Why'd he do it?


May 24, 2001

Sen. Jim Jeffords has had problems with his party for a long time,
but President Bush appears to have pushed him over the edge.

When former Sen. Bob Stafford, R-Vt., first saw little Jim Jeffords, he was just "a small boy on skis sliding down the hill by his father's house, down to a little road at my folks' place." That little boy would grow up to replace Stafford in the Senate in 1988, and he's embarking on an altogether different slide down a different kind of Hill right now.

Jeffords, a Republican as of this minute, will announce Thursday morning which party he plans to be a part of -- thus delivering control of the U.S. Senate to the Democrats. And as he does so, there are myriad reasons speculated as to why he is embarking on this journey.

President Bush began the push when he unveiled his plans for a $1.6 trillion tax cut. In a 50-50 Senate, Bush needed every vote, but Jeffords was reluctant to go along, thinking the cut too large. Unable to reach an agreement with the Bush White House after asking for increased funding for special education, Jeffords broke from the GOP fold, joining with a bunch of moderates from both parties to push a compromise $1.25 trillion tax cut. In the process, he aroused the wrath of the vengeful Texan, a man whose administrators have reportedly been flagging and often eliminating potential staffers if they supported Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., during the 2000 GOP primaries.

So the retribution against Jeffords began. But Jeffords' staff says that there's more to Thursday's move than that.

"It's not about being snubbed by the White House," says Jeffords spokesman Erik Smulson, referring to a now-infamous dis : On April 23, President Bush's team didn't invite Jeffords, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, to the annual ceremony for the "National Teacher of the Year" award, which went to a Vermont social studies instructor.

"It's not about the Dairy Compact," Smulson goes on, referring to threats in the media made by unnamed GOP sources that Bush and his mercenaries might seek their revenge by having the GOP-controlled Senate kill off the Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact, which benefits Vermont dairy farmers.

"And it's not about any chairmanship," Smulson says. Jeffords, 67, will be term-limited out of his chairmanship of the committee next year. Democrats -- in exchange for Jeffords' possible support for now-Minority Leader Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., to serve as majority leader -- are said to be willing to give him the chairmanship of the Environment and Public Works Committee, should they suddenly find themselves in charge of the Senate.

So, what is causing Jeffords to rethink a career as a Republican?

"It's more about his priorities," Smulson says.

Priorities aside, the White House's "Vengeance Is Mine, Sayeth the Bush" campaign -- a mystifying combination of charmlessness and cluelessness said to be orchestrated by senior presidential advisor Karl Rove and the White House's Hill lobbyist, Nick Calio -- seems to have worked its magic: Bush has now cut off his Jeffords to spite his face. Hooray for Bush! Bush wins!

Or does he? Suddenly, Bush's legislative agenda seems far less likely to become law, his judicial nominees far less likely to become federal judges, if -- as expected -- Jeffords becomes an independent and joins the Democratic Caucus. (Which is still a big if. "Sen. Jeffords has an independent streak in him as long as a Vermont mile," says a senior Democratic Senate aide, cautioning that no one knows exactly what Jeffords will do Thursday.)

Assuming he jumps ship, however, some of the credit for this can be attributed to the assistant Democratic leader, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. Several weeks ago, Daschle and Reid got together to talk about opportunities possibly available to them. The Republican leadership didn't appear to be taking care of its members, the Democrats thought, and they seemed to be possibly alienating some of their more moderate members. Unlike the Republicans, there were no reports of internal strife over Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who sided with the GOP on Bush's tax cut, or Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., who has sided with the GOP on most everything.

"It's a combination of Republicans needing Jeffords more than Jeffords needs Republicans," observes a former Senate GOP leadership aide. "That, and the fact that his care and feeding wasn't up to snuff."

Bad faith for Jeffords' bright IDEA

The low-key Reid began talking to Jeffords, Senate sources say, and with Daschle, began exploring what sort of home they could make for the senator should he ever decide to leave the confines of the GOP caucus. No one was forthcoming with a chairmanship -- certainly not Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., the ranking Democrat on Jeffords' committee -- so in the end, Reid offered up the one on where he serves as ranking Democrat : Environment and Public Works.

In other ways, though, this fight began 26 years ago.

Jeffords, a liberal Republican, has taken stands on issues over the years including education, the environment, abortion rights and gay rights, that have never been particularly popular within his party. But perhaps the most significant priority that has led to this moment began for Jeffords in the U.S. House in 1975. That year, one of the first real achievements by then-Rep. Jeffords was his work on a bill requiring states to offer full and complete education for disabled kids, regardless of the severity of the students' disability.

Stafford, who as a senator worked on the House-Senate conference committee on the bill with Jeffords, says those behind the bill tried their darnedest to get the federal government to kick in 40 percent of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, funding, but Congress balked. "We had a hell of a time trying to get it through the Congress at all," Stafford says. "We only got around 7 or 8 percent funding" from the federal government. "We were hoping we could get some more later."

Despite a line in the original 1975 bill that promises that the 40 percent benchmark will soon be reached, 26 years later the feds are still only kicking in slightly less than 15 percent. Stafford says Jeffords has told him that failing to get IDEA funding up to the 40 percent has been a major regret.

