The Times Celebrates Its Latest Conservative 'Maverick,' Sen. Lindsay Graham
Times Magazine contributing writer (and author of the anti-Bush "Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush") Robert Draper profiles Sen. Lindsay Graham, an unreliable-at-best conservative admired by liberals, in the upcoming Sunday issue of the New York Times magazine: "Lindsay Graham, This Year's Maverick."
Draper's latest is as condescending toward the conservative movement as a previous Sunday Magazine article from last December on Texas Gov. Rick Perry's Republican primary fight for governor with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (he won).
Lindsey Graham was sitting in a sedan early one morning and contentedly discussing the various fellow South Carolina conservatives who dislike him - Tea Partiers, Constitutionalists, immigration hardliners - when Van Cato, his upstate regional director, lifted a hand from the steering wheel and said: "That's the leader of them right there. There's his sign. He's running for Greenville County Council."
Draper went for melodrama:
Among the conservative activists who have called for censuring Graham as a quisling of the right is the state's G.O.P. gubernatorial nominee and Tea Party favorite, Nikki Haley.
Quisling? Is there really any reason to bring the Nazis into an American political squabble, even as a metaphor?
Graham is now accustomed to sporadic heckling and the occasional icy stare in his native state, where he was re-elected to a second term in 2008 by a 15-point margin. His give-and-take brand of conservatism has never been an obvious fit in bloodred South Carolina, and even more so during the past Tea-Party-agitated year. Today, however, he faced no overt displays of hostility on the Lander campus. Just before taking the stage, he donned a graduation gown but winced at the other accouterment and said: "Do we have to wear these stupid hats? I've got the smallest head."
Graham has fans in the Obama White House:
The White House logs do not record visits paid by U.S. senators. According to his office's records, however, Lindsey Graham has been to the West Wing 19 times since Barack Obama became president. When I asked the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, if any other Republican senator was so frequent a guest, he thought for a moment before responding, rather doubtfully, "Maybe Susan Collins."
Emanuel went on to say: "He's willing to work on more things than the others. Lindsey, to his credit, has a small-government vision that's out of fashion with his party, which stands for no government....He's one of the last big voices to give that vision intellectual energy."
While the energy of Graham's intellect is hard to dispute, the nature of his "vision" is another matter. As his press office never tires of pointing out, the American Conservative Union awarded Graham a lifetime rating of 90. The antitax Club for Growth views Graham less heroically, ranking him dead last among Republican senators and below 12 Democrats and independents.
Still, such benchmarks seem as bygone as clap-o-meters and mood rings in a day when conservatives will savage one of their own for having the effrontery to characterize the president of the United States as "a good role model" or "an American just as much as anybody else." Graham made both comments on "Meet the Press" in March. His greater transgression, however, has been his willingness - even eagerness - to seek common ground with Democrats. For his sins, Glenn Beck termed the senator Obama Lite, while Rush Limbaugh labeled him Lindsey Grahamnesty. Less tame are the blogosphere monikers, like "Miss Lindsey," that play off of Graham's never-married status. During a South Carolina Tea Party rally this spring, one speaker created an uproar by postulating that Graham supported a guest-worker program out of fear that the Democrats might otherwise expose his homosexuality. (Graham smirked when I brought this up. "Like maybe I'm having a clandestine affair with Ricky Martin," he said. "I know it's really gonna upset a lot of gay men - I'm sure hundreds of 'em are gonna be jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge - but I ain't available. I ain't gay. Sorry.")
There was a time, barely more than a decade ago, when Lindsey Graham was a darling of the right wing - a Newt Gingrich acolyte who in 1994 delivered to the Republicans a House seat that was occupied by a Democrat since 1877; who at one moment was an unremarkable Huck Finn look-alike seated at an overflow table beside the House Judiciary Committee dais next to Sonny Bono's widow, Mary, and then a moment later burst out of his cocoon during the Clinton impeachment hearings with that rhetorical gem, "Is this Peyton Place or Watergate?" Four years later in 2002, he easily won election to the Senate seat that was occupied by Strom Thurmond for the previous 48 years.
Draper concluded by summing up an exchange between Graham and the president on civilian trials for terrorists that painted Obama as an open-minded alternative to President Bush (a Draper theme).
"Mr. President, I understand where you're coming from intellectually," Graham said he replied. But, he added, public support for a civilian trial on domestic soil was "just not there."
"You're probably right," Obama conceded.
After recalling this conversation for me, I asked Graham if he appreciated that level of dispassion from the president. "Yeah," he said. "I totally do. I think that's the right way to be." I commented on the temperamental difference between Obama and George W. Bush. "Yeah," Graham said. "I find it almost reassuring."