Oregon's junior senator, Gordon Smith, likes to pretend he is a moderate, in line with the mainstream views of his (relatively progressive) constituency. But the truth is that Gordon Smith is really a hard-line "conservative" that will, when push comes to shove, knuckle under to Republican party leaders.
Of late, Senator Smith has made statements expressing exasperation and even outrage at the lack of progress in Iraq and the seeming futility of the war. But let's not forget that even as Oregonians were turning out in massive numbers to protest the pending unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation in 2003, Gordon Smith had already expressed his willingness to ignore international law and throw his lot in with Junior Bush by voting for the war resolution on October 11, 2002.
Senator Smith has never bothered to explain how or why he was so woefully befooled by administration claims of all manner of nasty illegal weaponry at Saddam Hussein's fingertips, including mobile labs for creating biological weapons and unmanned drones that would carry out poisonous attacks on American cities. Some of these claims were preposterous on their faces. Did Senator Smith honestly believe them? Or did he take the easy way out and vote with his party in spite of doubting some of the administration's most outrageous claims? At this point, it doesn't really matter: Senator Smith showed either an amazing gullibility or a shameful lack of independence.
On oil-drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)
For many years, it seemed as though Gordon Smith was in line with the vast majority of his constituency regarding oil-drilling in ANWR. He even voted to kill the ANWR drilling legislation in 2003.
But that was before Karl Rove put the screws to him, apparently. When the chips were down for the administration's 2nd term domestic agenda, Gordon Smith backed off on a campaign promise to protect ANWR, and cast the tie-breaking vote to allow ANWR to go forward. One can only hope that, when the Senator got the phone call from Rove's office, he held out for something and didn't just roll over.
His post-vote comments were unapologetic and hint at the "depth" of his principles. According to Alexander Bolton of the Hill:
Smith said drilling in the reserve “is not the lightning rod it once was. That’s a fact,” he said. “Even in Oregon.”Are we then to infer, that since ANWR is not a "lightning rod," Senator Smith is justified in changing one of his supposedly deeply-held convictions?
On equal rights for GLBT citizens
I haven't forgotten how, during the Senator's reelection bid of 2002, the grieving mother of Matthew Shepherd appeared in Senator Smith's campaign advertisements, stating that she was sure Matthew would have viewed Senator Smith as a friend because of the Senator's advocacy for gay rights. The poor woman was, I'm afraid, bamboozled.
After his reelection, Senator Smith quickly betrayed his gay and lesbian constituency by voting to end debate on (and thus, clear the way for passage of) the "Protection of Marriage" amendment that defined marriage as being between one man and one woman. One hopes that any so-called "Log Cabin" Republicans in Oregon won't be fooled by Senator Smith's frequent appearances on the organization's web site.
Towing the line for GOP Senate Leadership
Most of the time, Senator Smith is little more than a back-bencher in the Senate Republican Caucus. But GOP leadership can always count on him to come out publicly with some manufactured outrage when it is most useful. As a so-called "moderate" he lends the appearance of centrism to the hypocrisy that Republican law-makers continually peddle to the American electorate.
Two brief examples:
When former Clinton national security adviser Sandy Berger came under criminal investigation for removing classified documents from the National Archives, Senator Smith found his way in front of the cameras to express his outrage. Outrage over the incident is, I suppose plausible. But consider this: Mr. Berger was involved in John Kerry's campaign for president, and the polls were tight. Was Senator Smith (the "moderate") trotted out to distract from the fact that Tim Russert was at that time being compelled by a federal judge to testify about what he knew regarding the leaking of the name of a CIA agent by a high-level member of the Bush administration? And where was Senator Smith's outrage over that sordid incident?
And, going all the way back to the impeachment trial of President Clinton, when certain moderate Republican senators publicly stated that they would vote for acquittal, who was it that appeared at the side of then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, to announce that he would vote to convict, and thereby kept the impeachment effort from collapsing? None other than Gordon Smith.
On accountability in government
Senator Smith will generally respond to written inquiries addressed to his office. I've written Senator Smith many times, and he has always responded (albeit with the placation and vagaries that all politicians use). There is one inquiry I posed, however, to which Senator Smith has never responded, despite repeated letters and messages:
Do you believe there is an appearance of a conflict of interest in that Vice-President Dick Cheney is receiving a salary en absentia from his former employer, Halliburton, at the same time that Halliburton and its subsidiaries are being awarded no-bid government contracts for work in Iraq?One can only wonder why the Senator finds these questions unworthy of response.
If you believe that there is the appearance of a conflict of interest, will you call for investigations and congressional oversight of the situation? If you do not believe there is the appearance of a conflict of interest, can you please explain your position?
Oregonians need leadership that reflects our independence of thought. We do not need a senator that meekly follows the line dictated by GOP leaders, straying only when it is safe to do so. I hope our state will recognize how poorly she is served by her junior senator, and vote next year to remove him from office.