After years of following the Republican Party as it side-stepped rightward like a drunk at a Bob Barr confederate-pride cookout, and months of watching George W.'s slight grin of "bipartisanship" pasted over his very partisan agenda, a Republican has finally had the courage to stand up and admit that the party he joined no longer exists.
Exhausted by six months of Republican howlers -- those distortions, prevarications, hypocrisies, and Bushisms so blatant that even mildly informed observers burst into howls of laughter when they read them -- Jim Jeffords, Senator from Vermont, is expected to announce that he will leave the Republicans to become an Independent. The question now is, which howler did it?
Here are my nominations, in something like chronological order:
1) "Compassionate Conservatism."
2) The notion that George W. Bush was going to return honor and integrity to the White House. An intellectual void surrounded by the people who brought you Iran-Contra is hardly a recipe for integrity.
3) The seriously serious faces W. tried to make last summer and fall while talking about the death penalty, or the notion that he seriously considers every case. For 15 minutes, it turned out, but hey, let's not quibble!
4) The Supreme Court decision. States' rights -- the bedrock of right-wingers since before the civil war -- is put aside long enough to hand the White House to W. The fact that two tired old justices were on record saying they wanted to retire under a Republican administration and that a third's wife worked for Bush in the Florida aftermath didn't add to the court's luster.
How was Jeffords doing at this point? How did he rationalize this? The standard Republican: Well, we're right so it doesn't matter how we get power as long as we get it?
Then there was:
5) Bush's flip-flop on CO2. That pesky campaign promise about lowering levels of global warming causing pollutants? Just a misunderstanding, really, he never really meant to promise that. Al Gore was the liar, not Bush, who is returning integrity to the White House. Really.
6) Ted Olson's nomination to be Solicitor General. He was knee deep in the Clinton-bashing Arkansas Project and lied about it to Congress -- and yet Congress isn't supposed to look into the lie -- the accusations are just liberal slash and burn politics. Aren't these the same people who impeached Clinton for lying? Isn't that the same Orrin Hatch who insisted that sex had nothing to do with why Clinton was impeached, it was the principle of no one being above the law that mattered?
7) A huge Republican fundraiser at Dick Cheney's house, meetings with top cabinet officials given to big donors, and a new "energy policy" written entirely by the mega-donors: coal, oil, and gas? You thought Al Gore could parse words about a Buddhist temple? Watch Ari Fleischer and Haley Barbour go at these things with the Ronco-Matic Parsifyer Extraordinaire.
I can imagine Jeffords getting a little hot under the collar on number 6. He was opposed to impeachment, sure, but still, his party brought the country to a standstill for a year over President Clinton's parsing of words, and now they offer up Olson?
Maybe all these howlers, and the many more I won't list here, got to Jeffords just enough so that when the Bushies played their brand of arrogant hard-ball with him, he'd had enough.
He had the temerity to vote for a smaller tax-cut package than the Bush squad wanted and to push for more funding for certain educational programs. And what happened? He found out, first hand, what bipartisanship really means to a Bushie. They came after him, threatening Vermont's milk farmers, even refusing to invite Jeffords to a White House event honoring a teacher from his own state.
Or maybe Jeffords just couldn't abide a particularly demeaning Bush howler: his speech at Yale University commencement earlier this week. (Jeffords, too, went to Yale.) Maybe the sight of Bush cracking jokes about getting C's and not remembering stretches of his college days due to drinking were too much for Jeffords. A self-deprecating president is refreshing; one whose strongest skill is making the kind of "boy, wasn't my college experience like Animal House" jokes that are boring even at prep-school reunion cocktail parties is, well, scary.
Republicans, in the end, believe really in one thing: that they are right, no matter what. They've become increasingly self-righteous, and after years of losing to Clinton, don't care what they stand for as long as they win. The moderates in their party -- fiscally conservative folks with a social conscience -- don't fit anymore.
Hopefully, the Bush façade on the hardcore, right wing Republican Party of today is starting to crumble. Being a Republican used to stand for something -- usually the wrong thing, sure, but something more than rich people and corporate handouts. Not anymore.
Thank you, Jim Jeffords, for having the courage to say so.