For many Republicans -- not just Jeffords -- IDEA was a major cause during the Clinton years. It is, after all, one of those notorious "unfunded mandates" -- a law handed down from the federal government without the resources with which to implement it -- that has forced the money to be raised locally, and has led to higher property taxes, especially in sparsely populated states like Vermont. When Clinton education initiatives were introduced on the floor of the Senate, Republicans would cry that there was no way funding could be provided to reduce class sizes, or to modernize schools, until and unless IDEA funding had become a reality.

"Jeffords has been probably the most active in terms of real leadership, in terms of actually pushing the funding issue for IDEA," says an expert on education legislation in Washington. "He and his staff were always working hard behind the scenes," always lobbying Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the appropriations cardinal on education issues, for greater IDEA funding. By contrast, the expert says, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., was active in front of the cameras "but that was more for posturing."

During budget negotiations, Jeffords made it clear that his vote was essentially for sale. If the administration secured full funding for IDEA -- $120 billion over 10 years -- he would support their $1.6 trillion tax cut. At a time of unprecedented budget surpluses, 26 years after he'd worked on writing IDEA, with him as chairman of the Education Committee and in a 50-50 Senate, this was his time to leave a legacy.

"We've gone all these years and we have not lived up to that obligation," Jeffords told reporters on April 4, in the midst of negotiations, standing with a bunch of Senate moderates from both parties. "And in my mind, looking toward the future, especially with the tax income far exceeding expenditures, if not now, when will we live up to that promise of paying 40 percent of those costs?"

Jeffords said that he held out hope that a deal could be struck with Bush. "This president has said he wants to do what we want to do," he said. "And so I am hopeful after the discussions I just came from that eventually, as we work through the process, that we will end up doing what must be done, and that is fully funding IDEA."

"Good group," Jeffords added of the mix of senators. "I feel very comfortable here. The first time in a while."

"We feel comfortable that you're here, too," joked Sen. John Breaux, D-La.

Jeffords never found such comfort with the new president and his team. They offered greater IDEA funding, but they never agreed to make it mandatory; it would remain discretionary -- subject to the whims of Congress each year. A deal was never struck.

But clearly more was afoot. After all, during the May 3 debate over the education bill, the first amendment, offered by Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, would fully fund IDEA as a mandatory spending item, adding $2.5 billion to the program every year until 2007. It passed on a voice vote, meaning it was so uncontroversial no one thought it worth taking a roll call of yeas and nays. That doesn't assure that it will become law, of course, but it does seem to indicate that IDEA was only part of the Jeffords equation.

Overall, Democratic Senate sources close to Jeffords say he just doesn't feel at home in the Republican Party anymore, and was not looking forward to four more years of having to deal with Bush while he fought for his moderate-to-liberal priorities. A Wednesday meeting between Jeffords and Bush at the White House is said to have gone poorly, the sources say, though that was disputed by Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer Wednesday, who described the meeting as a "good dialogue between the two."

After all, Wednesday's White House protestations notwithstanding, not inviting Jeffords to the Teacher of the Year ceremony was a purposeful snub. "To my knowledge, this is the first year that the chairman of a Senate education committee who is the same party as the president has not been invited," says Jon Quan, director of the National Teacher of the Year program. "I was certainly surprised" Jeffords wasn't invited to the Rose Garden ceremony, "considering Mr. Jeffords' position in the Senate."

"I thought it was very unusual when they informed me he had not been invited," adds Michele Forman, the Middlebury Union High School social studies and history teacher who was given the award, the first Vermonter to be so honored in the award's 51-year history. "That was unfortunate, however that happened." Forman says that "no explanation was given" at the time, though "later the White House said it was an oversight. Then they said it was too crowded. But there was quite a bit of room there."

After the ceremony, Forman went to Jeffords' office where he expressed his "disappointment" about the whole affair, telling her something along the lines that he "would have liked to have been there." That said, Forman says that whatever he decides, she thinks he will be reelected no problem in 2006 (he did win with more than 65 percent of the vote last November) if he wants.

"He's very experienced and a seasoned politician, a man of great integrity," says the teacher of the year. "He has enormous support in Vermont. Large numbers of independents and Democrats support him." After Thursday, they'd better.

Jake Tapper is Salon's Washington correspondent and the author of
"Down and Dirty : The Plot to Steal the Presidency."


May 24, 2001

Jeffords' move significant for Supreme Court, education, taxes.

Sen. James Jeffords' switch from Republican to Independent gives control of the Senate to Democrats for the first time since 1994 and is expected to have implications on President Bush's legislative agenda.

How sweet it is! The Democrats control the Senate!
Online Journal


May 24, 2001

It's those unintended consequences that can bring much joy or much misery. In this case, with Senator James Jeffords of Vermont bolting the Republican Party, it is much joy for the Democrats and much misery for the Bush-Cheney regime and its far right-wing allies.

Whether the Republicans didn't see it coming or, in their arrogance, ignored it until it was too late, it was one of their own, Jeffords, who derailed the Bush-Cheney train that was speeding toward Hell with his decision to leave the party and become and Independent.

In his announcement, Jeffords said, "In order to best represent my state of Vermont, my own conscience, and the principles I have stood for my whole life, I will leave the Republican Party and become an Independent. Control of the Senate will soon be changed by my decision. I will make this change and will caucus with the Democrats for organizational purposes, once the conference report on the tax bill is sent to the president."

Who says there are no honorable people in politics?

