Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont didnt decide to defect from the Republican Party because President Bush snubbed him and if he did, it says much more about his pettiness than Mr. Bushs. Besides, the important issue is not why he left, but what will be the consequences of his departure.
But first, some clarification is sorely needed. The mainstream media are capitalizing on Mr. Jeffords´ decision as another opportunity to paint George Bush and congressional Republicans as extreme conservatives and Mr. Jeffords as a moderate. What are they smoking?
Mr. Bush, an extreme conservative? The Houston Chronicle “reported” that “although Bush came into office pledging to bring a new spirit of civility and bipartisanship to the nation´s capital, he has devoted much of his time trying to pressure moderate and conservative Democrats to support his agenda.” What?
It is preposterous to claim Mr. Bush has been uncompromisingly promoting a purist conservative agenda. Look at his education package, which includes enormous increases in federal spending and federal involvement and no longer includes its most conservative component, school vouchers. Even Mr. Bush´s education secretary is said to be displeased with the bill Mr. Bush has ultimately accepted. This is hardly conservative extremism.
And how about the evolution of the Bush tax bill? I am not complaining, mind you, being grateful Republicans were able to achieve the magnitude of tax relief they did with the $1.35 trillion tax cut, especially considering the stridency of the opposition. But as a supply-sider I am disappointed that Mr. Bush´s plan, which already contemplated making the tax code more progressive, has now become even more progressive. The lion´s share of cuts for the greatest producers have been removed or delayed, robbing the measure of its primary economy-stimulating attributes. This is not the work of the far right, my friends.
What about the media´s depiction of Mr. Jeffords as a moderate? An AP story said the GOP´s ability to retain control of Congress “teetered” on its ability to persuade Mr. Jeffords “that the party still has room for moderates.” It is astonishing that even the press could be so oblivious or deceptive.
The Almanac of America Politics reports that over the years Mr. Jeffords has compiled one of the most liberal voting records of any Republican. He has voted with Democrats more than any other Republican no mean feat.
Mr. Jeffords voted for family and medical leave, motor voter, the Brady bill, pushed for more funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, supports abortion rights, special rights for gays, is a far-left environmentalist, opposes school choice and perhaps worst of all, supported Hillary Clinton´s effort to socialize health care. And don´t forget that Mr. Jeffords voted to acquit Bill Clinton in the Senate and said with respect to Juanita Broaddrick´s allegation that Mr. Clinton raped her that rape is a private matter. Only a liberal can be that wrongheaded.
Now, let´s examine the consequences of Mr. Jeffords becoming an Independent, read: Democrat. It is the first time party control of the Senate has changed between elections. Obviously, it will result in Democrats gaining control of the Senate agenda and committee chairmanships. Sen. Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, will become majority leader of the Senate. Democrats will be much better positioned to obstruct or kill every piece of legislation Mr. Bush offers and to block his judicial appointments. Why else did the Democratic leadership offices receive a delivery of 20 cases of top-shelf liquor upon news of Mr. Jeffords´ move?
Yet, there is a substantial silver lining. Mr. Jeffords has already been voting with the Democrats, so in that respect, nothing will change. But when Mr. Bush is able to cobble together a majority by recruiting some moderate Democrats, his victories will be viewed as triumphs. And now that Democrats have gained nominal control along with actual control, Republicans can more easily hold them accountable for their obstructionism, especially in the 2002 elections.
Mr. Jeffords has been voting along liberal ideological lines for years. But the ramifications of his calculated decision to single-handedly deliver majority control to Senate Democrats will be much more far-reaching than ideology. Democratic leaders are no longer just about promoting leftist ideology. As the Wall Street Journal editors point out, they are even more driven by political calculation. That means that demonizing Republicans, not their policy agenda, is their first priority.
By betraying Vermont voters and the GOP, Mr. Jeffords has made a conscious decision, for whatever reasons (most likely personal political benefits), to enlist in the Democratic army, which has been engaged in a fierce unilateral war against Republicans. He has decided to embrace their destructive tactics. But at least he is finally out of the closet.
David Limbaugh is a nationally syndicated columnist.