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Republican in the Senate bares his conscience

By Hannah Selinger | RAW STORY COLUMNIST

Last week, the most amazing thing happened: a Republican senator demonstrated that he does, indeed, have standards.

On Wednesday, the Senate was slated to vote on the nomination of John R. Bolton as U.S. representative for the United Nations. Democrats and Republicans alike expected the senators to vote along party lines, which would have meant a swift success for Bolton and the White House.


And then the most amazing thing happened.

Senator George Voinovich, Republican of Ohio, said that he did not feel comfortable voting for Mr. Bolton, and that the persuasive arguments of Senators Dodd (D-Conn.) and Biden (D-Del.) had raised concerns regarding Bolton’s past behavior. “My conscience got me,” Voinovich said after a two-hour session in which Dodd and Biden made their arguments.

Conscience? From a Republican Senator? Who knew such a thing existed.

The matter of ‘conscience’ is hard to reconcile with today’s Beltway scene, especially when House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is spending his time reorganizing Texas districts to secure more seats for Republicans, putting his wife and daughter on the political payroll, accepting money from everyone from here to Timbuktu, and issuing weird Christian Fundamentalist threats to Florida judges. This ethereal thing called conscience seems to belong to a bygone era of real politics and has no place in the modern era of brush-it-under-the-rug, rich-come-first, Republicans-must-band-together political nonsense.

The truth of the matter is, the current House and Senate have demonstrated so little conscience that they have passed some of the worst and most embarrassing legislation in American History. They have allowed themselves to be persuaded and bullied by big business, approving an obscene omnibus budget and passing a bankruptcy bill that will only serve to re-entrench already poor Americans in poverty. The Republican argument for the obviously evil bill was that it would prevent Americans from jacking up debt on credit cards, only to be absolved of such debt when they filed for bankruptcy; the bill had been pushed by credit card companies, who claimed that millions of Americans were dodging the bullet (and the interest rates), by doing exactly that. A recent cartoon in a Sunday issue of the New York Times points to the absurdity of the argument: a man lies in bed, hooked up to a ventilator, holds up a newspaper with the bankruptcy bill as headline, and says something to the effect of, “Damn. My plan to get terminally ill and file for bankruptcy has failed!”

If the Senators who wrote and voted for that legislation (and don’t get me wrong—it was a Republican bill that was backed by more Republicans than Democrats, but some Democrats signed it) had any standards whatsoever, they would have realized that condemning Americans to penury does not betray a strong conscience. So pardon the surprise at Voinovich’s defection. One would have assumed that the trenchant, ethically anchorless Bolton would have passed the nomination ceremony post haste.

But, in one of those solar-eclipse-rare kind of moments, Senator Voinovich went with his gut. Consequently, Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) was forced to delay the Bolton nomination vote for at least two weeks. That doesn’t mean that Bolton won’t be nominated, but it does send a message to the White House about radical nominees in any political office.

Message or not, watching a Senator turn from the party line in favor of ethical behavior is something that those of us who trust in the democratic process like to see. In a time when politics have been reduced to childish squabbling, and the American government appears to have as much interest in integrity as it does in, say, procuring national healthcare, Voinovich’s not-so-tacit disapproval of the President’s pick feels even more resonant.

If only the rest of the party would take the hint and smarten up. Because, in the end, the agenda of both parties should be the same: to make decisions that improve the lives of all Americans. Certain values, namely the values of freedom and equality, should be of paramount concern to politicians on the left and right sides of the aisle. Recently, though, many Republicans have proven that freedom and equality are not at the top of their agendas, and that the lobby is more important than the voting citizen. So it’s refreshing to see that the President’s ‘anything goes’ mandate is not foolproof.

Even as we applaud Voinovich, though, we must recognize that his behavior is not the norm but, rather, a deviation. Congress and the White House will continue to act in repellent and unconscionable ways, pandering to the top income brackets rather than the constituent population. The party in power will appoint activist judges even as they talk from the sides of their mouths about the danger of such judges. And the Constitution will likely be amended to fit the neoconservative vision of religion, revulsion, and riches. But perhaps, as Tom DeLay himself once said, “the time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior.”

Hannah Selinger's column can be found each Tuesday at Raw Story.


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