Do we wish Jeffords had gone a step further and not delayed his change until the conference report on the awful tax bill is sent to Bush? Yes. But, unlike the all-or-nothing right-wingers, we'll take the best we can get for the moment and that is not meant to be derisive of Senator Jeffords' supreme act of courage in standing up for not only his principles, the people of Vermont, but for the people of the United States who do not support the extremists that have seized the White House, with the help of their five supporters on the Supreme Court, and the Congress.

Now the ball is in the Democrats' court, which may be a mixed blessing since they control but one house with the thinnest of margins. And, unless there are more Republicans of conscience who decide to get off their party's fast-track to fascism, the Democrats have their work cut out for them in showing of what they are made.

The biggest obstacle for the Democrats is the corporate-controlled major media who are in bed with the Republicans. The people who still so foolishly get most of their news from television must see Tom Daschle and other Democratic leaders on the small screen nightly, explaining why they are opposing or blocking a program or a nominee put forth by the White House.

The Democrats also must get with it and put their messages out through the independent media that are being built online.

Jeffords single-handedly halted the Bush-Cheney juggernaut.
It's up to the Democrats to see that it doesn't get started again.

The right-wing media are already so foaming at the mouth over Jeffords' decision that they are apt to choke on their saliva.

Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post reports, "National Review is practically apoplectic."

Is that so surprising? After all, it was National Review Online columnist John Derbyshire who called for making gone with Chelsea Clinton, in order to stamp out the Clinton genes. Funny, the Secret Service hasn't taken Derbyshire into custody for his remarks.

And the vile Wall Street Journal had the gall to write this about Jeffords and the stolen presidential election : "We won't begrudge Vermont's junior Senator for deciding the moment had arrived to cash in his 15 minutes of fame. But not everyone gets to wake up one morning and decide an inner voice has told him to overturn the results of a national election, an unprecedented legal struggle and a decisive Supreme Court decision to form a government."

There is this from the American Spectator—the folks who brought you the Richard Mellon Scaife-funded Arkansas Project to bring down Bill Clinton that has Solicitor General-nominee Ted Olson's greasy paw prints all over it :

"Jim Jeffords has been the most liberal Republican in the United States Senate since being elected in 1988. Before that he had the distinction of being possibly the most liberal Republican in the House. And even to say he's been a 'Republican in name only' is to overstate the case. Because when something important is on the line, when his vote is needed most, it can almost always be found in the Democratic column," wrote Max Schulz.

Schulz went on to castigate Jeffords for voting "'against the Reagan budget and tax cuts, against Clarence Thomas, against the B-2 and SDI. He opposed the Clinton budget and tax package in 1993, but voted for family and medical leave, motor voter, national service, the Brady bill and the 1994 crime package, despite anti-gun control feeling in Vermont.' He also singlehandedly blocked GOP efforts in the mid-1990s to implement a tiny but courageous school-choice experiment in the District of Columbia."

Now is Jeffords our kind of guy or what?

To Rupert Murdoch's New York Post, the senator from Vermont is "Benedict Jeffords."

You can envision the spittle flying as the right-wing pundits hurl the L word at the mild-mannered, moderate Jeffords.
Hmmm ... Liberal Benedict Jeffords. What can we expect for such itty-bitty minds?

Take a look at this and decide which you would rather be :

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines a person who is liberal as

And it defines a person who is conservative as

Meanwhile back on Capitol Hill, the Republicans, who were so busy checking whether Senator Strom Thurmond was still breathing, have stepped up their arm-twisting efforts to get Senator Zell Miller (D-GA) to move across the aisle, thereby thwarting Jeffords switch to Independent and retaining control of the Senate. This gets more bizarre by the minute. Of course, if each side spends all its time working to lure the other party's adherents to its side, the people will still be spared the awful Bush-Cheney agenda still to come.

Whether Bush escaped his handlers today is unknown, but he is either unchastened or just out of it. Arriving at the St. Augustine Parish auditorium in Cleveland today to promote his faith-based initiative, Bush stumbled over the words in a written statement about Jeffords departure from the GOP.

"I respect Senator Jeffords, but respectfully, I couldn't disagree more," Bush said, arguing that his agenda represents "the hopes and dreams of Main Street America" and that his defense policy was "the best hope for peace."

The Washington Post reported that more than 200 demonstrators were on hand, waving signs that read, "No More NAFTAs," chanting "Hail to the Thief" and singing, "We Shall Overcome."

The Post also reported that Senator John McCain issued a scathing attack on his fellow Republicans who drove Jeffords to leave the party : "Perhaps those self-appointed enforcers of party loyalty will learn to respect honorable differences among us, learn to disagree without resorting to personal threats, and recognize that we are a party large enough to accommodate something short of strict unanimity on the issues of the day. Tolerance of dissent is the hallmark of a mature party, and it is well past time for the Republican Party to grow up."

The Republicans would be wise to heed McCain's words, lest they drive him from the party, too.

As Bob Jewett wrote in a letter to James Higdon that we published yesterday,
Bush-Cheney and the congressional Republicans have engaged us in a "Cold Civil War"
and if we lose, the punishment is "corporate feudalism."

While this is a day for some rejoicing among Democrats, it is now up to all people of good will to make sure this gift—this unintended consequence—Jim Jeffords has bestowed upon is put to good use. If it isn't, we'll end up with "corporate feudalism" coupled with the extremist Christian version of the Taliban.

