The Jeffords Punditry

Yesterday independent Sen. James Jeffords announced he would not be seeking another term as representative of the people of Vermont.

Mick Stockinger at Uncorrelated blog doesn’t understand why “[a]ll sorts of people are saying nice things now about Jeffords.” To him, “the guy is a kook.” More: “Jeffords was briefly a hero or villain, depending on your point of view, for switching from Republican to independent and turning over the Senate briefly to Democrat control. When Republicans won big in 2002, Jeffords found himself up the crick without a paddle. He gamely negotiated with Republican leadership for control of his old committee, but with no leverage.”

Mick is skeptical of Jeffords’ claim that he’s bowing out because of health concerns: “It’s more likely that sitting in opposition for another six years just didn’t hold that many attractions, particularly since in light of the 2004 gains for the Republicans with additional gains expected in 2006, the situation was unlikely to change.”

With Vermont in the news, Mick can’t help but take the gratuitous shot at — you guessed it — the Democratic national chairman: “Howard Dean was named as a possible successor, but that seems unlikely for a man who believes he should rule the world.”

Slublog is equally unimpressed with Jeffords, writing, “Jeffords tried desperately to spin his decision as the move of an independent. In a classic case of a man who protests too much, he wrote not one but two books celebrating his own independence. Those books are now available used on Amazon for anywhere from $.50 to $4.00.” Slublog adds, “After all, someone who abandoned his party just after being re-elected is hard to trust.” In the end, Slublog considers Jeffords’ slow fade to be “an appropriately anticlimactic end to a largely forgettable Senate career.”

Brad Plummer, writing on the MoJo blog, isn’t so sure that the knee-jerk scorn coming from conservatives tells the whole story. He writes, “it’s also worth noting that Jeffords essentially saved the floundering Bush presidency back in 2001.”

How, exactly? We’ll let Plummer explain:

Really? Really! Jeffords, recall, first told the president about his planned defection in late May 2001, right as the initial tax cut bill was wending its way through the Senate. Had Jeffords defected immediately, Democrats would have taken control of the chamber before the tax cut passed, and control of the legislative agenda would’ve passed to new Majority Leader Tom Daschle. On the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus (D-MT) would’ve replaced Chuck Grassley (R-IA) as chairman, and the White House would have been unable to pass a tax cut bill of its own design and choosing. The president’s first major initiative would’ve faltered, and the then-unpopular president would have become an instant lame duck.

But Jeffords promised the president to defect only after the tax cut was passed — he even voted for the bill — and the White House came out victorious. So sure, call him a “slimeball” if you must, but if Jeffords had really wanted to stick his knife in the president’s back, he could’ve done far, far worse.

As for the Slimeball’s replacement, much of the liberal blogosphere has already jumped on the Sanders bandwagon — that is, Vermont Rep. Bernie Sanders.

David Sirota endorsed him yesterday as the “best positioned to keep this seat in the hands of the Democrats.” Magpie hearts Sanders also, calling him the “most left-wing member of the House.”

We can already imagine the ads from the GOP: “Do you really want to elect someone Magpie has identified as the farthest left congressman?”

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.