Tom Kean Jr., Republican candidate for US senator from New Jersey, has painted himself as a moderate.
The candidate, son of a popular former governor who was co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission, points to his record as a pro-choice, pro-environment member of the state Legislature and his promise to be a beacon of ethical integrity at a time when the state's Democrats are raising sleaze to new heights.
Kean's moderation is only skin deep, however. The state senator remains a supporter of the Iraq war (though he has called for Donald Rumsfeld's head) and the Bush tax cuts; he backed President George Bush's Supreme Court nominees; and he has remained mum on Social Security (though he has called in the past for creation of private accounts).
Most importantly, however, Kean is a Republican at a time when hard-right conservatives control Washington, and his election to the Senate -- replacing the Democratic incumbent Bob Menendez -- is likely to do little more than further the right-wing cause.
"Kean is part of a team," Tom Moran, political columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger, wrote in a June column. "His election would strengthen the hand of Bush, a guy who can't see a wilderness area without thinking about the logging opportunities."
Moran's point is simple: A Kean victory would likely mean that the GOP would retain a majority in the Senate, which would "ensure that people like Sen. James Inhofe, a troglodyte from Oklahoma, would remain in his seat as chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. This is a guy who calls global warming a 'hoax,' even as the polar ice caps melt."
Inhofe's control of the committee, of course, would mean that pro-environment legislation would have a tough time making it to the full Senate floor -- where Kean would presumably be waiting to cast his rebellious vote.
Kean, of course, is not alone. There is Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, the lone Republican to vote against the war in Iraq. Chafee voted against the Bush tax cuts and the Bush court picks, and with the Democrats on a slew of issues.
But as Harold Meyerson pointed out in the Washington Post at the end of September:
"Chafee and Maine's Olympia Snowe and such deathbed converts to moderation as Ohio's Mike DeWine are seeking reelection to the Senate by claiming that they represent a Republicanism less rabid than the Bush-Rove strain. They point to individual votes in which they broke with the president and flouted the party line. But those votes have been negated a hundred times over by their votes to make Bill Frist the majority leader, just as they would be negated when the new Senate takes office in 2007 if the moderates backed any Republican unwilling to make a fundamental break with Bush and Bushism."
And Bushism is the issue. I'm generally not a "party" guy -- I voted for Ralph Nader for president twice and have voted for local Republicans on a number of occasions -- but national politics have become so polarized that moderates have not only become rare, they have become nothing more than enablers.
"They are loyal and indispensable foot soldiers in the Republicans' continuing campaign to drag the nation rightward and backward," Meyerson wrote.
That's why it is important that Democrats like Bob Menendez and James Webb win their races, regardless of their flaws. Menendez, for instance, is a moderately liberal Democrat (Webb is less liberal) who opposed the Iraq war in the House and opposes Bush's Social Security reforms, but who also voted recently for the compromise on the Bush torture plan.
But a Menendez victory is not about Menendez. It is part of a larger movement to shift control of Congress to the Democrats, to push guys like Inhofe from their powerful perches and restore some reason and sanity to Washington.
Hank Kalet is a poet and managing editor of the South Brunswick Post and the Cranbury Press (Dayton, N.J.). Email firstname.lastname@example.org. His blog, Channel Surfing, can be found at www.kaletblog.com.
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