Playing dominoes — for keeps


May 24, 2001

In Congress, a fevered quest for the next defector

When I was a kid in small-town Texas, the old men would haul their beer guts up to tables at the ice house, slam down Lone Stars and play dominos. The action was fast, the competition fierce. I can still hear that clack-clacking sound as one old timer after another slapped his dominos on the hard metal table on those steamy summer nights. Not many folks play dominos in Washington — and they’re sure not playing them in the cloakroom of the United States Senate. And yet the talk there these days is of nothing but dominos.

BUT THIS TIME they’re asking which domino will fall next as, six months after the election, control of the government of the United States remains up for grabs. Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords has decided to bolt the GOP and tip the balance of power to the Democrats.

This is the first time in American history that a party switch in the middle of a congressional session flipped control of the Senate.

But dominos seldom fall alone. So who (if anyone) will be next?


The Bushies are fervently courting maverick Democrat Zell Miller. But Zell won’t switch and the reason is simple : He’s a man of his word. Of all the politicians I’ve worked for in my life, I became personally closer to Zell than any of the rest. When he gives his word, he keeps it. He gave George W. Bush his word that he’d do everything he could to pass his God-awful tax cut for the rich, and Zell has kept his word so effectively, so doggedly, that he’s made me and many of his other Democratic friends half-crazy. But in Miller’s eyes his Democratic buddies needn’t be upset; he’s only keeping his word.

So when Zell Miller gives his word that he’s going to remain a Democrat, book it. The same bull-headed commitment to keeping his word that so pleases Bush on the tax cut will vex him sorely if he tries to push or pull Miller into the GOP.

There are precious few other likely targets for the Bushies. Louisiana Senator John Breaux is an inveterate bipartisan deal-cutter, but he’s no switcher. Other conservatives — like Nebraska’s Ben Nelson and Florida’s Bill Nelson — have proven they can win in states where national Democrats often struggle. The White House would be wasting its breath going after them.

Some Republicans are salivating over the prospect that the ethics controversy surrounding New Jersey Democrat Robert Torricelli could drive him from the Senate, allowing the Republican acting governor to appoint his replacement. Fat chance. The Torch certainly has his problems, but my vast experience watching Ken Starr and his band of merry men taught me that when prosecutors have a case, they go to court; when they don’t, they go to the press. The fact that the investigators are leaking to the press suggests their case itself is pretty leaky. So count on Torricelli to stay put.


Whatever other chemicals he may have experimented with as a youth, Bush is prone to overdosing on an equally dangerous drug : testosterone.

The Republicans, on the other hand, have to be worried that Jeffords could be the first of several defections. First, if the 98-year-old Strom Thurmond ever does decide to retire, or if the Good Lord ever decides to call him to that great cloakroom in the sky, the Democratic governor of South Carolina would almost certainly replace him with a Democrat. Then there’s Lincoln Chafee, the son of the legendary Sen. John Chafee, who is proving to be every bit as tough and independent as his war-hero father. Chafee has left himself plenty of wiggle-room to jump ship if the macho men of the Bush White House try to push him around.

It is entirely possible that even before the next election the Democratic Party will control the Senate by two or three votes — hardly a comfortable margin, but a majority nonetheless. For this to happen will require two things : a remarkably deft touch on the part of newly-minted Majority Leader Tom Daschle, and a remarkably heavy hand from the Bushies.

So far we’ve had both. Daschle has proven himself to be the most patient and effective cat-herder since the days of George Mitchell and Bob Dole — two Senate leaders who knew how to run the place, unlike the famously fastidious but way-too-anal Trent Lott. In his new role, expect Daschle to handle mavericks like Miller with patience and respect, and potential converts like Chafee with warmth, good humor, and the promise of killer committee assignments.

But the Bushies have to do their part too.

So far they’ve proved that, whatever other chemicals he may have experimented with as a youth, Bush is prone to overdosing on an equally dangerous drug : testosterone. They carry themselves with a swagger that ill-befits a team that couldn’t get more votes than Al Gore. They have put their party — especially the moderates who gave them the majority — through a Bataan Death March of right-wing issues : cutting taxes for the rich while cutting health care for poor children; quintupling the acceptable level of arsenic in the drinking water; taking their energy policy from Big Oil — lock, stock and 55-gallon barrel, and trying to populate the Justice Department and the federal judiciary with a crew of right-wing knuckle-draggers that looks like a group portrait of the evolutionary chart (if you stopped it at Cro Magnon.)


So keep slapping those right-wing dominos on the table, Bush boys.

Keep driving the moderates, the suburbanites, the women, the minorities and the enviros into the arms of the Democrats.

Those moves may have worked with the distinguished state rep from Muleshoe, Texas - but they’re losers here. Big time.

Political analyst Paul Begala is a regular contributor to MSNBC.com.
He is currently writing a book on political strategy with James Carville.

Begala shoots the Bull

One Down, Three to Go


May 24, 2001

Jim Jeffords isn't the only Republican who should switch parties. Nicholas Thompson is an editor of the Washington Monthly.

Jim Jeffords' decision to leave the Republican Party and tip the Senate to Democrats certainly puts a hitch in President Bush's legislative and judicial plans. But here's something that could be more painful for the GOP and pleasurable for everyone who wants centrist governance :

What if Jeffords persuaded his three fellow moderate Republicans from the Northeast—Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine—to go along?

