Lindsey Graham is taking his toys and going home. After six months of negotiations with Senators Kerry and Lieberman, the senior senator from South Carolina has decided to call it quits on energy and climate change legislation. Why? Did he change his mind about the immediacy of the threat? Nope. Did he cave to political pressure from the right in his home state? Uh-uh. Did he suddenly get a huge infusion of cash from the oil and gas lobby? Negative.
Senator Graham withdrew his support from this important legislation because he's miffed that Harry Reid has infused politics into politics, and might simultaneously push for the passage of a comprehensive immigration reform package (which Graham also supports, at least as of recently).
Maybe I'm naive, but this shocks me. If Senator Graham believes in the necessity and urgency of both climate change legislation and immigration reform, who cares which one goes first in line? I thought he was all about standing on principle. And he's not the only one who is cutting and running, to borrow a phrase from a bygone era. In Congress, it seems, when the going gets tough, elected officials head for the door, carrying their principles with them.
John McCain, who once fought hard for immigration reform, now supports a particularly onerous and mean-spirited bill in his home state. And also believes undocumented workers are purposefully causing traffic accidents. If that isn't strange enough, Senator McCain is so eager to distance himself from his former reach-across-the-aisle self, that he can't recall ever thinking of himself as a maverick. I know our media-saturated culture moves quickly and that memories are short, but gee whiz! What a blow to democracy when Senator McCain, whom we all respected for his principles and grace under pressure, turns cliche politician and confuses what is right for what is expedient.
Then there are the Democratic Senators who are jumping ship -- Dodd, Bayh, and Dorgan. They have all trotted out their feeble excuses and moralizations, but the bottom line is, quitting -- ahem, stepping down -- does not constitute leadership.
All of these men, at one time or another, have pleaded with the media, their constituents and the country at large about the critical nature of the issues facing America. They have all championed bipartisan cooperation, lamented the acrid tone in the Senate, and made impassioned, but reasoned arguments for pushing ahead despite obstacles and objections. But the fear of losing an election seems to loom larger in their minds and egos than the fear of America's biggest challenges going unmet.
All of this is unbelievably depressing. If those who are supposed to be the leaders, the elder statesmen, are so in the thrall of their own political fates that they can no longer act according to principle, to whom are the American people supposed to look for leadership and results? Yes, if you're a progressive, President Obama has a lot to offer in terms of hope for the future and the promise of change, but he's not a legislator - he can't will things to happen without the cooperation and courage of his allies in Congress.
There are bright spots. Those who remain steadfast in their determination to do what is right despite the fact that it might significantly increase the cost to them personally or politically. And I'd like to highlight a few in particular:
All Hail Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Yes, she's polarizing, but listen, America, she also has five kids, plenty of money and a supportive husband. Yet she gets in there and does battle for the causes she believes in, rather than catcalling derisively from the sidelines. She gets things done. And, in spite of threats to her family and her safety, she keeps pushing an agenda of progressive reform.
And three cheers for Barbara Boxer, who is in a tough fight for her seat this year, but is out there campaigning like crazy and maintaining her integrity by continuing the fight for climate change legislation and immigration reform. She hasn't modified her stances on either issue, even though it might help her win over some constituents in California angry about high unemployment and undocumented workers.
And a special shout out to Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who has bucked his party leadership and continues to push hard for financial reform. Senator Corker has thus far resisted the temptation to go for easy demagoguery, and instead remains committed to a bill that actually places the interests of the American people ahead of his own political self-interest. I'm impressed. We need more like you, Senator.