Sen. Lincoln Chafee is a formal Republican-turned-Independent. He is for abortion and gay rights. He is against unilateralism. And he voted for Barack Obama in Rhode Island’s Democratic primary.
But he wants to promote party loyalty. At least that’s what he argued at Tuesday night’s Yale Political Union debate.
Chafee spoke in the affirmative for the failed resolution “Resolved: Vote the Party, Not the Person,” despite his record as a liberal member of the Republican Party. The students who spoke for the negation argued that party politics take away transparency from the political process.
Much of Chafee’s speech criticized the Bush administration’s decisions, such as invading Iraq and reappointing John Bolton to the United Nations. He said Bush is an example of someone who made the agenda about his ideas and not the party’s.
“It made no sense to me that my Republican party was boldly promoting freedom around the world and yet taking away freedoms at home,” he said. “But in order to be a good Republican, we had to go along with the Bush agenda.”
After listing examples of when he and his colleagues “felt the whip of party discipline” on their backs, such as when they were encouraged to support wiretapping, Chafee argued that, right now, the Republican party is about the people and not about the issues.
“The tragedy of the Karl Rove strategy is that instead of fixing Iraq, healthcare or energy plans, we are on abortion, gay marriage and flag burning,” he said. “It energizes the base but divides the country. Republicans can win elections, but they can’t govern.”
Besides the dangers of personality-driven politics, Chafee also spoke on how political parties bring organization and practical funding to candidates.
“The only substitution for parties is money. We wouldn’t want only multi-millionaires to run,” he said.
When the floor was opened for student speakers, Chafee’s speech was met with mixed responses.
April Lawson ’09 argued that partisanship is dangerous to the political process and that there should be a relationship between the leader and the people.
“Leaders should inspire us with their behavior, their devotion to the country and their character,” Lawson said.
Then the debate turned to the topic of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Many students referenced John McCain’s choice of running mate in their speeches for or against party loyalty.
Josh Haselkorn ’10 used his personal response to Palin as an example of why group mentality is dangerous.
“I was criticizing Palin’s lack of experience, forgetting that my candidate, Barack Obama, doesn’t have much experience either,” Haselkorn said. “Once you identify with a group, you lose the ability to make rational, unbiased judgments. That’s the worst thing that can happen in politics.”
Adam Stempel ’11 said he disagreed. People vote based on their beliefs and not on the specific candidates, he said.
“People will vote for Sarah Palin not because she’s a great leader but because she represents their values,” he said. “Her voters think that Republican ideas are the best for the country, bless their hearts.”
Chafee referred to Palin as well in making his case. “By choosing Palin, McCain made the decision to motivate the base,” he said. “At the same time, he’s sacrificed his ability to govern.”
The debate lasted for a little more than two hours, with multiple motions to vote being shot down. After a series of speakers for and against, the resolution ultimately failed at the vote.
While he failed to persuade the audience with his call for party loyalty, Chafee said he would participate in the Yale camaraderie with a post-debate beer at Yorkside.