It's not as unlikely as it may sound; after all, the new administration has been hard on middle-of-the-road Republicans. When Collins and Snowe proposed to make Bush's tax cut dependent on the actual existence of projected surpluses, they were steamrolled by their colleagues and the president. Chafee's legislation reforming the environmental regulations known as brownfields laws passed the Senate 99-0. His reward? Trent Lott suggested that he might not be allowed to negotiate if the bill went to a House and Senate conference. Jeffords chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, and Welfare, but Bush has routed important legislation through Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. At one hearing this winter on early childhood learning called by Jeffords, not a single other Republican bothered to show up.

Of course, it wasn't supposed to be this way. In December, everyone thought that a 50-50 Senate would be a boon for moderates of both parties, who would finally redesign Social Security, rein in the administration's tax cut, and soften its environmental policies. But that's not how it worked out. Centrist Democrats like Louisiana's John Breaux did gain influence, but Bush gave the moderate Republicans a bucket of cold fish. (For more about why centrist Republicans haven't been more influential, read my article in the May issue of Washington Monthly.)

By becoming independents, the Northeasterners will be able to avoid Democratic partisanship, and if the Republican Party swings back toward the middle, they can always switch back. If the party remains the same, the four will have their own miniature Bull Moose Party, with far more influence than they wield as backbenchers now.

With 50 Democrats, 46 Republicans, and four independents, partisanship would be impossible. The Democrats would need the mod squad for everything; if the four voted with their old party, Dick Cheney would have the 51st vote. The Republican leadership could obviously no longer ignore them, and convincing four Democrats to cross the aisle requires vastly more compromise than convincing one.

More important, if the mod squad wants to strike a blow for moderation, defecting might be the best way to do it. For one thing, it would remind Bush that he won with less than a plurality of the vote. (And he lost Maine, Rhode Island, and Vermont along the way—a good sign for the moderates' re-election chances if they switch.) But the lesson also would not be lost on Democrats, and Tom Daschle would presumably keep his partisan instincts in line too.

All three New Englanders deny that they are considering becoming independents, and maybe they won't. Collins and Snowe are close to the president and have even been christened with nicknames ("Sweet Suzy" and "The Big O"). Chafee's more likely to go, but his father was a longtime Republican senator who always believed in changing the party from the inside.

But there is some grumbling. When I asked an aide to one of the moderates what the Republicans could have said to dissuade Jeffords, he replied: "What, 'We're going to be nice to you now'? How could he believe that after the last four years? Would he have to get it in writing? ... Will the party now become more exclusive or more inclusive? We're all waiting with bated breath."

Will the Jeffords defection lead to a Thousand Points of Light?
Buzz Flash


May 28, 2001

Jim Jeffords represents a state that has a population of 600,000.
Al Gore won the election by 600,000 votes.
It is a small bit of poetic irony and it provides some consolation.

The fog might be lifting. The weird dysfunction in the white house has been noticed and it has yielded a result. An actual thinking human-being responded to what is happening in Washington and consequently to America.

Jeffords had assigned his personal beliefs to the heading of Republican and he began to notice that this was a confounding mismatch. The Republican party has burdened and endangered the country by nominating and installing a misguided, unworthy and owned chief executive. Whether they can afford to admit it or not most attentive people know that. Most of them will make no adjustment to this dilemma. Jeffords, like a healthy child, did make an adjustment. He was not going to believe one thing and call himself something else - he was not going to give undeserved loyalty to a man who is not loyal to the American people.

Jeffords does not want to make it easy for Bush and at the same time Jeffords has not made it easy for himself. At 67 he doesn't seem to be trying to make his career. As other Republican senators and operatives morph into enablers, Jeffords was faced with a clear choice: make a major change at an age when most people are looking to simply refine their present reality, or just shut down that part of your soul that says it all matters. He made a choice that has thrilled, enraged and inspired.

Everyone is excited by Jeffords' action because it has come from an impulse that citizens both admire and envy - and resent. We recognize that impulse percolating just under the surface of the collective American consciousness. Unspectacular Jim Jeffords - an average speaker - with the countenance of a farmer - engaged this impulse and he is now a rock star.

Jeffords is the boy in the fable of the emperor's new clothes. One commentator asked, how did he escape Bush's charm? (The question, of course, implies that Bush's charm is captivating and the implication alone escapes me completely.) Jeffords did not feel loyal to the supposed Republican movement. He was not overwhelmed by the imaginary mandate that the Bush white house insulates itself with. He was not consoled by Ari Fleischer's monotone or by Cheney's lethal sub-sonic sensibleness. He had an inner voice and he gave it authority.

The best thing for America is for Bush to be banished. He should resign - or be impeached. The illegal and corrupt circumstances surounding his installation should be exposed which would not only restore faith in our country but in our journalisitic standards as well. Jeffords' move is the beginning - this is the initial crack. He set an example - he created a crack - and the resulting shaft of light, if enough citizens follow his example, could very well grow into - dare we say it - a thousand shafts of light.

Q and A : What the Senate switch means

May 24, 2001

As Senator Jim Jeffords abandons the Republican Party, US affairs analyst Ben Wright explains the consequences of the move.

