Senator’s vision of ‘American way’

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“There are practical solutions - it is not an all-or-nothing proposition,” he says. “Yet those are issues in which the extremes have dominated the debate to a point where it is hard for people to find a middle ground to maneuver because as soon as their extremes start howling and screaming, people get scared away from the middle.”

He says issues like those surrounding immigration are “resolvable in a reasonable universe.”

“It’s just that right now there’s too much heat around them,” he said.

The heat source varies with the issue, he says.

For immigration, he and most other Democrats join the Bush administration and its Republican allies in blaming what Mr. Whitehouse calls “the right-wing talk-show world that sort of exploded right in the middle of the immigration debate.”

He says that explosion “essentially drove sponsors and supporters” of the Bush-backed bill - which critics said offered amnesty - “literally off the floor of the Senate. But some real profiles in courage showed themselves,” such as Republican Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Mel Martinez of Florida.

“Kyl and I sit on the Judiciary Committee and probably disagree on everything,” Mr. Whitehouse says. “But I’ll tell you he stood out there on the Senate floor and stuck by promises that had been exchanged, that supported the consensus proposal. And it was not easy. He was taking enormous pillorying across the country and particularly at home, and he stuck to his guns.”

The values issues can be the most divisive between left and right - and, not always so noticeably - between right and right.

For example, Mr. Whitehouse has Senate colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle - he won’t name them - who think same-sex marriage is not a matter for government involvement.

“I’ve had conversations with people who sort of wish this issue would go away, people who are fundamentally libertarian, who say, ‘Get government out of my bedroom as well as my boardroom as well as my clubroom and living room,’” he says.

In many ways, he thinks, that was the old-line Republican point of view. But that viewpoint became taboo in Republican ranks at some point, and the opposite view has become an “article of political faith.”

He says he understands that taking opposite sides on such issues is what drives the Democratic and Republican electoral coalitions. Democrats don’t think they can get elected without bowing to homosexual activists and Republicans think they can’t win without deference to religious conservatives.

Although Mr. Whitehouse nabbed a career that demands a certain amount of extroversion, he somehow lacks the right gene for it.

“I walk into a room, and I’m anxious about whether people will like me, whether I’ll fit into conversations. I suffer all the things shy people are shy about,” he says.

How does he manage to live with this mismatch of personality and job requirements?

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About the Author
Ralph Z. Hallow

Ralph Z. Hallow

Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.

 

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