The Great “Missing Linc” Chafee Campaign of 2004

Before we go back to ignoring Linc Chafee’s presidential campaign, let’s sample a report from the Guardian‘s Ben Jacobs on the former senator and governor’s campaign launch yesterday:

Lincoln Chafee’s presidential announcement was weird, held at a half-empty college auditorium at George Mason University in suburban northern Virginia. Chafee is likely the only presidential candidate to endorse the metric system and equivocate on Isis. His speech seemed more appropriate for a candidate running against George W Bush than someone hoping to succeed Barack Obama.

Chafee’s speech focused on the 2003 Iraq war and he repeatedly railed against “neocons”, making several references to the Project for a New American Century, a hawkish thinktank founded in the late 1990s.

Chafee read at length from a 2002 Guardian article about the run up to the war. He also urged the government “ to allow Edward Snowden to come home”.

These were the parts of his speech where he stayed on-message. Then the Rhode Island Democrat urged the United States to adopt the metric system. Chafee expounded his expertise on this subject, noting: “I happened to live in Canada as they completed the process. Believe me it is easy. It doesn’t take long before 34 degrees is hot.” Responding to a follow-up question Chafee said this would be “a symbolic integration of ourselves into the international community after mistakes of past 12 to 14 years”.

Okie dokie. I can think of more immediately pertinent ways the U.S. could overcome the foreign policy mistakes associated with runaway “American exceptionalism,” but symbolism’s better than nothing.

What Jacobs has done is to capture Chafee’s wayback-machine orientation, which will only grow stronger if he spends his time on the campaign trail talking less about the metric system and more about HRC’s 2003 vote for the Iraq War.

Back when he was in the Senate, Chafee’s fellow-Republicans referred to him as “the missing Linc,” mainly because he so often broke party ranks but also as an allusion to the sense he wasn’t quite all there. Maybe he should have changed parties earlier and run for president in 2004. And maybe he’s really running that great missing campaign right now.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.