William F. Buckley
You need only know Jim Jeffords to trust his motives, I've heard it said (three times) in 24 hours. This gives a little advantage to those who don't know Jim Jeffords, because some of us do not trust his motives.

If he is trying to cast himself as an Emersonian individualist, he fails. "Jeffords, and Fellow Vermonters, Emphasize Tradition" was one headline. Individualists care naught for tradition; they care for their conscience. Most of us believe in the supremacy of conscience, but the question before the house, if inquiring about the purity of Mr. Jeffords' motives, is: What was it that triggered this geological shift in conscience?

In his statement on Thursday he reported that he had "serious, substantive reservations about the budget" and that he anticipated disagreeing with the president on "very fundamental issues -- the issues of choice, the direction of the judiciary, tax and spending decisions, missile defense, energy and the environment and --" And ? And what on earth else? Whippoorwills? "And a host of other issues, large and small."

Anyone who has served as a Republican congressman and then senator for 27 years has had plenty of time to get the swing of things under the GOP banner. True, under President Clinton, Jeffords voted 75 percent of the time on the Clinton side of divided issues. But that long endurance as a member of the Republican Party would have given him, one assumes, time enough to discover irreconciliable institutional differences some time before May 24, 2001. What was it that so suddenly pushed him over the brink?

His followers tell us that he is not a trivial man. Therefore we must rule out the failure of the White House to invite him to tea when a fellow Vermonter got an award as the catalytic agent of his disaffection. He was reputedly annoyed by his exclusion, but surely big men don't let an annoyance engender a political revolution.

He didn't agree with the budget. But the tax-cut part of the budget was reduced from the $1.6 trillion President Bush campaigned for over a period of six months. That reduction, to $1.35 trillion, was in part the doing of Sen. Jeffords himself, which substantiates that he was having an influence of his own on GOP policy. Why didn't he complain last November that the budget was a sundering difference between him and Bush?

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

Be the first to read William Buckley's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.