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Independent Governor Lincoln Chafee DNC Speech Reaction

by Michael Higham, published

The opening day of the 2012 Democratic National Convention had unrelenting support for the re-election of President Barack Obama. Most speeches and support came from party members, but one speech came from the only current Independent governor, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. Like many speeches from conventions, it's an endorsement of the candidate for the party and may seem like preaching to the choir. However, if we look at the Gov. Chafee DNC speech, we also see a call to the fastest growing political group.

As an Independent, Chafee attempted to rally support for President Obama by calling for the non-affiliated voters. Gov. Chafee claims to "represent a group of Americans who all too often have no one to speak for them." He went on to declare that "moderates" are a misleading synonym for independents, stating that the issues they support are anything but a moderate position. He also redirected the term "conservative" towards independents, claiming responsible use of public resources. Afterwards, he redirected the term "liberal" in a sense that the government has a place is promoting public good.

From an issue-based point of view, Gov. Chafee outlined issues important to the Democratic base. He began with  connecting the love of America to the preservation of the environment. Next was civil liberties, outlining support for same-sex marriage and a women's right to an abortion.

The third issue on Chafee's list was the matter of foreign policy. He criticized the invasion of Iraq without saying so, calling foreign entanglements of the Bush Administration reckless. The words are not hollow, as Chafee voted against the Iraq invasion of 2002 as a Republican Senator.

The last issue Chafee brought up was education. He attacked the Romney/Ryan ticket by concluding that two programs, Head Start and the Federal Pell Grant, would no longer exist. This conclusion can be traced in Rep. Paul Ryan's "The Path to Prosperity" budget proposal.

In Gov. Chafee's last minutes of his speech, he looked to history to point out that values do not have to be partisan-based, but stated President Obama is on the right track. He emphasized throughout his speech and especially at the end that non-affiliated voters should trust the Democratic ticket.

The values I have spoken of tonight aren’t Republican or Democratic values – they’re American values. They are the values of Abraham Lincoln, who affirmed the fundamental dignity of all Americans – regardless of the color of their skin. They are the values of Theodore Roosevelt, who protected millions of acres from development and exploitation, so that future Americans – today’s Americans – could enjoy them as fully as he did. They are the values of Dwight Eisenhower, who presided over an era of peace and prosperity – because he knew that those two conditions go together. These are American values. But because they have no place in today’s Republican Party, neither do I – and neither do millions like me.

A detailed plan to solve the problems the country faces today didn't come from Gov. Chafee, neither was it expected. A 7-minute speech in mid-convention is not intended to outline precision. It is not surprising that Gov. Chafee avoided talking about his own credentials as governor and the economy. Rhode Island faces one of the highest unemployment rates in the country at 10.8% for July 2012. The support for President Obama does not come as a surprise since Gov. Chafee endorsed him in the 2008 Presidential Election and served as a co-chair to the campaign. Independents will be a hard crowd to persuade since the political group cannot be contained to a certain set of issue-stances. The Republicans have an upper hand when discussing economic issue and the Democrats have an upper hand discussing social issues. So far, we've seen the emphasis in the party conventions this year.

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