The Student News Site of University of California - San Diego

The UCSD Guardian




The Student News Site of University of California - San Diego

The UCSD Guardian

The Student News Site of University of California - San Diego

The UCSD Guardian




Senator's Decision to Switch Party Makes Political History

Sen. James Jeffords’ unorthodox decision to drop his loyalty to the Republican Party and jump on the independent bandwagon has understandably brought major heat from GOP leaders.

Such a move is practically unheard of in the American two-party regime, which constantly reinforces party loyalty, and even those who despise politics should recognize the brilliance of this moment in American political history.

Jeffords, until this month, was a 27-year veteran Republican congressman whose moderate ideology has historically shone through the party label he wore. These moderate legislative goals have always distinguished him from other Republicans and inspired his recent move.

For example, the Vermont senator has been devoted to using legislative means to meet the needs of special education. Although it is not fair to argue that Republicans are unconcerned with these needs, it is understandable that Jeffords would be prompted to abandon the Republicans if this is his true purpose in politics — just consider the assertion made by Sen. Phil Gramm, a Republican from Texas: “”Special education is not a Republican issue.””

Instead of criticizing Jeffords for skipping out on the Republican Party, we should be impressed that he chose to leave a party whose members criticize the causes that he has always advocated. The switch, ultimately, points to Jeffords’ loyalty to his goals and ideology, rather than to a traditional party label.

What makes Jeffords’ move such a hot topic, however, is not the decision itself; rather it is the political climate in which it was made. The Senate was delicately balanced this year, with 50 Democrats battling 50 Republicans before Jeffords’ decision.

Now, the scales have been slightly tipped, with 50 Democrats facing off against 49 Republicans, and Jeffords sits squarely in between as the only independent.

The even split that previously existed and the legislative gridlock that it may have brought with it are gone. The Democrats will undoubtedly make good use of their slight, yet monumental, one-vote lead over the Republicans.

A valid concern about Jeffords’ switch is that it could be motivated purely by electoral interests. In other words, it could be that his constituents are increasingly returning moderate, independent results in polls and he is simply worried about being ousted by an independent candidate the next time his seat is up for a vote.

If this is his motive, Jeffords could continue to defect to the Republican side of most issues on the Senate floor even though he has symbolically removed himself from that party. This would maintain the voting balance in the Senate, making his switch an empty gesture that deserves little recognition, and making it more a media spectacle than a noteworthy moment in American political history.

However, Jeffords’ move ultimately deserves more credit than this. It is possible that his motivations are based on electoral politics, but one must reason that a lifelong Congressman will not take lightly the Senate’s tight balance between Democrats and Republicans. Unless Jeffords has been asleep in the back row all these years, he comprehends the effect of his choice on national policies, which indicates that he is motivated by more than just the opportunity for one more turn in Congress.

Furthermore, the political backlash created by his decision has been widespread, and it is illogical to assume that he would open himself to such criticisms unless motivated by something more than another six years of Senate service during which he would undoubtedly still receive icy treatment from Republicans in Congress.

The greater lesson of Jeffords’ moment in the limelight is twofold. First, consider the media attention given to his leap — while widespread coverage in Vermont would be understandable, this issue is touching all types and branches of media. Such in-depth coverage should indicate to any nonbelievers that this is in fact an important political moment.

Second, the reason this event is being portrayed as important and newsworthy is the unique characteristics of America’s current political machine.

The Senate’s former 50-50 balance is evidence of the increasingly centrist mentality of voters. As more candidates move toward the “”middle of the road”” on the campaign trail in an effort to accommodate centrist voters, there will be fewer instances of one-party dominance in Congress. In such an environment, losing even one politician to the other side has new importance and new effects on a party’s legislative strength.

Ultimately, Jeffords’ choice is commendable in that it sets aside the traditional party loyalty mentality that dominates American politics.

In fact, the former 50-50 balance in the Senate prompts acknowledgment that the American electorate is perhaps doing away with these loyalties as well. If so, Jeffords’ decision is even more praiseworthy, as it represents one politician’s effort to stay aligned with those he represents.

One can only hope that this effort is not motivated purely by electoral interests, but that it reflects Jefford’s desire to pursue the legislative solutions that he promised to constituents.

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