Governor Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 P’17 spoke of his gradual transition from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party, his time in office and the importance of young people’s voices in politics to an audience of about 50 students in a lecture co-hosted by the Brown Democrats and Providence College Democrats Thursday night in Wilson 102.
Chafee began his talk by citing the power of youth to effect change in politics, highlighting what he described as the instrumental role of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement in creating awareness about growing income disparity and the downfall of the middle class. He also applauded young Americans’ strong support for President Obama during his election campaigns.
When asked where he would advise students to channel their efforts to create positive change in government, Chafee stressed the detriments of the growing influence of the Tea Party.
“Go to some high profile Tea Party people that are giving Obama a headache and give them a scare,” Chafee responded.
In light of the recent federal government shutdown, Chafee said, “the young can show these Tea Party people that the beast is good” and potentially “start to change.” “The ballot box is the best place to express your disillusionment,” he said.
Chafee spoke at length about his shift across the political spectrum. He began his career in politics as a Republican city council member in Warwick, R.I., in 1986, became mayor of Warwick in 1992 and following the death of his father in 1999, replaced him as a Republican U.S. senator. Chafee became an Independent in 2007, and in May 2013 he announced his decision to join the Democratic Party.
Chafee attributed his switch from red to blue to his disappointment with Republicans’ growing focus on social issues and their various “fiscal blunders.”
During his term as senator, Chafee said he witnessed the gradual decline of the Clinton era surplus and the beginning of a period of significant growth in public debt.
He cited the root source of the 2008 financial crisis as the accumulation of government debt starting in the early 2000s, which Chafee said was begun by the $1.35 trillion tax cuts enacted under President Bush, spending from the Iraq War and the $400 billion Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act. Chafee also argued that the Bush-era tax cuts “lead to the great disparity of wealth since they favor the wealthy.”
Chafee expressed his discontent with what he described as misguided views on social issues held by Republicans — and the excess attention he said the Republican Party gives to issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.
After graduating from Brown in 1975, Chafee said he went on to study horseshoeing at Montana State University and then worked as a farrier for seven years. He encouraged Brown students to embrace their years of youth in this way, citing author James Michener’s phrase, “go waste, young man.”
“I’ve always respected Governor Chafee for standing with his conscience on important issues,” said John Perilli ’15, who helped organized the event and serves as communications director for the Brown Democrats. “I’m glad now to have him as a Democratic political ally.”