When the Charleston County Republican Party censured South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham last month, the official statement read that Graham: “in the name of bipartisanship — continues to weaken the Republican brand and tarnish the ideals of freedom, rule of law, and fiscal conservatism.” That some Republicans-any Republicans-would dare treat Graham as a traitor for his bipartisan efforts, was portrayed by the national media and liberal pundits as yet another example that “fringe” elements were taking over the GOP.
When Connecticut Democrats sought to censure Joe Lieberman in 2008 they cited the senator’s “extraordinary disloyalty to countless Connecticut Democrats without whom his career as an elected official would never have been possible.” That some Dems would seek to censure Lieberman for his support of John McCain’s presidential campaign was not portrayed by the national media and liberal pundits as the intolerance of a small Democratic fringe, but a reasonable response to an unreasonable, if not traitorous, Lieberman. To the Left, the censuring of Graham by Republicans was absurd, but that Lieberman would transgress against the Democrats? Completely unacceptable.
If Lieberman remains a villain to liberals for his “maverick” behavior, Graham has quickly become the Left’s GOP hero for doing the exact same thing. Yet, by no stretch of the imagination is either man a true maverick, rebel, reformer or any other wannabe-revolutionary label politicians often like to ascribe to themselves.
Constantly doing the bidding of the Washington establishment and ignoring voters’ wishes-as both Lieberman and Graham have done consistently for both Republican and Democratic administrations-doesn’t make them mavericks; it makes them a menace. Despised by significant portions of their own constituents, that both men have managed to hold onto their senate seats this long is more indicative of the corrupt and impenetrable nature of big-monied politics than any accurate reflection of the popular will. Lieberman had to declare himself an independent simply to escape the wrath of his Democratic base in his last election. Graham, with a campaign war chest of millions of dollars, could only garner 58% against his 2008 challenger, a no-name newcomer who only had about $10,000 in small donations and received zero support from the state and national Democratic Party. Somehow, curiously, so-called “mavericks” like Lieberman and Graham always seem to have lots of money–especially around election time–even as they expect us to believe they’re not beholden to any government, corporate or political special interests.
Ironically, liberals who hate the “maverick” Lieberman are falling ever more in love with what they perceive as the same qualities in Lindsey. This week’s Charleston City Paper cover story entitled “Rebel With a Cause: Lindsey Graham Breaks Everyone’s Rules” features a caricature of the senator decked out in a motorcycle jacket and sporting a black eye, supposedly delivered by his own party. Writes Greg Hambrick: “Lindsey Graham is a real bad boy. He’s challenging the administration on troop levels, healthcare, and Guantanamo, thus dodging sharp elbows from the liberals in the lunch line. But he’s also searching for compromise when possible, willing to accept conservative morsels in larger Democratic bills. And that’s got his own party ready to push him into the homecoming bonfire.”
Ah, the rose colored glasses Obama’s minions now wear. What Graham ultimately wants from Obama is what his buddy McCain wants, Lieberman wants and every other hawk politician jockeying for power and favor with the new administration wants: a continuation of the ambitious neoconservative foreign policy agenda set into motion by George W. Bush. It was no mistake that before the economy went south during the 2008 campaign, Republican nominee McCain intended to run explicitly as a war candidate. It was also no mistake that McCain was flanked by Lieberman and Graham at every turn. McCain saying we might stay in Iraq for “100 years” or declaring that “we are all Georgians now,” seeming to want the US to take on the Russians? Lieberman and Graham heartily approved.
On Afghanistan, the current debate is between Republicans who don’t think the president is acting fast enough in sending more troops and Democrats who are simply debating how many to send. It would seem that any real “maverick” politician might ponder the unconventional, outside-the-box possibility that our continued involvement in Afghanistan could be a recipe for further disaster. As of this writing, President Obama is set to announce the deployment upwards of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, Graham has yet to raise any “mavericky” objections.
The Graham who now upsets Republicans by voting to confirm Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and who champions cap and trade is the same guy who supported Bush’s Medicare expansion, No Child Left Behind and TARP legislation. The only difference is Republicans weren’t complaining about big government then.
Graham hasn’t changed one bit but his party has begun to. In lashing out at “tea partiers,” “libertarians” and bonafide mavericks like Congressman Ron Paul-actions liberals believe make Graham “respectable”-Lindsey is simply attempting to stuff his party back in its neoconservative 2008 box. And it’s not working.
As Graham continues to go war with his party, expect him to increasingly go to bat for our new war president just as he did the last one, for far from being a “bad boy” Lindsey is ready to serve the new boss to the extent that he is the same as the old boss. A maverick, indeed.