When the Charleston County Republican Party censured South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham last month, the group stated that Graham "in the name of bipartisanship, continues to weaken the Republican brand and tarnish the ideals of freedom, rule of law, and fiscal conservatism."
For members of the national media and liberal pundits, the idea that some Republicans — or any Republicans for that matter — would dare call Graham a traitor for his efforts to work with Democrats was simply another example that "fringe" elements were taking over the GOP.
However, in 2008 Connecticut Democrats sought to censure Joe Lieberman for his "extraordinary disloyalty" when he endorsed John McCain in his bid for the White House. Back then, the national media and liberal pundits did not call these Democrats a small lunatic fringe, but claimed their actions were a reasonable response to an unreasonable, if not traitorous, Lieberman.
If Lieberman remains a villain to liberals for his "maverick" behavior, Graham has quickly become the Left's GOP hero for doing the exact same thing. Yet by no stretch of the imagination is either man a true maverick, rebel, reformer, or any other wannabe-revolutionary label politicians often like to ascribe to themselves. Constantly doing the bidding of the Washington establishment and ignoring voters' wishes doesn't make these two mavericks; each man is a menace.
Lieberman had to declare himself an independent to escape the wrath of the Democratic base in his last election. Graham, with a campaign war chest of millions of dollars, could only garner 58 percent against his 2008 challenger, a no-name newcomer with little money in his campaign coffers who received zero support from the state and national Democratic Party. Somehow, so-called "mavericks" like Lieberman and Graham always seem to have lots of money — especially around election time — even as they expect us to believe they're not beholden to government, corporate, or political special interests.
Ironically, liberals who hate Lieberman are falling ever more in love with Lindsey. The recent Charleston City Paper cover story entitled "Rebel With a Cause: Lindsey Graham Breaks Everyone's Rules" features a caricature of the senator decked out in a motorcycle jacket and sporting a black eye, supposedly delivered by his own party. Writes Greg Hambrick: "Lindsey Graham is a real bad boy. He's challenging the administration on troop levels, healthcare, and Guantanamo, thus dodging sharp elbows from the liberals in the lunch line. But he's also searching for compromise when possible, willing to accept conservative morsels in larger Democratic bills. And that's got his own party ready to push him into the homecoming bonfire."
Ah, the rose-colored glasses Obama's minions now wear. What Graham ultimately wants from Obama is what his buddy McCain wants, Lieberman wants, and every other hawk politician jockeying for power and favor with the new administration wants: a continuation of the ambitious neoconservative foreign policy agenda set into motion by George W. Bush. It was no mistake that before the economy went south during the 2008 campaign, Republican nominee McCain intended to run explicitly as a war candidate. It was also no mistake that McCain was flanked by Lieberman and Graham at every turn. When McCain said that we might have to stay in Iraq for "100 years" or that "we are all Georgians now" — an apparent call for the U.S. to take on the Russians — Lieberman and Graham heartily approved.
On Afghanistan, the current debate is between Republicans who don't think the president is acting fast enough in sending more troops and Democrats who are simply debating how many to send. It would seem that any real "maverick" politician might ponder the unconventional, outside-the-box possibility that our continued involvement in Afghanistan could be a recipe for further disaster. President Obama has announced the deployment of upwards of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, Graham has yet to raise any "mavericky" objections.
The Graham who now upsets Republicans by voting to confirm Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and who champions cap and trade is the same guy who supported Bush's Medicare expansion, No Child Left Behind, and TARP. The only difference is Republicans weren't complaining about big government then.
Graham hasn't changed one bit, but his party has begun to. By lashing out at "tea partiers," libertarians, and bona fide mavericks like Congressman Ron Paul — actions which make Graham "respectable" to liberals — Lindsey is trying to stuff his party back in its neoconservative 2008 box. And it's not working.
As Graham continues to go to war with his party, expect him to increasingly go to bat for our new war president just as he did the last one. Far from being a "bad boy," Lindsey is ready to serve the new boss, who is, more or less, the same as the old boss. A maverick, indeed.
Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the "Morning Buzz with Richard Todd" on 1250 AM WTMA.