Local Politics

Vermont Senator James Jeffords’s decision last month to leave the Republican Party, and in so doing turn control of the Senate over to the Democrats, came as a political earthquake to Washington, especially to the Bush administration. Despite the close and disputed presidential election and only the slimmest majorities in the House and Senate, Republicans have been vigorously pursuing President George W. Bush’s conservative legislative agenda. Jeffords’s defection puts an end to Bush’s ability to govern from the right on taxes, military spending, the environment, and other issues. Whether or not it will persuade the Republicans to seek a broader and more moderate consensus is not clear. But whether or not Jeffords’s decision changes the ideological tone in Washington, it does remind us that representative democracy still revolves around the decisions of individual men and women. That is something to be grateful for.

Commonweal readers should not have been shaken or surprised by Jeffords’s decision. The independent character of Vermont’s divided congressional delegation was well reported in Dennis O’Brien’s recent profile of the state’s senior senator, Patrick Leahy ("Vermont’s Leahy," June 16, 2000). Leahy is the only Democrat ever to have been elected to the Senate from Vermont. Historically, Vermont has been a Republican stronghold, but not a conservative Republican stronghold. Explaining why his political...

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