Jeffords and the Senate: It Really Doesn't Matter

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By this time, nearly all readers of LRC have become aware that Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont has left the Republican Party and effectively joined the Democrats (he says he is an independent), which means that Tom Daschle and his friends now control the US Senate. While many commentators have been saying that this "strikes a blow" against free markets and freedom in general, I disagree. In fact, most of us will hardly notice any difference in our lives, as the Leviathan State has grown whether Democrats or Republicans have been controlling the agenda.

However, one first needs to look at Jeffords and his conduct, past and present. It was more than ironic to hear this man speak about the "independence" of Vermonters. Once upon a time, it was true that most voters from Vermont strongly distrusted Washington and tended to do things their own way. Those voters and those days are a long-time relic of the past.

Jeffords, like the majority of Vermonters who sent him to Washington, may speak of Vermont’s "independence," but that is a sick joke. The former Republican senator has been at the forefront of forcing the centralization of government, Washington style. Like so many of his colleagues, he believes the authority of the national government should dominate all of public life, with state and local governments simply carrying the water for the feds.

Furthermore, the typical Vermont voter is not an "independent" farmer or craftsman, but instead is either a wealthy professional from New York who moved to take advantage of the small town atmosphere or an environmentalist extremist who wishes to make the state a laboratory for electricity produced by burning cow manure. The "independent" dairy farmer is more likely to be sure to vote only for the politician who promises price floors for milk in order to keep his inefficient operation in business.

The political alliances that have turned Vermont into a modern "people’s republic" have been between the wealthy professionals and the environmentalists. Both moved to Vermont for the scenery and prefer for the state to become a museum. Thus, anyone who wishes to do any kind of alteration to a home in which he or she lives (like add a deck or paint the house a different color) must first receive permission from numerous agencies, boards, and other governmental entities that have come to control nearly every aspect of Vermonters’ lives. These people also tend to be very socially liberal, the state’s recent de facto legalization of homosexual marriage being a prime example. The University of Vermont, which is located in Burlington, has a reputation for being one of the most leftist, "politically correct" universities in the nation.

All of this would be fine and good if Vermont’s politicians wanted its leftist lunacy to be confined to the state’s boundaries. Alas, Vermonters seek to export their political philosophy elsewhere. Thus, we have Jeffords and its other US Senator Patrick Leahy, along with Congressman Bernie Sanders, an avowed Socialist (as opposed to the closet Socialists who fill the ranks of both parties), pushing every measure that takes away freedom from individuals and places their lives in the clutches of the Leviathan State. From gun control to price controls to high taxes to controls on private property, Vermont’s political trio is at the forefront of destroying what is left of the US Constitution.

In their losing battle to keep Jeffords within their fold, Senate Republicans also demonstrated their true mettle. More eager to hold power than to display even modest principle, the Republican leadership offered Jeffords leadership positions that he did not deserve.

Despite the rhetoric from the neoconservatives, Jefford’s defection is hardly a loss to the "Republican Revolution." That "revolution," as mild as it was, died when Republicans cowered before Bill Clinton’s demagoguery after the Oklahoma City bombing barely four months into the new Congressional regime.

Yes, it is true that Leahy will head the Senate Judiciary Committee and Ted Kennedy will be determining the direction of healthcare legislation. It is also true that these men are a pestilence to freedom. However, they hardly have been in hiding these last six years since the Democrats last ran the Senate. Leahy has managed single-handedly to submarine President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees, along with the nomination of Ted Olsen as US Solicitor General, and Kennedy basically wrote the most recent education legislation to pass the Senate, a law that further enhances the disastrous federal control over educational freedom.

In short, while some Republican Senate staff members will lose their jobs and Jesse Helms will no longer run foreign affairs, this is not a "turning point" or anything like that in the continuing loss of freedom. No, the Republicans long ago decided that "winning" must take precedence over principle. Their mantra was, "We can’t govern if we are not in charge." Well, guess what, folks, you long ago relinquished any power you had that would have made a difference. Today’s takeover by the Democrats simply confirms the process that began six years ago.

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], is assistant professor of economics at North Greenville College in Tigerville, South Carolina. He is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

© 2001

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