Columns

Brown Students for Chafee: Lincoln Chafee — Conscience first

By
Guest Columnist
Friday, April 10, 2015

America’s political landscape received an unexpected shock Thursday with a surprise from former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 P’17. He announced that he had formed an exploratory committee to consider running for the Democratic Party’s 2016 presidential nomination. Though Chafee is relatively unknown on the national stage — we Brown students called him governor for the past four years — his entrance into the race for the White House is a welcome development given his executive and legislative accomplishments. As Brown community members consider options for next year’s campaign, Chafee stands out as a passionate leader who is ready to be president and who presents a compelling departure from past candidates.

Chafee’s first taste of national office came in 1999 when he assumed his father’s seat in the U.S. Senate. Both he and his father were Republicans — between them, elected five times to the Senate — in a state that has long been firmly Democratic. During his tenure, which ended in 2006 with his defeat at the hands of current U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Chafee improved his father’s unparalleled record of dissent within the Republican camp. He cast the sole Republican ballot against the Iraq War authorization resolution, opposed efforts to end the estate tax and worked unilaterally to oppose Arctic drilling proposals, a central battle over our nation’s environmental future.

As a Republican in the U. S. Senate, he supported raising the minimum wage. He voted against the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts as well as the Part D Medicare expansion of prescription drugs. In 2006, he voted to reinstate the Clinton-era tax rate on the very wealthiest Americans. Taken together, these votes and stances on policy represent an effort, unparalleled in our time, to place national interest above party alliances.

Chafee was not only a voice of dissent within the Republican Party but also a national leader on civil rights. As the first Republican senator to support marriage equality, he demonstrated that he was willing to take stands uncomfortable not only to his entire party but to many on the left at the time, including President Obama and 2016 Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. He reaffirmed this early commitment as governor in 2013, pushing both Democrats and Republicans to end marriage discrimination in Rhode Island. It is a testament to his leadership that each of the five Republican senators in the General Assembly supported him.

During his time as governor, he inherited the problems of a state with sagging employment numbers, a national recession and a State House run by corrupt party politics. As an Independent, he sought compromise between those who said the state’s pension crisis must fall entirely on the heads of workers and those who wanted to default on Wall Street.

Unlike in Providence, where negotiations have been plagued by fights and ongoing litigations, at the state level, Chafee led negotiators to reach an early agreement. Through a period of tough fiscal realities, he worked with the Democratic Assembly to promote investment in Rhode Island businesses and neighborhoods while resisting the temptation to demonize the government’s ability to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

Perhaps most importantly, Chafee ensured that the state uphold its obligations to its students. He ensured that the state maintain its funding formula over each of his four budgets. He called for an end to divisive labor battles that pitched teachers against students and was rewarded with four years of relative calm. He also worked to freeze tuition at the state’s public universities. As president, Chafee would prioritize the needs of our students and public schools. Though he has long expressed skepticism over charter schools, he worked with state officials to secure and implement Rhode Island’s $75 million Race to the Top award.

As both a governor and U.S. senator, Chafee exhibited a high degree of independent judgment and moral clarity as a leader, which is sorely lacking in national politics. It takes a certain tenacity to stand up against one’s party, and Chafee embodies that tenacity, as he demonstrated amid a climate of crisis in the post-9/11 debate over whether to authorize President George W. Bush to use military force in Iraq. Chafee’s status as the lone Republican to vote against the 2002 force authorization bill placed him in opposition both to his own party and to many Democratic senators — including Clinton, who at the time was a senator from New York — who went along with Bush’s rush to war.

This courageous act differentiates Chafee. While his party affiliations have changed, Chafee has stayed consistent on issue after issue: fiscal restraint, foreign policy pragmatism and an ethical “good government” approach, as evidenced by the complete lack of scandal surrounding his tenure as governor in a state even today linked with systemic political corruption.   

Many political observers have argued that the resurgent U.S. economy means that Republican presidential aspirants who wish to assail Obama’s legacy in the 2016 election will focus on foreign affairs as their key to winning back the White House. Amid turmoil in the Middle East and unease about America’s strategic position abroad, conservatives will no doubt try making the case that the country needs to adopt a more militant and bellicose posture in the post-Obama era.

We have serious concerns about nominating any Democrat with a record of bending to the winds of popular opinion on the use of military force. As Democrats go to the polls to find a messenger who can counter this dangerous thinking, we can think of no one more capable of pushing back against this saber rattling than Chafee. He would be the most effective defender of President Obama’s foreign policy of pragmatism and multilateralism. He could draw on his reservoir of experience to rebut Republican calls for unilateral action by arguing that the best foreign policy comes from having both a strong military and an awareness that dialogue, not bombs, often makes the biggest difference.

Rhode Island faced some of the most acute difficulties in the country when Lincoln Chafee assumed office as governor in 2011. Yet he fought on the basis of his core beliefs to help those hardest hit by the recession while working to alleviate the systemic issues that have held the state back for decades. We trust that his record of integrity and good government will speak loudly. It is our job to amplify that voice and send a fellow Brunonian to the White House in 2016.

Any Brown students who believe in Lincoln Chafee for president should email brownforchafee@gmail.com to get involved.

  • Rhode Islander

    Chafee is a bumbling clown. The fact that you have to point to him not having a scandal as some sort of merit-worthy accolade says it all.

  • dont like him

    he will get a least 3 votes /his /his son/and campain manager/

  • steve a

    Is he crazy? He didn’t have a scandal becuase he didn’t do anything.

  • Weird!

    i remember when some grad students wanted to publish an anonymous piece in the bdh about efforts to suppress student unionizing. they were (very reasonably!) scared of reprisals.

    the hitler youth on the bdh ed board said no to that. guess things have changed!!