What is the impact of Senator Jeffords' defection?
Until Thursday, the Senate had been split 50:50, with Vice-President Dick Cheney, a Republican, casting the deciding vote.

The defection means that the Democrats have now taken control for the first time since 1994.

Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader, will replace Republican Trent Lott as the Senate's main power broker. The Democrats will also take over the chairmanship of key Senate committees, which decide the timetable of legislation.

It also represents a huge psychological boost for the Democrats, many of whom believe they were the real victors in last year's election.

The promise of a bi-partisan administration has not materialised and, excluded from both the Senate and the White House, even senior Democrats have been feeling left out.

Now they have a new lease of life to push policies on tax relief, education and the minimum wage, ahead of mid-term elections in 2002.

How powerful will the Democrats be?
As the majority party, the Democrats will take over the chairmanship of each Senate committee. The chairman is responsible for running committee business, deciding what is to be discussed, when and for how long.

Some committees have a monitoring role while others have legislative powers.

It is in these powerful standing committees - including those responsible for the budget, education, the judiciary and the armed services - that Democratic control will have most impact.

Also, while technically equal, membership of the Senate is more prestigious than that of the House.

There are fewer members, just 100, and they serve a longer six-year term.

Cross-party co-operation is much more important in the Senate than it is in the House because to cut off a debate and force a vote one side needs 60 votes, more than a simple majority.

So while Senator Jeffords' defection is significant there is still plenty of room for horse-trading and compromise on the Senate floor.

Which policies could be affected?
The Democrats have been notably cool on some of President Bush's proposals.

The most controversial would have had a difficult ride in Congress anyway, but now their prospects look much, much worse :

How much of an obstacle is this to President Bush?
It is a significant hindrance. In addition to controlling Senate business, the Democrats will have a much greater say in the choice of nominees for key diplomatic and political posts, including the Supreme Court.

President Bush is under pressure to appoint conservative right-wingers as members of the Court retire, but this could force him to opt for more moderate candidates rather than risk deadlock in the approval of new appointments ...

Has this happened before?
Senator Jeffords' defection is the 16th such move in 20 years, but all but one have been from the Democrats to the Republicans.

The parties will be targeting a number of waverers on either side :

Why has he done it?
Senator Jeffords, a 67-year-old former lawyer and navy veteran, is known as a moderate: He was called "Clinton's favourite Republican" because of the number of times he voted with the Democrats.

One view is that he is exacting revenge on the White House which, after he voted against the Administration on tax cuts, did not invite him to a special ceremony last month to honour the "teacher of the year".

That, in spite of the fact that Senator Jeffords is chairman of the education committee and the teacher is a Vermonter.

But he is understood to have been considering the move for months.

It matches the political profile of traditionally-liberal Vermont - a tiny state which has found itself suddenly one of the most powerful in the Union.

Once the heartland of Yankee Republicanism it is now more famous as the home of Ben and Jerry's ice cream.

The majority of Vermonters are registered independents and the state already has an independent member of Congress. It is also where Green Party hopeful Ralph Nader notched up his highest score in last year's presidential race.

Senator Jeffords is not due for re-election until 2006 and, by that time, he may have had enough of the hurly burly of Washington, preferring to swap Capitol Hill for the ski slopes of his home state.

President Misread the Political Map


May 25, 2001

THE JIG is up.

For 124 days, George W. Bush has governed as if the map gave him a mandate.

Yesterday, the electoral map sprang to life and slapped him across the face.

Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords' defection from Republican ranks to become an independent and throw control of the Senate to Democrats is a surprise only in its speed and in the sleepiness of a White House and Republican leadership that did not see it coming. The roots of the turnabout are long and slow-growing.

And they are deep.

As Jeffords said, they lie in the rightward march of the national Republican Party. It has gone from being a club of elites proud of their temperate political taste and social conscience to the redoubt of conservatives for whom temperance and tolerance are sins against the cause.

The party's power is in the South and the mountain West. The red states on the map of the endless election night are the soil from which the Bush presidency sprang. The blue Gore states-in the North and along the coasts-are where Bush lost. Not so long ago, his father won them handily.

This has not weighed on the mind of the son.

The son sees the red and thinks land mass means mandate. He sees a one-lane road that turns hard and sharp to the right.

He does not wonder why some of the most populous states are in blue. Or why the Senate wound up divided 50-50 in the first place-it was, after all, because five Republican incumbents were defeated.

Bush does not ponder why that other candidate for president got half a million more votes than he did. Nor does it occur to him that Al Gore and Ralph Nader, the two left-of-center candidates, together won a clear majority of the vote in November.

To the Bush White House, this is the whine of losers.
Now the roar of the Jeffords defection seems to fall on deaf ears.

The president managed to lose his party's shaky hold on the Senate without a death or election. But he turned aside Jeffords' lament about the burdens of conservative orthodoxy on moderates.

"I couldn't disagree more," said Bush.

Jeffords said he might have stayed in the fold if the Democrats had kept the White House and Republican moderates like himself had maintained their ability to "argue and influence and ultimately to shape the party's agenda." Alas, Jeffords said, "The election of President Bush changed that dramatically." The candidate who promised voters a big tent tied shut the flaps once he became president.

"Looking ahead, I can see more and more instances where I will disagree with the president on very fundamental issues," Jeffords said. "Issues of choice, the direction of the judiciary, tax and spending decisions, missile defense, energy and the environment." The whole enchilada is indigestible.

