I wouldn’t call Lincoln Chafee child-like, but he does have the penetrating eye of the innocent kid who sees through magicians’ tricks — who speaks up about what emperors are wearing, or aren’t. The ambitious ex-Senator Chafee is the working politician in this round of conversations at the Watson Institute on the first fortnight in the Age of Obama. And, as usual, he’s the sober, utterly independent voice at the party — “disappointed,” he volunteers, “in the silence from the Obama team as the Israelis invaded Gaza…”
In the US Senate, Chafee of Rhode Island cast the only Republican vote against the Iraq war authorization in October, 2002. In 2006 he fought the White House for renomination and the Democratic tide for reelection, but seemed selflessly content to lose his seat in the end because the vote was so clearly a repudiation of President Bush, not himself; and because his losing was required to empower a Senate opposition. From the start of the 2008 campaign, Chafee campaigned for Barack Obama because he was the only serious candidate “most fervently opposed to the Iraq war.” And so his counsel to the President, while we’re all presuming to give advice, is just the reminder: “That’s what got you elected.” He speaks here about two of his passions, Latin America and the Middle East, with common sense that passes these days for radical courage, about the rampage in Gaza, for example:
I would have hoped for… just a few words of disappointment as to how this is going to affect the region. It just makes the task of peace in the Middle East harder and harder. Hatreds are ratcheted up when children are killed and housed are demolished. I don’t see it working. It’s been a mystery to me — for my time in the Senate, as I served on the Foreign Relations committee and as chairman of the Middle East subcommittee. How does this agenda work for Israel? I don’t understand it.
Former US Senator Lincoln Chafee in conversation with Chris Lydon, January 30, 2009.