For Chafee: Bolton Vote Was and Is One of Consequence


This morning’s Providence Journal has an excellent political column looking forward to the next Senate race in Rhode Island and assessing the impact of Lincoln Chafee’s decision not to stand by John Bolton — but rather to stand by Bush’s decision — on John Bolton.
Here is an excerpt from the piece by M. Charles Bakst:

It remains uncertain whether John Bolton, George Bush’s embattled nominee as United Nations ambassador, will be confirmed by the full Senate, and who knows how he’d actually do in office, or how many Rhode Islanders will care about any of this next year, or cared even last week.
But the topic certainly was in the news, and on Thursday morning, the day Chafee’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee took up the nomination, your local newspaper published this front-page headline:

Chafee will Defer to Bush, Vote for Bolton for U.N. Post

The headline captured the story fairly, and the story captured the situation fairly.
And that’s Chafee’s potential problem.
In proceeding to join his fellow Republicans in a 10-to-8 party-line vote to send the unpopular nomination to the full Senate, Chafee played directly into the hands of Democratic opponents who charge he’d rather knuckle under to a right-wing GOP president than use his brain and represent the interests of Rhode Islanders.

There is a great deal about Senator Chafee that I like — but in something I learned years ago from one of my political science professors, Hans Baerwald, one can never really know the real norms of a political system unless observed under stress.
In this case, if the centrist Senator Chafee is “centrist” only when things are calm, what does that matter? It’s only in times of stress that Senator Chafee’s real tendencies will appear — and those seem to be that in the end he’ll choose to keep Vice President Cheney happy over the concerns of his constituents.
The party over citizens’ interests; Another superpower in America’s not so distant past used to operate that way.
Dana Milbank wrote about Senator Chafee during the most recent Foreign Relations Committee meeting on Bolton:

Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), who took a political risk by backing Bolton, stared at his water glass and looked as if he were about to cry.

If Chafee is going to develop a political profile anything along the lines that his father used to display, then the notion of giving “reluctant support” to anything needs to be purged from his DNA. When he votes in favor or against something, he needs to know why — and needs to articulate those reasons.
But to go to voters and say that he was forced to vote for Bolton by the tough, mean team in the White House is a sure way to lose the respect of one’s constituents. As I wrote the other day, when Voinovich began his oration at the business meeting, he framed the issues about Bolton and the “big issues” that this nomination was about in a way that earned TWN‘s respect even if he had supported Bolton’s confirmation.
Chafee’s spokesman had told TWN that after the Foreign Relations Committee business meeting in which the Bolton vote had surprisingly been delayed, Chafee planned to take the stance of being visibly aggressive and investigating issues on Bolton in a serious and vigorous manner. According to Stephen Hourahan, Chafee’s spokesman, the Senator planned to pursue this hard until “either the cloud was lifted over the nomination — or the nomination ended.”
Hourahan and Chafee’s excellent staff know what is in the best interests of their boss — and that was to have pulled a Voinovich. Even if Chafee had known all along that he was going to support Bolton — and was just flirting with the Bolton opposition to get them off of his back — he should have been far more dramatic and compelling in his reasons to support Bolton.
The problem is — there are so few credible reasons to support John Bolton for the important role as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
Part of leadeship is knowing when the right moments are to strike or act. Proactive efforts are praised more than reactive or passive behavior. And thus far, Lincoln Chafee has chosen to be passive and reactive — not proactive.
He has an opportunity, slight but still there, to re-craft his stance on Bolton. He could investigate more. Run through every item in Bolton’s professional history and orate about it on the floor of the Senate and tell Americans why either these issues are irrelevant in this confirmation vote — or do matter.
Chafee could still lead in this Bolton imbroglio — but just “staring into the water glass” is the worst option for him.
So far, he appears a victim of consequences — not a good thing for a United States Senator.
Chafee better rise above it fast, or John Bolton will bring him down.
— Steve Clemons