subtle line was drawn between Rush Limbaugh’s “RINOs” who somehow still get plenty of conservative voters–and of course the money–when the time comes, and decent people like Lincoln Chafee caught in the real middle.
This made the difference between the Dems having 49 seats and 51 seats, plus Bernie Sanders. Not to mention that both 2006’s Democratic candidates in Connecticut and Maine were anti-war and progressive.
We’re seeing early momentum in some Western states, in Senate races in New Mexico, Colorado and Virginia and New Hampshire. We’re not seeing that momentum in Oregon yet. In Maine, Collins is advantaged in the polling. Polling shows McCain getting Oregon’s 7 electoral votes matched up against Hillary.
We need to take away their advantage.
Voters were duped into believing they could trust Lieberman and Snowe on the war. Instead we get Kyl-Lieberman in a later-rebuked effort to escalate tensions with Iran into flat-out war. Had they known, voters would not have responded approvingly. You have to remember, although we tend to be well-educated, politically active and financially viable, we’re still a minority. And most voters don’t have a lot of time or clear information coming their way on these individuals.
And so, what for us?
We have got to take the fight to every Senate seat, whether the candidate is a bigot like James Inhofe that some would have us believe is too hard to touch in a “red state”, or whether they’re a Bush-enabling faker like Gordon Smith or Susan Collins in a blue state.
We have to expose them for the snake-oil salesmen they are. For McCain’s “maverick” iconography, he sure seems to be a McSame candidate with a lot of Abramoff money. (Maybe it was the teary-eyed bear-hug with Bush, we know that Dubya’s wet one on Lieberman was no medicine for that looney tune, either). For Smith’s calling of Bush-Cheney’s war “possibly criminal” he was conveniently helpful to Cheney in the 2002 salmon kill-off in the Klamath River, which was later used by Cheney to drum up the white nativist vote in Oregon. For all Collins “RINO”ism, she gets a passing grade in the Bush family school of government.
Voters respond to integrity above all else, and Republicans like McCain and other “moderates” only have survived because they’ve duped people into buying their bullshit.
Take away their free-pass, and the game is over.
And the rest is history.