Arthur Schaper: Lincoln Chafee—Faux Republican, Nouveau Democrat

Friday, June 14, 2013


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Lincoln Chafee, one of the most ineffectual Governors in one of the most impoverished states in the Union, is also one of the most unpopular. With a 26% approval rating, Chafee is chafing for reelection and faces dwindling chances of doing so.

Democrats Mayor Angel Taveras of Providence and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo have stronger chances of taking the gubernatorial seat in 2014, yet the former Republican turned Independent has turned again, this time joining the Democratic Party to shore up his receding chances. Chafee's long-drawn self-justifying manifesto for party-switching (again) on GoLocalProv had nothing of Former US Senator from Vermont Jim (R-VT) Jeffords' partisan integrity when he left the GOP in 2001, or former US Senator Joe Lieberman's (D-CT) calculation following his loss for the Democratic nomination in 2006. Chafee's change is partisan chameleon chicanery, both at its best and at its worst. At its best, one can only nod that this politician, like any other, would go out of his way to improve his chances of reelection. At its worst, where does one stop?

To think that Linc's father John named him after the first Republican President, "Honest" Abraham Lincoln, should be enough for Republicans, both in Rhode Island and throughout the nation, to count their blessings that he left. To quote Horace Greeley on the eve of the Civil War: "Letting erring sisters depart in peace."

There was nothing honest nor integrated about Chafee's declaration of transition.

"Like most Republicans of that era, I supported a more modest approach to government spending, and doing more with less. Like most Democrats, I also believed in a safety net, and helping people make the most of their lives, with affordable health care, good schools, and decent wages."

The same dilemma which Chafee attempts to justify is the same partisan split that has rendered Washington "dysfunctional." People want their entitlements, yet they feel entitled not to pay for them. They want "Big Government", just not so big that it steps on their toes, or costs them more money. This political double-take has taken its toll on the taxpayers, the workers, the industrious who today refuse to keep pushing the cart while more jump in to enjoy the "free ride." "Modest government" and "safety net" is an immodest juxtaposition, as if more government can keep any of us safe and secure. Chafee's "Have your cake and eat it too" flourishes make about as much as sense as "We must suspend the rules of the free market to save it."

"I felt that I was exactly where I wanted to be – proud of my moderate Republican roots, but attuned to the needs of my lunchpail Democratic constituents. I also thought it worked in Rhode Island, nearly a one-party state, to have a few principled Republicans here and there, keeping an eye on the till."

Chafee is as principled as a three-dollar bill. "Lunchpail" Democrats have become "welfare recipients" under Chafee. Instead of respecting working Rhode Islanders, his policies have worked against them, from taxing beverages, oceanside visits, and maintaining the outrageous "blue book price" car tax. No wonder Met Life moved South: it no longer pays to stay in Rhode Island.

"I had not changed – but my party had. Like my father before me, I occupied what was once a crowded branch of the GOP – New Englanders who were dedicated to fiscal responsibility."
Chafee was never a Republican. During his "adopted" tenure in the US Senate, he voted more times against the Bush Administration than US Senator Hillary Clinton (D-New York). Following a bitter primary in 2006, he ran against Bush, yet lost to Sheldon Whitehouse. While "Father John" was a moderate, supporting welfare reform while also protecting the trees, Lincoln Chafee endorsed every liberal platform: opposing the War in Iraq, to voting against tax cuts (not to stop the spending spree, but because he was a regressive-progressive at heart). He opposes charter schools, he supports unions, and he cares more about the physical environment than the political or economic climate, as clearly evident by his four-year failure to end the debt and deficit tsunami swallowing the Ocean State.

Yet for all his heartfelt protestations, what matters to Chafee is not who stays in the state, but that he stays in office. Potholes abound in Providence, Woonsocket is going bankrupt, and Central Falls has already entered into the same financial protection. How many more cities will have to fold, how many more residents will have to flee before those who depend and those who want to upend the current political crises acknowledge that Lincoln Chafee's socialized government cannot run without other people's money, and those "other people" are leaving the state in droves! If Chafee the nouveau Democrat does manage to beat Taveras and Raimondo in the Democratic primary, then God Help Rhode Island. Then again, a civic culture bent on sending back to the statehouse the same people who have put the state in the poorhouse may be just what it takes for those "down and out" to stop staying down and get up and out of their circumstances.

Arthur Christopher Schaper is a teacher-turned-writer on topics both timeless and timely; political, cultural, and eternal. A life-long Southern California resident, Arthur currently lives in Torrance.


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