Honorary Moderate Donkey Status for Sen. Jim Jeffords

Senator Jim Jeffords, a moderate independent who defected from the Republican Party four years ago and handed control of the senate back to the Democrats, has decided not to seek re-election in Vermont next year. As the Boston Globe said, this announcement has ricocheted through Vermont political circles Wednesday and quickly set up a scramble for the 2006 elections.

Because Vermont is a somewhat liberal Northeastern state, the Democrats have a great chance in officially capturing Jefford’s seat. I say “officially” because when Jeffords dumped the GOP, he began voting with the Democrats but was not officially a Democrat.

You really have to respect Jeffords. He had the balls to do what other moderate Republicans like John McCain and Lincoln Chafee haven’t. Back in 2001, he had a crisis of conscience. Having watched the Republican Party drift to the right for years, he finally had enough of the extremism that was beginning to take control of the party.

But there is the pivotal moment when he made his decision that you may not be aware of. Jonathon Alter wrote about it in Newsweek in June of 2004:

He woke up screaming in the middle of the night, yelling to his wife: “Watch out! The machine guns are firing!” Jim Jeffords’s nightmare then was about impeachment. As a friend of Bill Clinton’s, he was tormented by his duty to sit in judgment of the president, voting first with his GOP colleagues to move ahead with the trial, then with Democrats against Clinton’s conviction and removal from office.

Two years later the senator’s sleepless nights were back. In anguish, he informed a group of longtime Republican colleagues last week that his differences with his party on fundamentals were so great that he was leaning toward leaving the GOP.

Even if he hadn’t tilted the balance of power, he told aides, it was time to go. Peering across the aisle at Democrats talking about using the surplus for children’s health and early education while Republicans like Phil Gramm sought even deeper tax cuts, he felt hopelessly out of place.

I’ve always found this account to be amazing. I can see it so vividly. The impeachment trial of President William Jefferson Clinton is underway. Perhaps the decision against removing the President from office has been reached. Then the doors swing open, armed soldiers storm in, and begin firing “machine guns.”

I’m not an expert at interpreting dreams, but maybe Jeffords’ subconscious realized that an extreme fringe was encroaching on his party – one that would try any means necessary to seize and hold power. Perhaps he realized it was his duty as a civil servant to combat it.

And the wisdom? Listening to Democrats plan to use Bill Clinton’s budget surplus for education and children’s healthcare while his Republican colleagues schemed to give the wealthy deeper tax cuts… well… anyone with a heart would have chose the path he took.

Senator Jeffords is by no means the perfect politician. He’s made some questionable votes in his career, including the vote to impeach a President on what was clearly unconstitutional grounds. But he went a long way in redeeming himself by voting with Democrats on many important issues.

Senator Jeffords may have been a Republican for most of his career, but the Moderate Donkey is fairly certain that if he had to do it all over again, he would perhaps choose the Democratic Party. If he wants to send one last clear signal to the GOP that they’ve been hijacked by the Christian Taliban, my suggestion would be he endorse a Democrat for his Senate seat.

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