THE AGE OF POLITICAL BLACKMAIL
by Elias Seife
Senator James Jeffords of Vermont has decided to leave the Republican Party while a Senator and has in effect changed the 50 – 50 tie that exists between Republicans and Democrats in the US Senate. By switching his affiliation from Republican to independent Jeffords has given control of the high chamber to the Democratic Party. This means that the Chairmanships of Senate committees are now going to the Democrats. Republicans are scrambling trying to convince Jeffords to stay on as a Republican, offering him all kinds of positions and political goodies.
Although the negative consequences for the Republican Party may seem huge, I believe it was wrong for the Republican Party to engage in what may be perceived as a game of political blackmail. If the Senator was not offered with certain positions and benefits before he decided to switch parties, it is probably because, at the time, he was not considered for such.
Senator Jeffords made a personal decision to switch parties AFTER he was recently elected to a six-year term. He has defrauded those citizens of Vermont that voted for him because he was going to support the Republican platform. We will never know if he would have been elected to the Senate if he had made his decision with integrity in declaring himself independent BEFORE the election.
While it was extremely important for the administration to sway Senator Jeffords decision towards staying on as a Republican, I believe that there is a "Line of Dignity and Integrity" that should have not been crossed. Which brings us to a very interesting philosophical point.
Is there a "Line of Dignity and Integrity" that should not be crossed?
Is this the behavior that should be expected of our politicians? Do we have to be willing to justify unethical behavior and be able to compromise our integrity in order to serve the public good? Is it something that we have to tolerate because the alternative is authoritarianism?
Did I discover the obvious, that politics is a hopelessly degrading career, that self-respecting individuals that serve in public office can not base his or her leadership on principle?
Finally, Am I making something out of nothing? The shocker is that I really DO believe there is room for integrity in politics and that a vigilant citizenry can strengthen our democracy and our nation. If we don't care then our leaders will not care.
Putting the philosophical ethical questions aside, the pragmatic view also condemns the actions of the Bush administration because the "scrambling and crawling to Jeffords feet "serves only as a precedent, an enticement, and an option to other members of Congress who seek more power or seek retribution.
The correct stance was to criticize his timing in switching after his election, and at the same time wish him well - we can do without you. This shows leadership to regular people like me. I can appreciate a person or a group that can stand tall with class and dignity in the face of adversity and disgust.
This kind of behavior by Senator Jeffords and the administration reflects poorly on our government, and our national character. The United States did not get to be the leader of Free World by begging for it.
May 24, 2001