If there is trouble for Bush deeper than the loss of the Senate, it lies in Jeffords' nationally televised unmasking of the Bush bait-and-switch.

He'd hoped and believed "at the time" that Bush's campaign rhetoric about education was real, the senator said. Then reality bit, in a proposal that leaves plenty of children behind. "New direction without funding is really no useful direction at all," Jeffords said.

Of course, the dream of packing the courts with Scalia clones is dashed.

And surely this tax bill will likely be Bush's last. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) is most unlikely to allow the attachment of big-business tax breaks to his measure to raise the minimum wage, as Republican leaders and lobbyists had planned.

But the echo of campaign rhetoric is more likely to haunt. During the campaign, Bush wooed moderates with pledges for an HMO bill of rights, "common sense" gun-safety measures - even environmental progress. The Democrats are eager to oblige. They will send to the Oval Office measures that have garnered the requisite bipartisan approval. Then we will see if Bush understands this word "bipartisan" he uses so frequently, or merely reads it from a poll-tested page.

The test will determine whether Bush can find the center, or careens off, lost without a good map.

Abe Lincoln would be proud
Montreal Gazette

J.M. Wolowitz, Saint-Donat

May 30, 2001

Letter to the Editor

The abandonment of the Republican Party by Senator Jim Jeffords is one of the best pieces of political news in a long time. I like to think Vermonters are a little bit like Canadians, and probably couldn't stomach the reactionary policies of George W. Bush.

It's wonderful to think of all the antacids consumed by the likes of Dick Cheney, who clearly alienated this senator whom he thought was small potatoes.

People unaware of American history should recall that the Republican Party was Lincoln's party, at a time when the Democrats still advocated the rights of slave owners. Now, the Republicans are much more likely to own slaves, at least in a metaphorical sense, and care nothing for the poor, minorities and Alaskan caribou.

Senator Jeffords struck blows in favour of a woman's right to choose, in favour of the beleaguered environment and against the callousness and elitism of a party that has seen more than its share of corruption.

Canadians can breathe a sigh of relief that the senator from Vermont has voted his conscience, and abandoned the party that has abandoned the principles of its greatest leader. Honest Abe would be proud - but also dismayed that there are so few decent Republicans left in his once-great nation.

China, Jeffords and Geiger-Muller
Online Journal


May 30, 2001

Chinese President Jiang Zemin recently called George W. Bush
"logically unsound, confused, unprincipled, unwise to the extreme," and we all heard about it.
Most people in the world would agree with Jiang's assessment.

It is a shame, a fantastic irony, that such an apt description comes from Communist China rather than the so-called free press of our own country. When our forefathers debated the principles of the democracy, which they put solidly in place for us, they often proclaimed their belief in the reasoning ability of the citizenry. Now we have a leader in place whose reasoning can be called into question by just about anyone, without challenge. Our democracy has been degraded by the appointment of Bush to the presidency to the point that hardly a rustle of nationalistic defense can be roused by the verbal attack from the Chinese president.

I am an American living abroad and I know very well the contempt of the world regarding our present state of democracy in the United States.

The Bushies, the minority, say that we were ousted from the UN Human Rights committee because Bush stood up against the Chinese. Nonsense.

Somehow the Bushies still think we have the right to parade our "pure" democracy and our historically "excellent" human rights record across the world's stage and reap benefits from a legacy that is no longer true. The good news is that the outside world knows that the majority of Americans are not falling into line behind the faux president. The world understands that most Americans want to preserve our Earth and are embarrassed by the antics and actions of Bush and the other plutocrats.

It was an exciting moment when Senator Jeffords became a hero to the world by defecting to the principled side. What a joy we felt that maybe democracy might work and that the will of the people might be allowed to triumph after all.

There was exuberance everywhere here in Europe that this one man's courageous move can tip the balance back towards decency and caring. The ripple and/or domino effects were being talked about.

My son, the physics major, said, "This is not ripple or domino. This is Geiger-Muller. You need something that can measure an avalanche."

I probed and learned that the Geiger-Muller tube is the core of a Geiger counter and measures the rate of decay of a radioactive substance. In simplified terms, alpha, beta or gamma particles go into the tube, which holds a low-pressure gas, and each radioactive particle bombards one of the gas particles, resulting in a charged ion. This charged ion moves in the direction of the electric field inside the tube, hits another one, two or three ionized particles, each of which might hit three more and an electron avalanche is produced.

I think my son is absolutely right. The measurement of the forthcoming and desperately needed political correction in America requires more sophistication than counting ripples or toppling dominoes. We need something like the Geiger-Muller to monitor what is going to happen. My son objected to my use of a scientific term to apply as a metaphor to our current political situation. He asserts that it is not fair to science to use its purity and cleanliness in describing the sloppy and corrupt politics that gave us Election 2000 and its disastrous consequences. He has a valid point, but I counter that we need some purity infused back into our system. We need some reason and integrity and validity.

The contempt of the world is a heavy burden, if the person bearing the brunt is a decent sort.

I predict that Colin Powell will be one of the first big ones from the core to ionize and defect. He must feel silly when he has to scold Mugabwe for not entrusting his country to democratic processes. I had to laugh when I read Secretary Powell's assertion before the Summit of the Americas in Montreal that it was a gathering of 34 "democratically elected heads of state." The truth, as everyone knows, and I feel certain Colin Powell knows, is that it was 33 democratically elected heads of state and George W. Bush.

