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Meet The Political David To Hillary Clinton’s Goliath

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Lincoln Chafee

Lincoln Chafee

Is Hillary Clinton supporting policies that are un-American?  So says her potential rival for the Democratic nomination, former Rhode Island governor (and United States Senator) Lincoln Chafee, in an exclusive interview today reported here.

Gov. Chafee has a credible claim to become the most potent threat to upset Mrs. Clinton’s nomination by the Democratic Party. Why does Lincoln Chafee present such a politically mortal threat to Mrs. Clinton (and, potentially, a serious contender for his party’s nomination)?

The preternaturally perceptive Michael Tomasky, writing in The Daily Beast observed: “The issue, as I wrote two weeks ago in urging Hillary Clinton to go big, is wage stagnation.” Yes.  And yet, latently, there is one potentially even bigger issue. Peace trumps prosperity.

Lincoln Chafee is intent on pushing the peace issue from latent to patent. He does so with exceptional authority.

Lincoln Chafee is the most credible peace candidate in the Democratic field. And the disproportionately influential Progressive base of the Democratic Party is deeply committed to restoring America to a peacetime footing, a status which it has not, quite, yet secured.

As I elsewhere have written, in a column entitled Peace has tusks, “Will a substantial challenger within the Democratic Party arise to Secretary Clinton?  Nobody thought Barack Obama was viable. Yet, such is the popular yearning for peace, Obama won, and won, and won again. Will some ambitious candidate play the role, against Madam Clinton, that Sen. Eugene McCarthy played to undermine the hawkish President Lyndon Johnson, on an anti-war platform?  It is a virtual certainty.” Peace, the invisible elephant in the room of the presidential race, has tusks.

Thus I sought an opportunity to interview Gov. Chafee. His statements, on April 28th, were bold, staunch, and unequivocal. Here is what Gov. Chafee forthrightly said to me:

Peace is the basis of my exploratory campaign.  Where we are going in the world?  Some of the issues that came in with the authorization after Sept 11 — torture, warrantless wiretapping, extrajudicial assassination with drones — are very dubious initiatives.

I think we should be taking a closer look at, do they help or hurt us in the long term. The drone strikes now are in the news because of the deaths of an American and an Italian. Yet I had questioned them right from the beginning.

They might bring short-term gain. But the opposition from the countries in which we undertake these — many say it provoked the revolt in Yemen, the anger of the Pakistani people — are potentially destabilizing.

I think we should be having these conversations as the Democratic Party.  Sen. Clinton defends the drone strikes in her book, in the chapter on Pakistan, I think she underestimated how important this is to the Pakistani people and all throughout the Muslim world.

Warrantless wiretapping is another one.  These all came about from one 8 by 10 sheet authorization that I was there for after September 11, which granted the president certain powers, which is the legal justification for all these un-American activities.  Wiretapping, torture, extrajudicial assassination.

Wiretapping, torture, extrajudicial assassination… un-American? Strong words indeed.

Moreover, Gov. Chafee has unrivaled moral authority to utter them. Chafee, then a Republican, was the sole member of the U.S. Senate Republican caucus to vote against the use of force in Iraq. Senator Hillary Clinton voted in favor.

Sen. Chafee later became an Independent and was elected, as such, governor of Rhode Island. In 2013, he registered as a Democrat. Ronald Reagan made a successful transition from Democrat to Republican (as, full disclosure, I did, appalled by Jimmy Carter and inspired by Reagan). And another Lincoln — Abraham — transitioned from Whig to Republican. Changing one’s affiliation to the party better reflecting one’s values does not impair one’s viability as a potential nominee.

