Amid the media circus sparked by the official launch of the 2016 presidential campaign of celebrity candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, it is easy to forget that there exists another challenger for the Democratic nomination--besides Senator Bernie Sanders. His name is Lincoln Chaffee. He is largely unknown out of his home state of Rhode Island.
About the only thing Chaffee has in common with Hillary Clinton is that he is also the product of a political dynasty of sorts. His father, John Chaffee, served as governor of Rhode Island, U.S. Senator and Secretary of the Navy during the Nixon administration. After a background working in harness racetracks after college, Lincoln Chaffee followed in his father's footsteps. He served as the mayor of Warwick, Rhode Island. As a part of the dying breed of moderate Republicans, he won election to the U.S. Senate. When he lost his reelection bid, be successfully won election as governor of Rhode Island, running as an independent; this was the first time an independent candidate won the gubernatorial contest in his state since 1790. After serving one term as governor, Chaffee chose not to run for reelection. He is now a registered Democrat. Recently, he officially announced that he is a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.
All of the above might seem indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton, or the virtual army of Republican contenders who have either formally announced their candidacies, or are about to do so. That appears to be the existential problem with American presidential politics; it has been reduced to the geometric convergence of resumes shaped by savvy public relations consultants with massive amounts of money -- in the 2016 presidential election, the price of attaining the White House will be measured at record billions of dollars.
If, however, the 2016 presidential election were not based on extravagantly-financed PR spin, but rather on character, courage and basic common sense, Lincoln Chaffee would be the clear frontrunner. One single act in the Senate career of Lincoln Chaffee not only establishes him as the most qualified candidate to serve as America's next President and Commander-in-Chief; it marks him as one of the very few contemporary U.S. politicians who has displayed the highest level of moral clarity and political courage.
Amid the continuing catastrophe that is the Iraq war that the United States remains trapped in, despite President Obama's forlorn attempt to end U.S. involvement through a precipitous and ill-conceived withdrawal of American troops, it is easy to forget how this madness all began. Let us go back to October 2002, and recall that President George W. Bush did not launch the invasion of Iraq on his own -- he required Congressional authorization. A compliant Congress provided that authorization in the form of a blank check, empowering Bush to initiate his military adventure in the heart of the Middle East whenever he chose, without further consultation with Congress. We know who voted for the Iraq war . The list of approving senators included Hillary Rodham Clinton, one of 29 Democratic senators who voted in favor of Senate Joint Resolution 45.
There were 49 Republicans in the Senate when SJR 45 came to a vote, of which 48 voted in favor of the war authorization measure. Only one Republican senator had the strength of character and moral integrity to vote against his own party's president. Lincoln Chaffee, the sole Republican in the Senate to oppose the invasion of Iraq, earned the undying contempt of many of his fellow Republicans, a factor that undoubtedly led to his eventually changing party affiliations. However, his vote of conscience and rationality should forever earn the gratitude of the American people.
The political dissent Chaffee displayed in the U.S. Senate was not only courageous, it showed a level of sophistication and understanding of international events that is sadly lacking among the current crop of presidential contenders. All who allowed the genies out of the bottle when America invaded Iraq must be held accountable for the calamitous geopolitical results. The Shiite-Sunni civil war raging in the Middle East is a direct result of this geostrategic blunder, the consequences of which will haunt the U.S. for generations to come. To expect Hillary Clinton, a co-architect of this monumental disaster, to somehow contain its horrific aftershocks is to hope for the impossible. Only a political leader who understood from the beginning that launching a war in Iraq was a terrible mistake can inspire confidence in his ability at finding solutions to contain the metastasizing after-effects.
Most will conclude that however meritorious Lincoln Chaffee's case for being elected America's 45th president is, he doesn't stand a chance, particularly against the Clinton political machine and its vast base of financial support -- and that this is a tragedy for Mr. Chaffee. I look at this equation somewhat differently. It is not a tragedy for Lincoln Chaffee, but for America.