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    That government is best which governs least.
        -Thomas Jefferson

    The budget and tax battles of the spring had brought home to me how wide a gulf had come to separate me
    from national Republican orthodoxy.  While I thought we should use much of the surplus for addressing pressing
    domestic spending needs, such as education and child care and health care, few of my Republican colleagues
    saw these as high priorities.  This view was based on their belief that the best government is the least government,
    and that as many surplus dollars as possible should be returned to the taxpayer.
        -Jim Jeffords, My Declaration of Independence

    My Way, the High Way
        -James M. Jeffords (title of his Op-Ed piece in the December 31, 2001 Los Angeles Times)

    I am the way
        -Jesus Christ, Gospel According to St. John (14:6)

Okay, I'll admit right off the bat that this book could have been ghostwritten by Shakespeare, illustrated by Vargas, and had hundred dollar bills between the pages and I'd still have hammered it.  But you can imagine my delight when it turned out to be even more awful than I'd hoped, pretentious, self-absorbed, duplicitous, boring, contradictory, and, most of all, devoid of any serious engagement with political philosophy.  This is a tale of the banality of moderation.

You know you're in trouble from the moment you realize that the book's title isn't tongue-in-cheek.  The good Senator seems to have actually believed his press clippings and appears convinced that there's a reasonable comparison to be made between his party switch and the action of the Founders when they declared America to be from thenceforth an independent nation.  Not only does he borrow the title from the men of '76, he also uses several passages from the text as epigraphs to chapters in the book.  And, if this isn't sufficiently grandiose, he later refers to himself as a "martyr", pauses over the irony that Chris Dodd has a portrait of Thomas More hanging on the wall in the room where they are discussing the possibility of Jeffords defying his "king" (the Senator himself makes the unfortunate reference to George W. Bush as Polonius, which, of course, would make Mr. Jeffords Hamlet), and later observes that Vermont has traditionally played a key role in the most important issues facing America, apparently equating himself with the abolitionists.  Heck, I was waiting for him to chase the money changers from the Temple or heal a leper or something.

But no, instead we get a blow by blow by blow by blow by soul deadening blow description of the machinations that Senator Jeffords went through when it first dawned on him, some time in April 2001, that the Republican Party is conservative.  Oh sure, there's a brief and entirely disingenuous attempt to suggest that it's the Party that has changed, but he sort of gives that game away when he says that his wife is a liberal--a liberal mind you, not just a democrat or a moderate--and that their politics don't differ much.  At any rate, if we can read between the lines just a little, it seems that what really caught Mr. Jeffords off guard was not the conservatism of the party, but the fact that the GOP suddenly controlled both houses of Congress and the Presidency for the first time in several generations and that they might actually get something done.  Appalled by the prospect of the Party platform that he'd run on six months earlier actually being made into law, Mr. Jeffords began exploring ways to gum up the works.

His first ploy was to demand about $200 billion dollars for Special Education programs, a pet project of his throughout his career in Congress.  Absent from the book, but oft repeated in news coverage of the whole psychodrama, he also demanded assurances that the Northeast Dairy Compact would be preserved.  This little gem of a program, believe it or not, artificially raises milk prices here in the Northeast and diverts the difference to dairy farmers.  It's entirely understandable that the Senator avoids mention of what is basically a regressive tax on consumers, but it does undermine his claims to be plain spoken.    As negotiations continued, with Mr. Jeffords threatening to withhold his support for the budget and tax cut unless he got his way, Democrats began to sense that ole Jeezum Jim wasn't all that interested in remaining a Republican.  So they offered to let him keep his Committee chairmanship if he'd agree to switch parties, or at least become an independent and caucus with them for purposes of organizing the Senate.  This would effectively give them control of the chamber which would at that point split 50 to 49 to one, with the one joining the fifty.