One critic at the Huffington Post has called Chafee “a strange bird as a pol, awkward and odd.” While she is not alone I myself find it charming that he, rather than immediately following in his father Sen. John Chafee’s political footsteps, spent the first seven years of his life after college as a farrier, shoeing racehorses.   That, however, fits neatly within the observation of the late, great, Peter Drucker, in The Effective Executive:

Among the effective executives I have known and worked with, there are extroverts and aloof retiring men, some even morbidly shy.  Some are eccentrics, others painfully correct conformists.  Some are fat and some are lean. Some are worriers, some are relaxed. Some drink quite heavily, others are total abstainers.

What all these effective executives have in common is the practices that make effective whatever they have and whatever they are.

And as the description at Google Books of The Effective Executive closes the loop: “The measure of the executive… is the ability to ‘get the right things done’. Usually this involves doing what other people have overlooked….” Lincoln Chafee did the right thing when peace was unpopular, when many others, including Sen. Clinton, overlooked it.

As Matt Bai in a 2003 New York Times Magazine profile of Chafee, Party of One wrote: “He was the only G.O.P. senator to vote against the October resolution authorizing Bush to use force in Iraq, and he has continued to voice his disdain, even as the rest of the party — along with many Democrats — has rallied to the president’s side.” Took guts. Chafee, vocally, is championing peace again.

The Progressive base of the Democratic Party, almost and maybe entirely unanimously, is opposed to Mrs. Clinton’s nomination. Progressives are enamored with Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Yet as The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza observes in its May 4 issue, The Virtual Candidate: “Warren feels that she can accomplish more from the sidelines.” He quotes Rep. Barney Frank as observing: “Right now, she’s as powerful a spokesperson on public policy as you could be in the minority. … She has an absolute veto over certain public-policy issues, because Democrats are not going to cross her. And if she were to even hint at being a candidate that would be over.”

So… let the games begin. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders has declared his candidacy — to prompt praise from … Elizabeth Warren. While touching the peace base, Sanders featured, according to CNN, “economic inequality, climate change and the Citizens United Supreme Court decision….” It is nifty to see a self-described socialist enter the race. And while a dove Sen. Sanders did not so prominently feature the lurking issue of winning the peace.

Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley is out there campaigning hard to some note if not yet much effect. As President Obama needled him at the White House Correspondents Dinner recently, “Martin O’Malley kicked things off by going completely unrecognized at a Martin O’Malley campaign event.” O’Malley has charm and tenacity and checks most of the right Progressive boxes.  And, charmingly, in his own words, on guitar he is “a strummer, I’m a three-chord wonder.” Whether or not the recent troubles in Baltimore, where he served as mayor from 1999 – 2007, seriously undermines, as implied by NPR, his nascent presidential campaign remains to be seen.

That said, the issue that most attracted the Progressives, en masse, to Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton — and the general electorate’s sending him on to victory over the hawkish GOP nominees of 2008 and 2012 — was Obama’s clear commitment to bringing home the troops and restoring America to a peacetime footing. Perhaps Obama’s having honored this pledge defuses peace as a central issue. Yet, as the status of peace remains provisional, perhaps it is not so defused as all that.

If Chafee, as expected, ignites a peace-driven presidential campaign, and if it attracts the attention … and devotion … of MoveOn Civic Action and other potent Progressive groups, Gov. Chafee could knock over Mrs. Clinton’s palanquin. Chafee has a pretty impeccable across-the-board Progressive record and high moral authority as a champion of peace and Constitutional rights such as freedom from warrantless wiretapping.

Peace is a smooth stone. Lincoln Chafee, slingshot in hand, easily could prove a, and perhaps the, candidate to play David to Clinton’s Goliath. Will Chafee merely prove the Eugene McCarthy of this cycle, driving out the hawkish dominant figure only to be eclipsed by someone like former Virginia Governor (now U.S. Senator) Mark Warner or even the Progressive’s doyenne, Sen. Warren? Or … would Chafee prove capable of then credibly tackling equitable prosperity: “the” issue, wage stagnation? If so Chafee could shock the Keepers of the Conventional Wisdom and find himself the Democratic nominee.

Originating at Forbes.com.

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