Arthur Christopher Schaper
Rarely would anyone expect to hear about Rhode Island’s US Senators. Aside from political junkies or conservative hopefuls looking for limited government in the Littlest State in the Union (with some of the biggest problems), no one cares about Rhode Island’s senators. Certainly, mainstream conservative talk shows like Fox News or even the McLaughlin Group wouldn’t give a minute (or a moment’s) notice to the most liberal state.
Yet on December 26th, in the last program of Year 2014, John McLaughlin (Issue One! Issue Two! Issue Three!) briefly praised Rhode Island’s senior senator, recently reelected by the widest margin of any incumbent in the 2014 election:
MCLAUGHLIN: Best politician, a joint award. The former undersecretary of the defense, Michelle Angelique Flournoy and Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island.
They both turned President Obama's overtures to replace Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, at stage a senior appointment in the Obama administration would be toxic to a political resume.
First of all, regardless of one’s political persuasion, a West Point Graduate turned US Senator would be the ideal candidate in an elite administration dedicated to “not doing stupid stuff.” Second, for a politician to turn down any appointment alone indicates a modicum of humility (or at least cynical acceptance)
Two months prior, the writer of this article had hoped that Rhode Island’s other US Senator, Sheldon Whitehouse, would consider replacing Attorney General Eric Holder. Of course, the call of climate change most likely made Sheldon cool to the proposal at the outset. Besides, why would any elected official give up a near-certain seat in the US Senate for a two-year executive post? Come to think of it, the same limited, self-serving ambition describes Reed reluctance to become Secretary of Defense.
Still, assessing McLaughlin’s Year End award of “Best Politician”, would Reed truly count as the best politician in the country?
Putting aside any utter loathing about illiberal, progressive policies, plus the abject disgrace which defines (and undermines) one-party Democratic states, one has to acknowledge that Senator Reed has been a smooth (as well as savvy) operator.
First, he got elected in a state where Republicans have embraced key Democratic positions. Plus the long-term legacy of Democratic dominance, Reed was a cinch for higher office and never worry about losing it, even in the most hostile of political environments. Election 2014 proved to be one of those years, the shellacking to unseat all election waves. Nine senate seats, including five Democratic incumbents, flipped to the GOP. However, Reed remained the least vulnerable, and in spite of hiccups along the way (like a weak commercial touting Reed as “The Defender of Rhode Island”), he defeated his last-minute challenger Mark Zaccaria by forty points. Ouch!
Of course, there were smatterings of polling taking place in the Ocean State, and a likely challenger, Rhode Island Republican Assembly President Raymond McKay, was prepping to run against him in 2014.
McKay’s biggest obstacle, one which would cost him the change to run, lay in the Warwick City Council, and allegedly with Mayor Scott Avedisian, himself a Republican. Of dubious standing among conservative Republicans, the incumbent successor to Lincoln Chaffee would face a primary challenge of his own (and win). Voices behind the scenes argued (somewhat convincingly) that the mayor stalled on removing an obscure municipal code barring certain employees (including McKay) from seeking office, without first resigning their post. So much for freedom of speech, the press, and power to petition one’s government for grievances.
It takes a deeply in-tune, in touch politician to bring local leaders to your side, and keep opponents at bay. Further allegations pointed to the jurists in state and federal district court, both of which had ties (and perhaps owed) something to Senior Senator Reed. Judges ruled in Reed’s favor, without thousands of dollars slipped under the door, to boot!
Conservative Republican Raymond McKay would have faced an uphill battle from the outset, but with a sympathetic mayor, a Democratic city council, plus a divided GOP base (thanks, Dr. Dan!), McKay’s campaign as a statewide candidate for federal office in Rhode Island would certainly fail to find a red wave to ride on. Reed made his non-campaign an inevitability. Senator Reed, with his legacy of pork and staunch liberalism in the bluest of Blue States, made extra sure that he faced token opposition. To add glory to infamy, as well as his easy reelection, Reed turned down a near-certain confirmation to replace Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
Of course, Obama’s Hagel nomination was a political move (a controversial, moderate Republican to divide the partisan, already divided GOP minority). Reed’s nomination would have been a principled opportunity, since the established progressive Senator would have clicked with Obama’s ideology and temperament, as well as face a relatively conflict-free confirmation process among respectable colleagues.
Yet Reed, having won a fourth US Senate term, solidified by working the ground game with Republicans as well as a field of Democrats and liberal Independents, turns down a nomination from a flailing, lame-duck. A politician’s chief goal is staying elected. For “Best Politician” Reed, that is Mission Accomplished.
Arthur Christopher Schaper is a teacher-turned-writer on topics both timeless and timely; political, cultural, and eternal. A life-long Southern California resident, Arthur currently lives in Torrance.