An obituary by the New York Times' Bruce Weber for Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords, a soft Republican who swung Senate control to the Democrats when he disavowed his party and went independent ("Jim Jeffords, Who Altered Power in Senate, Dies at 80") appeared in Tuesday's edition.
The most ideological label Weber could find for Jeffords, who made headlines in 2001 when he defected from the GOP to vote with the Democrats in a split U.S. Senate, was "left-leaning." Weber used much of the obituary to criticize the GOP's "conservative orthodoxy." The same politicized tone showed in a previous Weber obit for influential conservative Paul Weyrich.
Jim Jeffords, the former senator from Vermont who single-handedly redrew the national political map in 2001 when, after a quarter-century as a moderate Republican lawmaker, he declared himself an independent, shifting control of the Senate to the Democrats, died on Monday in Washington. He was 80.
The cause was complications of pneumonia, his son, Leonard, said.
Vermont’s lone congressman from 1975 until his election to the Senate in 1988, Mr. Jeffords was a solid Republican on military issues. But as early as 1981, when he voted against President Ronald Reagan’s package of tax and budget cuts -- the only House Republican to do so -- he showed a disinclination to be bound by his party’s conservative orthodoxy.
A supporter of abortion rights, gay rights and the National Endowment for the Arts -- left-leaning stances perhaps befitting an elected representative of a state that had become one of the nation’s bluest -- he was in favor of the health care plan proposed by President Bill Clinton and opposed Mr. Clinton’s impeachment. He backed legislation promoting environmental protection, funding for education and aid for the disabled. He voted against President George Bush’s nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.
But many of his Republican colleagues were shocked when, after the election of George W. Bush in 2000, his displeasure with the further rightward shift of the party caused him to abandon it and to caucus with the Democrats as an independent.
Weber found the minute details of Jeffords' renunciation of "what he viewed as Republican parsimony" fascinating, and quoted from his decision speech at length:
“Increasingly, I find myself in disagreement with my party,” Senator Jeffords said in announcing his decision on May 24, 2001. “I understand that many people are more conservative than I am, and they form the Republican Party. Given the changing nature of the national party, it has become a struggle for our leaders to deal with me and for me to deal with them.”
By contrast, Weber's December 2009 obituary for Paul Weyrich, an influential founder of the New Right, contained 14 conservative labels (not counting the headline), including an "ultra-conservative," and this unflattering bouquet: "...Mr. Weyrich (pronounced WY-rick) was one of the far right's most unbending ideologues."
Weber found Communist "activist and educator" Angela Davis a more amenable subject in his March 2011 obituary for radical lawyer Leonard Weinglass, who counted Davis and other left-wing radicals as clients.
Weber's identification with the left's arguments is evident: "Mr. Weinglass was involved in the death-row appeals of Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose conviction in the 1981 killing of a Philadelphia police officer has been shrouded in allegations of racism, police corruption and judicial bias."
But as the Media Research Center has noted, Abu-Jamal never denied shooting Officer Daniel Faulkner and the case, while a cause celebre in Hollywood, is based on no exculpatory evidence.