Rhode Island Senator Chafee ’71 Addresses Phillips Academy Seniors at Special Dinner

Visiting the Phillips Academy campus for the first time since 1991, United States Senator Lincoln Chafee ’71, a Republican from Rhode Island, spoke at a Senior-faculty dinner in Commons on Sunday night and answered questions from the floor in a special discussion session following the event. Throughout the course of the evening, Mr. Chafee touched upon telling details and anecdotes not only from his career in politics, which began with a local constitutional council position in his home state, but also from his personal experience as a Brown University graduate in the horseshoeing and textile manufacturing trades. The first Republican mayor of Warwick, R.I., in the 32 years before his election to the post in 1992, Mr. Chafee “walked into…a very polarized atmosphere” in the Senate after the November 1999 death of his father, Mr. John H. Chafee, in the middle of his term. Reelected in 2000, the Senator currently acts as Chairman of the Superfund Subcommittee and as a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations. Mr. Chafee, after an introduction by Director of Alumni Affairs Michael Ebner ’70, reflected on his life before his entrance on the political scene, “If you can make it at this school, you can make it anywhere.” Continuing to reminisce in an interview with The Phillipian, he said, “My dad’s advice was to make sure that you have something to fall back upon…[a safeguard] that gives you the ability to vote with a clear conscience and know that it might cost you your job.” Following are excerpts from Mr. Chafee’s responses to questions posed to him by students and faculty after his description of his life from PA to the present: On the Bush administration post-9/11: “There is a group within the administration that has been advocating a policy of preemption and unilateralism for a long time. … A 2000 document entitled, ‘Rebuilding America’s Defense’ stated that we would not be able to implement [the aforementioned] policy unless there is a ‘new Pearl Harbor.’ … In June 2002, President Bush ‘laid out’ a preemptive foreign policy, which means that…we are going to invest so enormously in our military that no one will be able to keep up. We have not had a good debate as to whether this is the direction [in which] we want to go. … The forum should be the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. We should have some hearings on this doctrine.” The only Republican in the Senate to vote for a clause stipulating United Nations involvement in Iraq in an October 2002 plan for war, Mr. Chafee commented, “Advocates of the administration do not like the U.N. NATO will be the main coalition, but the problem is that it is composed of Christian European countries, except for Turkey…and [NATO] needs to be inclusive.” On what “keeps” him in the Republican Party: “It was not long ago that there were a lot of moderates in the Senate in the Republican Party. Five of six New England governors are Republican…they would not get elected if they were right-wing fanatics. … It is tough right now in the Senate to be a Republican…but the pendulum swings. … A centrist coalition [in the Senate] has been meeting for a number of years, …and it was able to pare down the proposed tax cut from $720 million to $350 million.” On the media’s acceptance of the government’s policies: “After the tumultuous spring of 2001 [with the movement away from the Kyoto accords and Senator Jim Jeffords’ departure from the G.O.P.], things [within the government] began to unravel. I thought the administration was on the ropes. 9/11 happened, and we just have not recovered from that. … I do not blame the media.” On whether it matters that the U.S. seems to occupy a low position of respect on the international stage: “Some in the administration would say, ‘No,’ but that’s not good. … [President] Bush ’42 did [form an international coalition] in the first Gulf War. … Yes, we have had our problems with the U.N., but let’s not leave it.” On the effects of 9/11: “I joined in with every human being in being horrified. I did not know Osama bin Laden, and I learned everything I could about him, and he talked about three things: military bases near the holy sites in Mecca and Medina [in Saudi Arabia]; the suffering of the Palestinians; and the suffering of the Iraqis. Those are issues that are not going to go away.” On public fear and whether President Bush is pushing his own political agenda: “I share your cynicism, but I do not know if I’d go so far publicly.” On whether he has seen a financial backlash against his voting record: “I am a Bush Sr. Republican. This is the opportunity to implement something many in the government believe is in our best national security interests. We’re going through a phenomenon right now, and I hope the Republican Party returns to the center.”