More senators and representatives will cross the aisle. The citizenry will oust the ones that do not. Another sort of press will have to emerge. The oiligarchy will fall towards the end of the collapse, about the same time Rasputin Hughes exits. Until that time they will look funny standing there, uncharged and uncounted by the Geiger-Muller. They will topple without the charge. Our forefathers entrusted us to take care of our democracy and we will.

The Jeffords affair

Arianna Huffington

May 31, 2001

Had President Bush and Karl Rove heeded the final lesson of the Atwater School of Hardball Politics, Jeffords might still be a Republican.

Lee Atwater must be spinning in his grave.

Judging by their bungling of the Jeffords affair, the two most powerful graduates of the Atwater School of Hardball Politics, President Bush and his advisor Karl Rove (Class of '88), have regrettably and dramatically missed the final -- and most important -- lesson of their teacher's life.

Atwater was only 40 when he renounced the politics of viciousness. Wracked with brain cancer, the former happy hatchet man who sliced and diced Michael Dukakis, famously vowing to "make Willie Horton his running mate," came to see the error of his ugly ways.

Rove and Bush studied their mentor's life but skipped the last chapter. Atwater's hard-earned insights were lost on them.

"My illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what was missing in me : a little heart, a lot of brotherhood," Atwater wrote. "It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with that truth, but it is a truth that the country, caught up in its ruthless ambitions and moral decay, can learn on my dime." Or not.

It took terminal cancer to put Atwater in touch with his humanity. What will it take before Rove learns to bury the hatchet someplace other than right between the eyes of his adversaries?

Jeffords, of course, was worse than an enemy. He was a traitor. And Rove and the rest of the Bush loyalists feel about a traitor the way Cicero did: "He infects the body politic so it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to be feared. The traitor is the plague." The problem is, the Bush definition of a traitor is anyone with an "R" after his name who has the temerity to disagree.

And the vindictiveness is compounded by pettiness. Take it from someone who knows. Ever since I joined the ranks of "recovering Republicans," I've often found myself on the receiving end of this charmless, small-minded fury.

The most amusing example was the time I asked a Bush buddy -- and one of the original "Pioneers" -- to help me land a decent hotel room during last summer's Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. "No problem," he answered graciously. "Anything you want."

Well, as it turns out, not quite anything. A month later, I was still roomless, and he had to come clean. "Austin will no longer let me do anything for you," he told me sheepishly. My first thought was, Why would a perpetually horny fictional spy care about my room search? Then I realized that he meant Austin, Texas, not Austin Powers.

Wow, I thought then, and have been thinking ever since, Is nothing too trivial for the Bush revenge machine? Are they never once going to consider taking the high road, assuming they could ever find it? Apparently not.

W. and Rove are still following the early teachings of Atwater and not the later lessons that superseded them. "Like a good general," Atwater admitted at the end, "I had treated everyone who wasn't with me as against me."

The repentant Atwater, with his newfound understanding and wisdom, would never have treated Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt., the way Rove and the White House did. Phone calls not returned, invitations not offered, input conspicuously ignored -- this was all old-school stuff.

So while Bush had plenty of time to chat up Teddy Kennedy on the education bill, he had no time to call Jeffords, who after all was only the chairman of the education committee. Kennedy was invited to the Bush family quarters for hot dogs and a movie; Jeffords was frozen out.

The president -- clearly easily impressed -- has nicknamed Rove the "Boy Genius," but it doesn't take a Mensa member to realize that in a 50-50 Senate, the last thing you should be doing is humiliating one of your own.

But Rove's style, first and always, is to go for the jugular. "You don't cross Karl Rove and not expect repercussions," says a former opponent from the Texas days.

Even after the bloodletting of the self-inflicted Jeffords wound, Rove could not resist a cheap insult.

"You have to respect somebody who does something out of principle," Rove said last week, parroting the administration's spin. But with practically his next breath, he gleefully suggested that Jeffords' decision was linked to "committee chairs and deals and bargains and pledges."

Rove is so petty, he can't even stick to his own talking points.

How low is he willing to go?

Ask Vermont's National Teacher of the Year, who found her moment of glory being used like a rolled-up newspaper wielded by the owner of a disobedient dog -- in this case, a pooch named "Jeffords."

Like a crazed Barbara Woodhouse, Rove is struggling to keep his GOP hounds on a short leash. Now that Jeffords has refused to sit up and beg, the big dog to watch is John McCain, who already has knife wounds up and down his back from his dealings with Rove. Many date from the South Carolina primary and the Rove-fueled whispering campaign that, among other poisonous rumors, raised doubts about McCain's mental stability because of the torture he endured in Vietnam.

Rove, incidentally, has never talked to anybody on McCain's staff. Not once. So the tone of McCain's response to Jeffords' defection was hardly surprising -- and a barely veiled castigation of Rove. "Perhaps those self-appointed enforcers of party loyalty," he said, "will learn to respect honorable differences among us, learn to disagree without resorting to personal threats, and recognize that we are a party large enough to accommodate something short of strict unanimity on the issues of the day."

The dying Atwater would heartily agree. Too bad his star students dropped out before learning this vital parting lesson.

pearly gates