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A big, squishy Rino returns to his native swamps.


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Jonah Goldberg

Okay, as I spent the whole morning getting a new driver’s license — including taking the road test again (there’s nothing better for your self-esteem), I suppose I’m behind the curve on the latest insta-analysis on this Jeffords thing.

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Certainly, Jeffords’s decision to take his marbles and go to his ideological home isn’t good news in the technical, “Hey! Alec Baldwin moved to France!” sense. But as bad news goes, it’s not exactly as if super-intelligent apes have thrown humanity into bondage either.

First of all, Jeffords is, quite simply, a liberal. I know that if you call yourself a Republican these days, it automatically means, to some people, that you are a closet racist or fascist. But Jeffords is a squish of the first order, a classic RiNO — Republican in Name Only. We take some satisfaction when events confirm the natural order — when salmon swim home to spawn, elephants return to their ancient burial grounds to die, and when Vulcans return home for the Pon Farr. So, likewise, we should not rend our clothes and gnash our teeth when a big, squishy Rino wades into the bog of his native swamps.

Still, it would be more admirable if he had left on this principle alone. As he hasn’t yet announced his reasons for leaving, we must rely on news reports to glean his motives, and they all seem fairly petty. He wasn’t invited to some Teacher-of-the-Year event at the White House. If Strom Thurmond passes away, he would end up being a senator in the minority party. Phil Gramm keeps eating the animal crackers off Jeffords’s tray at the cafeteria. Etc. Etc. Still, if he must go, then let him go; political parties don’t need indentured servants.

More important, the departure of this faux Republican will expose another falsity. What most of the media has been unable to report and what all of the Democrats have been unwilling to admit, is that the Senate split has never been split 50-50 along ideological lines, the only fault lines that really matter.

The Senate majority (with Cheney’s vote) has been nominally Republican but operationally liberal. When you count Jeffords, Collins, Chafee, and Snowe, and factor in the unreliability of other pompous squishes like Arlen “Verily, methinks I shall cast yon vote as ‘Loch Ness’” Specter, you realize that conservatives form the minority in the Senate. Even the supposedly “conservative” Democrats can only be relied upon for very narrow legislative endeavors.

The result is that conservatives only have 40 or so feet of bridge to cross a 50-foot chasm. This predicament would be an awful challenge for even a good majority leader, a label Trent Lott has taken every opportunity to avoid. When Lott is lucky enough to get 49 or 50 Republicans together, the Democrats can shriek like little girls with a spider in their peanut butter about excessive partisanship. When Lott seeks to compromise with the Democrats, the GOP gets rolled into supporting bloated and useless education bills, like the one weeble-wobbling its way through the Senate now.

I know that Daschle is clever and crafty. But he’s clever and crafty at whining. I’m not at all confident he has any idea how to be a likeable majority leader. If the media has even the long-term memory of a titmouse, it will hold him accountable to his hissy fits about bipartisanship. And, let’s face it, conservatives are better at being critics than they are at being appropriators, and legislators are first and foremost appropriators.

Again, don’t get me wrong, I would much rather Orrin Hatch control the Judiciary Committee than Patrick Leahy, but I’m no fan of having to defend a fiction either. And the idea that conservative Republicans are running all three branches of government is as much of a myth as the idea that Jeffords is a real Republican. Let the Democrats pass a campaign-finance bill they hate and take some ownership of their demands for low gas prices and no new oil exploration, etc. Let Daschle deal with Southern Democrats who don’t enjoy voting with Ted Kennedy when the votes actually count.

Let him do all of this, that is, until 2002 when, hopefully, conservatives wind up with a working majority (under Majority Leader Nickles) that can crush its enemies and hear the lamentations of the women.

And speaking of crushing enemies, the White House and the GOP generally will be guilty of professional malpractice if they don’t punish Jeffords for pulling the rug out from under them. I know that it’s illegal to sew a half-starved weasel into his small intestine, but there are some other options.

First of all, in a nod to environmentalists concerned with oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the president should issue an executive order declaring the Killington and Sugarbush ski areas a National Monument and move as many Alaskan caribou there as the Fish and Wildlife Service can manage. Second, the EPA should publicly announce that they’ve quintupled the allowable levels of arsenic in Vermont maple syrup. And, lastly, what’s wrong with moving the Air Force bombing range from Vieques, Puerto Rico, to just outside Burlington, Vt.? We could put up a sign that says “This Military Installation Brought to you by James Jeffords (I., Vt.).

Announcements
  1. Stick with National Review Online for as long as this Jeffords brouhaha lasts (and stick with us for years afterward also).
  2. Also, the latest editorial from over there at NR OnDeadTree about the Jeffords affair is not to be missed.
  3. On Monday, a former New York Times editorial writer wrote a bizarre piece saying that Robert Bork wasn’t borked. I wrote a response to that in my latest syndicated column.


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