Defector du jour

The other day it was E.J. Dionne; today it’s Robert Novak. The lionization of the Senators Hagel, Murkowski, Sunnunu, and Craig — the four Republicans who opposed President Bush on the Patriot Act — continues. Previously, administation critics lionized Senator Voinovich (John Bolton) and Senators McCain and Graham (torture). McCain and Graham also received praise for joining the gang of 14, as did other members such as Senators Warner, Snowe, and Collins. And the MSM was about to lionize Senator Specter when he made noise about opposing pro-life judges. Indeed, the first question I’m asked, typically, in media appearances on these kinds of issues is whether I find it significant that this or that Republican Senator opposes the president.

But what about the fact that Voinovich, Graham, McCain, Warner, Snowe, and Collins all apparently were with the president on the Patriot Act? Or that Craig, Hagel, Murkowski, and Sunnunu were with the president on the nuclear option and the Bolton nomination? If these Senators often fail to meet the MSM’s standards for wisdom and patriotism, why should anything much be made of their opposition to the president on a given occasion.

The reality is that there are roughly 50 non-liberal Republicans in the Senate. Being strong-willed and, in some cases, highly intelligent individuals with their own agendas, one would expect that, on controversial issues, a few (10 percent or so) of them will peel off. One would also expect that the identities of the non-liberal defectors will vary. When these defections occur, it means that the president may not win, but it hardly means that he shouldn’t.

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