Republicans are welcome on National Public Radio – especially if they’re former Republicans who think the Bush-Cheney administration is a reckless disaster. On April 17, NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross interviewed former Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee, who’s now left the GOP and gone independent. He has a new book titled "Against the Tide: How a Compliant Congress Empowered a Reckless President." Chafee wasn’t kidding: he told Gross the Democratic opposition was too weak, and regretted not contesting President Bush’s election in 2000, as the Congressional Black Caucus requested. NPR’s Fresh Air site also reprinted an excerpt from Chafee’s book, as he described his horror at a meeting with Dick Cheney pressing his "clashist" agenda.
But Chafee’s GOP primary opponent in 2006, Cranston mayor Steve Laffey, also wrote a book (published last September) called Primary Mistake, complaining that the national GOP favored the hopelessly liberal Chafee. NPR and Fresh Air didn’t grant him a book interview. The ideology didn’t match as neatly as NPR’s and Chafee’s did. Here’s a part of the interview where Chafee underlines how nobody in Washington stands up to the Bush-Cheney machine:
GROSS: How do you think the Democrats remain entrenched in a political extreme?
CHAFEE: Well, they've been more ineffective in standing up to this radical agenda. And that's my criticism. Even in the--last September there was a vote to declare the Iranian guards as a terrorist organization. Again, to me, just giving the Bush-Cheney administration tickets to commence hostilities against Iran. And that was a huge vote, 70 to 25 or something. The Democrats just can't stand up to this administration. That's what I've seen.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Lincoln Chafee, the former Republican senator from Rhode Island, and he served from 1999 to 2006. He was considered the most liberal Republican in the Senate during his tenure. He's written a new memoir called "Against the Tide: How a Compliant Congress Empowered a Reckless President."
In your book, you refer to when the black congressional caucus just after the contested election of 2000 asked for a senator, any senator to object to the way the results were handled. And no senator was willing to do it. It seems like you're sorry that you didn't do it yourself. Is that right? Like, if you had it to do over again, you would have stood up and contested the election?
CHAFEE: Oh, that was very, very memorable. And since most elections don't involve such razor-thin margins and 5-4 Supreme Court decisions, this was very unique. And as we learned about this arcane electoral college process, one of these constitutional provisions is that one member of the Congress can stand up and ask a senator to object, and that sets in motion a chain of events. Not necessarily changing the election, but at least it sets in motion some chains of events. And the members of the black caucus--we were meeting in the House of Representatives as Vice President Gore counted the electoral ballots, which would lead to his loss--and members of the black caucus were standing up and saying, begging any senator, Republican or Democrat, to object. And I think all of us thought that we've put this behind us, we're going to move. We've got a uniter, not a divider. We've got a humble foreign policy. The candidates had pledged to regulate carbon dioxide so they'll have an environmental program. If we had known that they were going to go back on all these pledges and how radical they'd be, certainly I would have raised my hand and set in motion that chain of constitutional events.
GROSS: Do you feel like Gore set a tone that he didn't want anybody to object?
CHAFEE: Yes. Yes, he had conceded, and he did set that tone. You're absolutely right. As I sat there, he was willing to move on.
GROSS: The last time we spoke a couple of years ago you said that you lost your seat to a Democrat in the Senate, but you were glad that the Democrats had the majority now in the Senate. Do you still stand by that, and how effectively, from your point of view, do you think they use their majority?
CHAFEE: Yes, I do think it was important that there be the proper questions asked. Have I been disappointed that more of these proper questions haven't been asked of the executive branch? Yes, but at least it hasn't been a complete--all the committee chairs being of the same party and no questions being asked. That has changed. And I think that's good for democracy and good for America at this time in our history. After this administration, which no one can deny has been very, very radical in their agenda.
(Photo from Gross's home station, WHYY)