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Chafee '75 criticizes GOP's rightward shift


Gov. Lincoln Chafee '75 P'14 P'16 introduced himself as "the nation's only independent governor" in his Democratic National Convention address Tuesday night prior to First Lady Michelle Obama's primetime speech.

Chafee distanced himself from the Republican Party, which he left in 2007, and touted his moderate beliefs. "Though my former party has hijacked the term, there really is nothing conservative about today's Republican Party," he said. "There is no room there for traditional conservatives."

Inviting an independent to speak was intended to help President Obama's campaign attract independent voters, said Associate Professor of Political Science Wendy Schiller. 

Chafee pointed out several recent instances of Republicans straying from the party's past tenets by degrading the environment, obstructing the rights of women and homosexuals, recklessly involving the nation in foreign entanglements and exhibiting fiscal irresponsibility under former president George W. Bush.

"His speech represented a critique of the contemporary agenda of the Republican Party," said Maureen Moakley, political science professor at the University of Rhode Island. "It was more compelling coming from a former Republican who had to abandon the Republican Party because of the disjuncture of his ideas - which represented the old Republican Party ­- and where the party is headed now." She called his analysis "authentic" and "basically correct."

"My fellow traditional conservatives, my fellow independents, my fellow moderates, there is a candidate that shares our beliefs," Chafee concluded his speech. "That candidate is our president, Barack Obama." 

Schiller said that in addition to helping the president, Chafee's speech was important for his own political career. Chafee is only two years away from a reelection race that will pit him in a tough race against a Democrat, Schiller added. "If he has the elites of the party to support him, that can go a long way."

But Moakley disagreed that speaking on the national stage was a calculated move. "I think he did it for principled reasons, not political reasons," she said.

Two Rhode Island Democrats who may vie for the opportunity to unseat Chafee - State Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras - also attended the convention. Schiller said the convention would provide them with the opportunity to network and garner national support if they decide to challenge Chafee in 2014. Moakley countered that their presence at the convention "means very little at all" and "will have no effect on the dynamic of the elections."

Raimondo and Taveras are scheduled to speak on their experience with pension reform in panel discussions - "Fiscal Thursday" and "Tackling Pension Reform," respectively - held tonight as part of the convention. 



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