If you’re a partisan Republican, Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont is a no-good, rotten traitor. If you’re a partisan Democrat, he’s a genuine man of principle. If you’re the average American, his switch of parties is all just so much shuffling of deck chairs on the Titanic.
Jeffords can, of course, legally change parties. The dominance of the major parties and the so-called two-party system were created entirely outside the Constitution. Nothing in our Constitution recognizes the parties or gives them any standing whatsoever. But it’s a little much to switch teams just a few months after an election in which many folks and organizations voted for you at least in part because of your partisan affiliation.
Sure, under fire, Jeffords has now offered to return contributions to any Vermonters who want their money back. But this is an empty gesture. Only roughly 10 percent of his funding came from the people he represents. Most comes from PACs, Republican elected officials and party committees. Though his record in the Senate seems more in line with the Democrats, Mr. Jeffords sure took a lot of money from the Republicans he now can’t abide.
So what really prompted Jeffords to make the switch from Republican to Democrat after 26 years in Congress? One big possibility: term limits. While we don’t yet have term limits on congressmen themselves, we do have term limits on committee chairmen. After 2002, under Republican control, Jeffords would have had to give back his chairman’s gavel and all that power. By switching to the Democrats, however, he gets to stay a committee chairman . . . well, perhaps another 26 years.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.