Our “Un-Serious” Senator
In Sunday’s ProJo, M. Charles Bakst, erstwhile stakeholder of the political commentariat of Rhode Island, took Sen. Lincoln Chafee to task for his waffling on both supporting fellow Republican President Bush and staying a Republican at all.
His flirtation with bolting the party — and, more especially, his decision not to vote for George W. Bush and instead write in the name of the president’s father — has been an excruciating episode that has done the senator no good in Rhode Island or in Washington.
He has been in these matters the picture of indecision, and his dithering has been a distraction that has needlessly punctuated political conversation.
Indeed, all Senator Chafee has managed to do is to further call into question his own suitability as a responsible member of the Senate.
A spectacular low point came on the eve of the 2004 Republican National Convention. (He would make only a brief appearance on the New York scene.) Chafee said he supported Mr. Bush’s reelection but wouldn’t commit to voting for him. He looked ridiculous, and Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey, more conservative, more combative, and a possible challenger in a 2006 Senate primary, could barely contain himself, asking in an interview:
“What does that mean? Usually, the people you support you vote for. Would you vote for one you wouldn’t support? Or is he saying he supports two people?
Then Chafee, distancing himself further from the president but also wanting to stay away from Democrat John Kerry, hit upon the solution of writing in the name of the president’s father, an old family friend whose policies he like better.
But, in declining to choose between candidate Bush and candidate Kerry, Chafee didn’t make a decision, he avoided a decision. Citizens look to leaders to lead. Chafee is often accused of wanting to have things both ways. This time he outdid himself.
He certainly did. In trying to be all things to all people, he seems to take few principled stances except for the few instances (environmental, War in Iraq, Tax Custs) that find him at odds with his own (ostensibly) party. This is exacerbated by the perception that he lacks critical thinking abilities and is not the best at offering well-reasoned arguments for some of his postions.
He is who he is, not the most polished operator, but a bright guy, an honest guy, moving as best he can through the political jungle. He has plenty of interests in life, and he and his wife, the former Stephanie Danforth, have a ton of money, and he is very competitive, but he doesn’t need this job, and when he’s through, or when voters decide he’s through, he’ll find something else to do.
I suspect that in 2006 Lincoln Chafee will be the former Senator from Rhode Island.