- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2001

Conservatives looking either on, or for, the bright side of the Jeffords defection may take solace in a tiny footnote to this unprecedented shift in Senate power that was brought on by what Senate Majority Leader Until Tuesday Trent Lott aptly called "a coup of one." Having burned both his Republican bridges and his Republican colleagues, Vermonts Jim Jeffords has also effectively sent the Singing Senators, that do-wopping, bow-tied, senatorial excursion into four-part Republican harmony which left listeners in varying degrees of slack-jawed amazement, up in smoke. Sure, Ted Kennedy may at this very moment be being fitted for a new chairmans gavel, but "Elvira" is out of the GOP future. In other words, it just got a little easier to be a Republican again.
And that may go double for Trent Lott, who has indicated that the Singing Senators may well have been another GOP effort to keep Mr. Jeffords and his much-vaunted flinty Yankeeness or is it his much-vaunted Yankee flintiness? feeling warm and welcome under the Big Tent. "Ive tried to make him feel personally at home," Mr. Lott said in a radio interview this week. "Thats one of the main reasons we had this infamous singing group." Hard to imagine Tom Daschle going that far.
Of course, the Jeffords "coup of one" does more than send the Singing Senators back to the shower. It even does more than flip the control switch in the Senate, leaving Republicans groping their way through a power outtage. The audacious success of Mr. Jeffords decision which, after all, in an undemocratic stroke, nullified a national election that barely but realistically held the Senate for Republicans reveals something in our political culture that is hardly new, but is perhaps newly acceptable: a wide, deep swath of tolerance, and even appreciation, for what is best described as a personal power grab.
Despite the attempts to cloak Mr. Jeffords supposed epiphany in the flowing terms of "principle," the selfishness of it all his deal for a committee chairmanship, his failure to take his momentous decision back to the Vermont ballot box pokes through. As Mr. Jeffords surveys the lie of the new political battlefield he has createds, the self-dubbed Independent would do well to consider taking the new Army motto as his own: "I am an army of one. And you can see my strength."
Although this New-Agey expression of self-absorption hasnt exactly attracted droves of recruits to the armed forces, it seems to be catching on among Democratic politicians. Take Sen. Barbara Boxer, the liberal Democrat from California. One of the first effects of Mr. Jeffords overthrow of the Senate came when Christopher Cox, the conservative congressman from California whose nomination to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had been imminent, quietly asked President Bush to withdraw his name from consideration. Why? One reason is that the Senate switch means that Vermont liberal Patrick Leahy will be chairing the Senate Judiciary Committee, guaranteeing conservative nominees like Mr. Cox a slow and painful grilling. Another reason is that Ms. Boxer had promised to "blue-slip," or pre-empt, the Cox nomination in an abuse of homestate senatorial privilege that has been vehemently contested by Republicans. According to National Review Onlines Byron York, Mr. Cox wrote to Ms. Boxer, telling her that he would "continue to oppose this anti-democratic abuse of the 'blue-slip policy particularly as it applies to the Court of Appeals." Continuing, he explained the injustice of it all: "A single senator, out of 18 who represents the Ninth Circuit, should not be able to deny the Senate the opportunity to conduct a hearing and a democratic vote on presidential nominees. At a minimum, the views of other liberal Democratic senators representing the Ninth Circuit, such as Sen. Ron Wyden (who would be strongly supportive were I nominated), should be given equal weight in determining whether a hearing and a vote can be scheduled."
Mr. Cox is right. A single senator should not be able to deny the Senate the opportunity to conduct a hearing and a democratic vote on anything. But tell that to the next Senate majority leader. Tom Daschle spent his Memorial Day Weekend on television telling the nation that the Bush agenda, from energy to defense, was "dead." Kaput. Over. Before most of it has even gotten out of the White House and onto Capitol Hill. Hows that for an Army of One? Luckily, this rather tyrannical attitude seems to have stirred Mr. Lotts small-d democratic blood. "If he thinks were not going to have full debate and votes on the issues, all the way from missile defense to making sure that schools dont discriminate against Boy Scouts, good luck!" Its time to rally the troops the old-fashioned way the only way to fight off the armies of one.

Diana West is an editorial writer for The Washington Times. Her column appears on Fridays.


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