Monday, July 28, 2008

Shays' Last Stand?

This may be the year that Connecticut bids goodbye to the last Republican U.S. Representative in New England.

It is not likely that Rep. Chris Shays will be enthusiastically supported by his Republican base, a problem presidential candidate Sen. John McCain is also facing.

According to one news report, Shays this year is offering himself as a Republican who “could work with likely Democrat presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama," and never mind that Shays is co-chairman of McCain campaign in Connecticut.

"On the issues, I work with Republicans and Democrats,” Shays has said, “If Obama's elected, he'll probably be turning to me. If he is going to do what he says and work with Republicans, I am going to be one of his natural allies that he'll turn to if he wins,” all of which is possible – if Shays wins.

There are enough “ifs” in this proposition to choke an elephant. Getting back home to Kansas from Oz is always the difficulty.

Among the items Shays regularly hands around to the media these days is a packet of research from Congressional Quarterly and the National Journal that demonstrate his independence from his besieged president.

Shays, whom some have called Lowell Weicker lite, has never found it difficult in steering a course between the Scylla of Democratic acceptance and the Charybdis of Republican rejection. Shays bills himself as a “contrarian.” Weicker, who preferred the term “maverick,” once billed himself as “the turd in the Republican Party punchbowl.”

For 33 years, Shays has defeated all opponents, some by the slenderest of margins – up till now. But in Connecticut, Obama is running much stronger than McCain; and however much Shays may wish to work with a President Obama, it is not likely that the Democrat candidate for president, newly returned from a triumphal tour of Europe, will be stumping for anyone other than Shays' opponent, the resourceful Jim Himes, a executive who shook the dust of Goldman Sachs from his feet and now helps to run a nonprofit that develops housing for the poor.

Himes is Ned Lamont lite.

Within the last few years, the Bush administration changed its strategic orientation in Iraq. The change, a word Obama uses on the campaign trail with hypnotic effect, involved a surge in troops, the rebuilding and training of Iranian forces and, most especially, a successful effort in persuading sheiks to assist in ridding the country of al-Qaeda. These changes, despite highly politicized efforts on the part of an organized Democrat Party to make president Bush lose the war in Iraq, has succeeded in moving a pacified Iraq towards a democratic government.

Prime minister Nouri al- Maliki, no less a political creature than Obama or Shays, must worry about upcoming elections. The Iraq people are nationalistic and antagonistic to foreign pressure. There is little doubt they would prefer to see American troops leave the country within the timeline set by Obama; whether al_Maliki wants a complete withdrawal of American troops within Obama's shifting guidelines is a matter of some dispute among people who admire Al Maliki's political prowess. Accomplished politicians, don't you know, do not always mean what they say or say what they mean.

Obama, so far, has been showered with good fortune and a tolerant, non-critical media. On the eve of the presidential campaign, the success of the surge, which Obama has lately acknowledged, may have made it possible for the Unites States to withdraw troops from the Iraqi war theater and recommit them to Afghanistan.

In any case, the stars appear to be aligned in Obama’s favor. He has shown himself to be something of a rock star, somewhat like a young Jack Kennedy others have said. This time around, the presidential candidate may have effective coattails, which will not bode well for Shays, whose pants on fire retreat from Bush is as helpful to him as it is embarrassing to Republicans who believe that, in the case of Iraq, every success has only helped the opposition.
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