This he eventually did; although, seemingly just to prove that his action was completely unprincipled, he insisted on voting for the GOP conference report on taxes, thus passing the very cuts that he'd previously claimed were excessive.  Needless to say, the whole experience was horribly difficult and a number of Senators--Don Nickles of Oklahoma in particular--weren't as understanding of the dithering Dairy King's act as he had hoped they'd be.  Fortunately, Tom Daschle, Ted Kennedy, and Harry Reid and company couldn't have been nicer as they welcomed him across the aisle.  The book closes (well almost, there is an afterword) with the Senator's speech in Burlington, Vermont on May 24, 2001, which he humbly titles : My Declaration.

None of this would be so galling if the Republican Party truly had changed, as did the Democrat Party during the 60s and 70s, when it went from being a party split between liberals and Southern segregationists to a party totally of the Left.  It was because of this change that many Southern Democrats eventually joined the GOP (including his Senate colleagues : Strom Thurmond; Phil Gram; and Richard Shelby).  The Republican Party, on the other hand, has been a conservative party--with brief exceptions for Teddy Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, and Richard Nixon--since time immemorial.  Mr. Jeffords can hardly have failed to noticed the tenets of his own party during the prior 26 years he ran under its banner.

Nor would it be even the least bit dishonorable if Senator Jeffords had just switched parties before he ran for reelection in 2000.  This would have given the voters of Vermont a chance to decide whether they wanted a Democrat or a Republican, instead of voting for one and getting the other.  Of course, a less charitable man than I would point out that 2000 was predicted to be, and was, an especially good year for the GOP in Vermont, where it had previously been almost moribund.  It could seem to someone who didn't trust senator Jeffords' motives, that he stayed in the GOP just to play it safe, even though he'd given thought to switching parties well before May of 2001.  But we'll not entertain such a despicable thought here.

Unfortunately the books ends with the Senator's switch.  I say unfortunately, not because I wished it to continue for one more tedious Jim-filled page but, because the story has one of those delightful, ironic endings that warm the cockles of the heart.  You see, the Senator's newfound friends in the Democrat Party more or less shafted him when it came time to cut the final budget deals at the end of last year.  Senator Kennedy, good chum though he may be, worked out an Education package with the White House that didn't have all that Special Ed money that Jim Jeffords had made his defining issue.   And Tom Daschle, the Man who Jim Made King, decided not to invest any of his political capital in a fight over the NE Dairy Compact, which after all, his constituents back home in South Dakota don't much like.  So, presumably even at the moment these galleys were being proofed and sent to the printer, rumors erupted in the Senate cloakrooms that Mr. Jeffords might slink back to the GOP if they were willing to deal.

Of course, by then Mr. Jeffords had returned to the obscurity he so richly deserves, the nation having been thrust into war and the President riding a wave of popularity and job approval.  And what do the poor good folks of the Green Mountain state have to show for their Senator's gyrations?  Not the Special Education funding he says they demanded; not the Dairy Compact he says they needed; not the leverage to get things done that he had when he was the GOP's uncertain 50th vote; no, none of these things; instead, they've got this book.  Lord help 'em.


Grade: (F)


See also:

Book-related and General Links:
    -Jim Jeffords (U.S. Senate)
    -James M. Jeffords : 2002 Political Profile (Open Secrets)
    -I Heart James Jeffords
    -ESSAY :  My Way, the High Way (JAMES M. JEFFORDS, December 30 2001, Los Angeles Times)
    -ARTICLE : Senate Approves Bill to Expand Federal Role in Public Education (DIANA JEAN SCHEMO, December 19, 2001, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : Back to School (JIM JEFFORDS, December 13, 2001, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : Switch Hit (Michael Crowley, 12/20/01, New Republic)
    -SPEECH : Jeffords Jumps : In his own words.
    -SPEECH : Statement of Senator Jim Jeffords : Press Conference (July 17, 2001)
    -PROFILE : Green Mountain Man (Ryan H. Sager, March 2002, Tech Central Station)
    -ESSAY : The Dairy Fix Is In : Jeffords wields his power. (Dave Juday,  August 17, 2001, National Review)
    -ESSAY : Abraham Jeffords : The Senate Republicansí average IQ just skyrocketed. (Ann Coulter, June 1, 2001, National Review)
    -The Jeffords Explosion (Howard Kurtz, May 23, 2001, Washington Post)
    -PROFILE : Moderate Republican Sets His Own Course (Helen Dewar, May 23, 2001, Washington Post)
    -ARTICLE : Jeffords delays announcement on potential party switch (CNN Correspondent Kate Snow , May 23, 2001)
    -PROFILE : Maverick remains popular at home (CNN, May 22, 2001)
    -ESSAY : GOP Trades Up : Jeffords be gone! (Stephen Moore, May 15, 2001, National Review)
    -ESSAY : How Jim Jeffords Changed the World  (Tony Karon, TIME)
    -ESSAY : Jim Jeffords' Defection and the High Cost of Politics (Thomas Sowell, May 27, 2001, Capitalism)
    -ESSAY : Spilt Milk (John B. Judis, 05.24.01, New Republic)
    -ESSAY : A Choice, Not an Echo (Patrick Basham and John Samples, May 24, 2001, Cato)
    -REVIEW : of My Declaration of Independence by James M. Jeffords  (Matt Labash, Weekly Standard)

    -Center for Special Education Finance - The Center for Special Education Finance (CSEF) was established in October 1992 to address fiscal policy questions related to the delivery and support of special education services throughout the United States
    -Special Education (Education Finance Statistics Center)
    -ARCHIVES : Education News (Washington Post)
    -ARTICLE : Bush Administration Gears Up To Revamp Special Education  (Michael A. Fletcher, October 5, 2001, Washington Post)
    -ESSAY : Where's the Money Going? : Changes in the Level and Composition of Education Spending, 1991-96 (Richard Rothstein, Economic Policy Institute)
    -ESSAY : SPECIAL EDUCATION:  EXPENDITURES AND OBLIGATIONS (Janet R. Beales , July 1993, Reason Public Policy Institute)
    -LINKS : SPECIAL EDUCATION RELATED LINKS (California Department of Education)


Mr. McCall:

The state has begun to trend Republican slightly, which is why Mr. Jeffords waited until after he was re-elected to switch parties. That said, VT tends to re-elect incumbents until they're carried out on a board, so he seems likely to win.

- oj

- Feb-20-2003, 20:46


Let me say from the outset – so I won’t be labeled as a liberal tree hugger - that I am a conservative republican from the south and have served my country as a Marine officer. I’m currently living in South Korea to defend our country. I have just finished Jeffords’ book (yes, I found it on the sale rack) but read it because I’m interested in politics and the state of our great country.

I may not agree with his positions and the book may have been self serving but maybe I’m being simple minded to think that he felt he owed people an explanation for his actions and that he actually has a conscience.

He does tend to ramble and repeat himself but I think makes it very clear that Special Education legislation was passed in 1974 (I think it was) and even though it was mandated to be funded the federal government only kicked in 10 to 20 percent of the required funding.

Obviously this was an issue that was very dear to him and he tried his best to work a compromise.

I think he is to be admired for his decision. I ran across this web site because I wanted to follow up on what I had read from the book and was curious about his chances for reelection. I guess since that is a couple more years down the road it hasn’t hit the radar screen yet.

Again, even though I don’t agree with his policies, I find it refreshing to encounter a politician that is willing to suffer personal and professional consequences for adhering to his conscience and the courage of his commitments.

- G. McCall

- Feb-20-2003, 20:40


I was in Waldenbooks the other day and saw this book selling on the cheap rack for $2.99. I guess the so-called "romanticism" of Jeffords' independence has died off rather quickly. Good riddance.

- J Nelson

- Feb-18-2003, 19:02