Maverick Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is one of DC's most quoted politicians – and not just for his wit and acumen
Washington watches Senator Lindsey Graham very closely, in part because he is witty, gives good quotes and will sometimes stray into Republican maverick-land airspace as John McCain's wingman.
He's not afraid to criticize other Republicans, often from the hallowed "middle ground" so revered by DC serious thinkers. He's safely mocked Donald Trump; he's called for more comity in the Senate and respect for traditions (as opposed to Rand Paul's "political stunt" filibuster), and quite reasonably pointed out out that the "Tea Party [is] just unsustainable because they can never come up with a coherent vision for governing the country." His work on immigration reform has so upset Republicans in the GOP base that he may even face a primary challenge – one that no one, not even the GOP base, thinks he will lose.
But for all the talk of Graham's Republican-in-name-only coloring, one doesn't have to even scratch the surface to see that Graham is not just deeply conservative but irrationally so. This is the other reason that Washington pays attention to Lindsey Graham: he says crazy things. As Congress inches toward immigration legislation and the town preps confetti and streamers for its bipartisan shepherds, here are a few choice Graham quotes to remind us where following him any further might lead.
1. Actually existing apocalypse
He opposes bans on assault weapons because "If there's a cyber attack against the country and the power grid goes down and the dams are released and chemical plants … discharge", and there "armed gangs roaming around neighborhoods", then well:
A better self-defense weapon may be a semi-automatic AR-15 versus a double-barrel shotgun.
At the hearing where Graham posited this doomsday scenario, Attorney Eric Holder demurred, that Graham was describing "a hypothetical in a world". No, said, Graham:
I'm afraid that world does exist. I think it existed in New Orleans, to some exist [sic] in Long Island, it could exist tomorrow.
(One book-length study of human behavior in the wake of disasters has found acts of spontaneous altruism outweighed the mythic marauding and rampages of popular, and Lindsey Graham's, imagination.)
2. The Benghazi conspiracy
Graham is one of Fox News' leading Benghazi conspiracists, his shrillness on the issue appearing to reach an ever-higher range as time and information erode the controversy itself. He's said that the absence of, well, I guess a criminal trial – otherwise, the whole thing's been pretty well investigated – means Hillary Clinton "got away with murder". He's also implied that the Obama administration has menaced or threatened survivors of the attack, preventing Americans from hearing from "the primary source of truth":
I've talked to a couple and their story is chilling. They're scared to death to come forward.
(Worth noting: survivors of Benghazi have been interviewed twice by federal investigators, and their testimony made available to members of the Senate intelligence committee. They have also been interviewed by investigators conducting an independent review for the State Department.)
3. The Sochi boycott campaign
Graham has called for the US to boycott the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia over the asylum of Edward Snowden – whose flight he hoped would lead America to "chase him to the ends of the earth" (Snowden pursuit is a possible Olympic exhibition event, I think):
I love the Olympics, but I hate what the Russian government is doing throughout the world. If they give asylum to a person who I believe has committed treason against the United States, that's taking it to a new level.
Graham argued a historic parallel, saying:
If you could go back in time, would you have allowed Adolf Hitler to host the Olympics in Germany? To have the propaganda coup of inviting the world into Nazi Germany and putting on a false front?
Though he quickly relented:
I'm not saying that Russia is Nazi Germany.
(The Snowden asylum is small beer as far as a boycott goes, but there is another very good reason for a possible boycott: Russia's abysmal record on gay rights and their legislation prohibiting "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations".)
4. Marriage equality constitutionalism
Despite no longer favoring an outright federal ban on gay marriage, Graham has gone beyond the "if-we-let-the-gays-marry-then-THREESOMES" logic of anti-equality bigots to open up a whole new terrain of straight privilege: if gays want to marry, then their right needs to be positively affirmed by a constitutional amendment granting the right. As opposed to, he says, "a handful of judges" deciding that marriage is an equal right. His logic twists through the story of Lincoln ("a great movie", he notes): "The people decided" to end slavery, he told CNN's Piers Morgan:
Slavery was outlawed by a constitutional amendment. If you want to propose a constitutional amendment legalizing same-sex marriage and it passes, that's the law of the land.
The unspoken corollary here, I guess, is to let all the blue states secede? His history, even just relating to the movie he saw, is obviously a little sketchy as well: if anything, Lincoln dramatizes just how little what "the people" wanted had to do with Lincoln's desire to end slavery. Lincoln's desire to end slavery itself was in ancillary to his desire to defeat the South.
Also, and thank God, we've grown a bit as a nation since then; if what Graham is saying is that gay marriage opponents are so bitter and zealous that they will die for their cause unless overruled by constitutional amendment … well, it is true that opponents of gay marriage are, demographically, dying off.
5. Invade Iran already
Graham's alarmism about a nuclear Iran both apocalyptic and apocryphal. He's been simultaneously calling for and warning about it for years: in 2007, he refused to believe the intelligence reports that reversed earlier US contentions about the country's progress toward a nuclear weapon – and he's continued in that vein, ignoring all evidence or findings that might contradict a lovingly held belief that we really, really, really need to go to war with Iran. Soon.
Just this week, he promised that "if nothing changes", he would "present a resolution that will authorize the use of military force to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb." He is "skeptical" that diplomacy will work, and calls Iran's "quest for a nuclear weapon" the "challenge of our time". For what it's worth, Graham said "the time for talking" was "over" last year, so he's able to sustain his obsession without apparently acting on it for long periods. Rest easy, I guess!
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