Abraham Jeffords

Posted: Jun 02, 2001 12:00 AM
Listening to the breathless news coverage, you would think Sen. Jim Jeffords' defection from the Republican Party was the greatest patriotic act since the Army Rangers scaled the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc. The Los Angeles Times wrote of this momentous event: "Sen. Jim Jeffords now walks in the footsteps of Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln." ABC's Peter Jennings said: "It's political earthquake time in Washington."

For anyone passingly familiar with Jeffords' record, his defection was about as earth-shattering as Truman Capote coming out of the closet.

Jeffords voted against President Clinton's impeachment. He opposed Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork. He was a big fan of Hillary's socialist health-care plan, which was such an unprecedented federal takeover of private industry that even the Democrats finally blanched. Not Jeffords. Needless to say, he is also pro-abortion.

Jeffords opposed Bush's tax cut -- along with "moderate Democrats," as The New York Times described them. (The "liberal Democrats" must have been the ones calling for deeper cuts.) Indeed, Jeffords opposes all tax cuts. He even opposed Reagan's tax cut.

Jeffords explained his recent exit thus: "Increasingly, I find myself in disagreement with my party." Note "increasingly." He had endured Reagan, but just couldn't take it anymore under Bush.

The "big tent" may accommodate a lot of kooks, but if the Republican Party doesn't stand for tax cuts, there's no tent: The Republican Party is just a random assemblage of people -- tax-cutters, tax-gougers, whatever. The only reason Northeastern liberals like Jeffords call themselves "Republicans" is class snobbery. They disdain Democrats, whom they view as the dirty working class, and think being a Republican should entail nothing more than thrashing the servants.

At least Jeffords was predictable. He was, in fact, as comically predictable as the media's reaction to him. For his utterly typecast positions as a Northeastern tax-and-spend liberal, the entire press corps hailed Jeffords as a "maverick" who "has always played against type," as The New York Times chirped.

In addition to "maverick," references to Jeffords must include the adjective "flinty." The establishment press's admiring use of the word "flinty" in reference to sell-out Northeastern Republicans is as inevitable as the tabloids' use of "luscious" to describe Hollywood starlets.

Despite gleeful claims to the contrary, losing Jeffords is all upside for Republicans. Admittedly, it will be slightly easier for Democrats to bollix things up now that they hold leadership positions. But bollixing things up is never difficult in the Senate. (The Senate prides itself on being the collegial, dignified body -- and the House hopes none of the luscious Hollywood starlets find out there's a difference between the two bodies.) Instead of watching paint dry, waiting for Senate action will now be like watching paint dry on a humid day. Only votes matter in the Senate, and the flinty maverick's votes will continue to be 100 percent liberal.

Moreover, the Senate Republicans' average IQ just skyrocketed. And Republicans can't be blamed for what the Senate does anymore. So why, you might ask, didn't the Republican Party give Jeffords a push long ago? The answer is they did, repeatedly, for two decades now, subtly and sometimes not so subtly.

One of the Republicans' less nuanced methods was to deny Jeffords a committee chairmanship back in the '80s. This is highly unusual: Seniority rules are simply not breached. (These are the collegial guys.) But in Jeffords' case, they were willing to make an exception. Since then, Jeffords has largely been ignored by the party when not being threatened with losing his chairmanship of the "Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee" -- a committee notable for containing not a single matter within Congress' constitutional authority.

Another interesting fact about Jeffords sorely neglected by the media -- already alluded to here -- is that Jeffords is a little D-U-M-M.

While Bush's Yale education is treated like some sort of scam, the media can't cite Jeffords' Yale degree often enough. Except Jeffords was admitted to Yale before the terrorizing reign of the SATs, back when admission to the Ivy Leagues turned on social class rather than standardized tests. The year Jeffords was admitted, 1952, so were two out of every three applicants. If Jeffords is a legacy like Bush -- a point the press has avoided mentioning -- his chances of admission in 1952 were 90 percent.

The vigilant reader will notice only latent references to the D-U-M-M issue in the establishment press. It is often noted, for example, that Jeffords "dislikes cameras and speeches." But his aversion is reported as if it were part of Jeffords' sturdy Yankee rectitude (flinty, you might say) rather than a genetic necessity. If Jeffords were not accorded the respect due all politicians who adopt ADA-approved positions, late-night comics might have finally discovered a dumb Democrat.