Bob Smith's GOP

by Joseph LaBracio | 11/8/99 6:00am

The story begins in July of this past summer. Senator Bob Smith, the senior senator from New Hampshire, delivered a 50-minute speech on the floor of the United States Senate. Before a packed gallery of tourists and hill staffers, Smith attacked the Republican leadership suggesting that political consultants and polls were being used to direct GOP strategy. According to Smith, "The Republican platform is a meaningless document that has been put out there, so suckers like me and maybe suckers like you out there can read it. I did not come here for that reason. I did not come here to compromise my values to promote the interests of a political party. I came here to promote the interests of my country." This political manifesto culminated with Smith declaring himself independent and intending to run for president as such or on the U.S. Taxpayer's Party ticket. However, after more than 110 days of playing a presidential candidate, Smith announced the end of his run for the White House citing "financial problems." And, of course, there is the reality that he had absolutely no chance of winning.

This left Bob Smith in quite a jam. He was no longer a presidential candidate. He was no longer a member of the Republican Party. Granted, he was still a NH senator, but needless to say his reputation on the hill (which was poor even before he left the GOP), was suffering greatly. Realizing the only means of saving face and regaining even an ounce of integrity was to rejoin the Republican Party, Bob Smith did just that on Monday of this week. As if that wasn't enough of a plot twist, just one day after returning to the Republican Party, Smith was rewarded with an appointment to the chairmanship of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Smith claims that he had been talking of returning to the GOP for several weeks, but that it became even more important with the passing of Senator John Chafee. Perhaps, it is coincidence. Still, one cannot deny it does seem awfully convenient that Smith's realization that he would be better able to pursue his conservative agenda as a member of the GOP came as soon as a chairmanship became vacant. Clearly, he was sobered by the reality that he was nothing without the Republican Party.

The return of Bob Smith to the GOP is an even worse reflection on the Republican Party. When I heard Smith's speech from the staff gallery this summer, a large part of me was thinking what a momentous day this was for the Republican Party. It was the beginning of the removal of a large albatross that hangs around the neck of the GOP -- an albatross defined by strong right wing conservatives who refuse to adapt and redefine their platform with the changing ideas in the world today.

Right now, internal division plagues the Republican Party. There are the old-school conservatives who have created a strong foundation and tend to direct the agenda of the party. But there is also another side composed of more moderate Republicans (New Republicans, if you will) like George W. Bush, who maintain conservative values but understand the need for compromise and an ability to work in a bipartisan manner.

With Bob Smith gone and George W. Bush emerging as the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, it seemed the Republican Party was ready to embrace the detrimental effects of the strong right wing. One thing the party is counting on from George W. is his ability not only to work with Democrats but also to bring unity to the party. With Smith gone, making way for more moderate Republicans, the party was on its way to a new era. However, any hope of a changing GOP was shattered with the welcoming of Smith back into the party.

With open arms and smiles, Republican Party Chairman Jim Nicholson and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott welcomed Bob Smith. Lott justified Smith's return as a "homecoming" saying, "Sometimes even the closest of families has a little squabble." If you ask me, this is one dysfunctional family, and Bob Smith is a son that should have been disowned a long time ago.

Given the events surrounding Smith's departure and return, one has to seriously question the legitimacy of the GOP leadership. With Smith back as a newly appointed chairman, the joke is on the Republican Party. One can only hope that if a Republican wins the White House and the GOP maintains control of Congress that the new president will be able to cure the dissention that exists within this party and forge more efficient relations with the Democrats.

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