Mod on the move

Obama supporter Lincoln Chafee talks about the post-election landscape
By IAN DONNIS  |  November 5, 2008
KEEPING HIS POWDER DRY: Chafee’s next move remains an open question.

The Brown University class being taught this semester by Lincoln Chafee, the Republican US senator-turned-independent supporter of Barack Obama, has an up-to-the-moment title: “Whither America.”

Now, after the seemingly interminable presidential campaign, Obama will soon turn his attention to the same subject.

Chafee, who was set to be part of an Obama rally at Chicago’s Grant Park as the returns came in on Tuesday night, was one of a number of present and former Republicans who lent their support to the Democrat. As the son of a GOP icon and as someone who felt compelled to leave the Republican Party, he encapsulates the shifts that have marked the party in recent decades.

What the future holds for Chafee himself remains to be seen. He demurred, pre-election, when asked about his possibly taking a place in an Obama administration. Nor would he reveal his decision-making about a potential independent gubernatorial run in 2010 (see “Chafee for governor?” News, April 10), although Chafee says some Rhode Islanders have encouraged him to pursue such a bid.

We talked Monday in his office at Brown’s Watson Institute.

You’ve called George W. Bush the worst president in history. So how difficult will it be for Obama to move the country beyond the legacy of the last eight years?
Very difficult. My gosh, eight years of poor decisions, starting right from the beginning — I was there for that big tax cut, a $1.6 trillion tax cut. [He] took the surplus, a historic surplus, that took decades of work to finally get, where revenues were exceeding expenditures — a very good thing. And instead of investing it in worthwhile programs, like a good business would have done when you’ve got profits — pour it back into the institution and make it stronger — and also there’s room for tax cuts, the estate tax. [Instead], we squandered that opportunity and embarked on a spending spree, a trillion-dollar spending spree: wars overseas that are costing us trillions of dollars. A prescription drug benefit to Medicare added a whole new benefit to it without doing any other reforms; [Bush] created a huge federal bureaucracy, homeland security. Farm subsidies came back.

It was just totally irresponsible on the fiscal side, and the biggest repair work, I say, is restoring American credibility. We’re not respected or trusted at home or abroad, and can you believe what the administration [is saying]? No, you can’t. That’s a bad thing.

Given the inhospitable climate for Republicans, why did Obama start to pull away in the polls only after the fiscal crisis in september?
Well, that’s the old bumper sticker — “Where’s the outrage?” That goes back even with [the 2004 campaign of] John Kerry — where’s the outrage? No weapons of mass destruc-tion [were found in Iraq]; we’re mired in this war in Iraq, launched on a totally false premise that Saddam Hussein was a threat, when he didn’t even have a single tank or helicopter. It was just ridiculous, preposterous; to get us into this quagmire on a premise that Saddam Hussein was a threat. So that question has always been there. And finally now with an economic meltdown, the conventional wisdom has always been it’s pocketbook issues that wake people up.

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