In short, no one remotely familiar with their [Voinovich and Domenici’s] records would consider any of them to be among the Senate’s conservative intellectual giants. On the contrary, they are poll-driven politicians who want to hold on to power, and the polls indicate that many Americans are decidedly unhappy about the direction of the war. ~The Washington Times
No one enjoys good opportunist-bashing more than I do, but this shot at Domenici is particularly odd. Domenici is not claiming to be a spokesman for conservatism (and with a lifetime ACU rating of 74, no one will be rushing out to label him as one). That’s a big problem–for conservatives. The Senate Republican dissenters on Iraq have almost all been politically vulnerable, “moderate” or liberal Republicans, and those who do not exactly fit these categories (such as Hagel and Brownback) have tended to have the least substantive critiques and have offered even less substantive alternatives. Instead of taking the lead in criticising the President and forcing change, more conservative members in the last Congress and the present one have mostly distinguished themselves as reflexive defenders of the war (their chief complaints, when they have made them, is that the war has not been prosecuted with enough vigour and has not been expanded to enough other countries). For years conservatives in the GOP have gone out of their way to make sure that people associate this war with the word conservative–despite its having no meaningful connection to conservatism of any recognisable kind–because they have lent it unstinting support. In highlighting the latest dissenters’ lack of conservative reputations, this simply reinforces this identification. The war will go from appearing to be a generically Republican war, which is mainly what it is, to a specificially “conservative” one in the public eye. Editorials such as this one are part of the reason why.
Domenici is also a strange target of the wrath of the Times for another reason. Domenici changed his position on the amnesty bill to a vote against the cloture motion that the Times and most conservatives also wanted to defeat. In other words, he responded to the outcry from his constituents and conservative activists by embracing their view of the bill and ended up voting the right way, helping to send the bill down to a crushing defeat. Obviously, he did this for self-interested, purely electoral reasons–he fears voter backlash come next year. Even so, I don’t remember a Times editorial singling out Domenici and the other vote-switchers for rank opportunism and pandering back then. The Weekly Standard had plenty to say about the Senators who turned against the amnesty bill that the magazine supported, but that’s because the magazine’s editors were angry at the former allies who had defected to the other side.
The Times is chastising someone who effectively came around their position on the recent legislation and pointing out Domenici’s responsiveness to his constituents as a bad thing worthy of mockery. Meanwhile, the steadfast duo of McLieberman never wavers, never blinks, never listens to the voters, and that is supposed to inspire admiration? We have some remnants of a republican government, so there is something to be said for not always heeding the desires of the crowd, but by design representatives should represent their constituents and Senators should, at least originally, represent the interests of their states. To consistently fail in this representation is to have failed in the basic duty of an elected official. The Times would like more members of Congress to shirk their responsibilities and ignore their constituents more often, at least when it comes to the war. On immigration, they will continue to think that the populist backlash was a just and legitimate exercise in self-government. You really can’t have it both ways. Domenici is an opportunist, but it was thanks to opportunists like him that amnesty was defeated. The war will one day be brought to an end through the efforts of other similarly “flexible” politicians.