The OZY Hunger Games: Lincoln Chafee, the First 'Fallen' Democrat - OZY | A Modern Media Company

The OZY Hunger Games: Lincoln Chafee, the First 'Fallen' Democrat

Lincoln Chafee
SourceJames Hodge for OZY

The OZY Hunger Games: Lincoln Chafee, the First 'Fallen' Democrat

By Sean Braswell


Because sometimes you just have to get back on the horse — and ride into the sunset.

By Sean Braswell

Remember how The Hunger Games would honor its fallen tributes? In this occasional series, OZY predicts which presidential candidates will be the next to fall — whether they know it or not.

It takes courage to do the unpopular thing. But you already knew that, didn’t you, Gov. Chafee? Back in 2002, when all of your Republican colleagues in the Senate were beating the drum to war, you alone, Lincoln Chafee, refused the tomahawk and the face paint. The “missing Linc,” they called you, because your vote was always missing from the fun. You were the sober guy from Rhode Island sitting in the corner at a raging Beltway party, nursing a tonic water and waiting to drive everyone else home after they finished gorging themselves on tax cuts and pre-emptive war. 

But nobody wanted to go home, and eventually you had to take your Yahtzee dice and your Rockefeller Republicanism and find another party. Years later, though, now a former governor and a Democratic contender for president of the United States, you’re still on the edge of another crowd. But this time, you’re not just doing the odd, unpopular thing like endorsing the metric system — you’ve somehow become the odd, unpopular thing. With polls putting you consistently near zero percent, even the late-night comedians have sheathed their political rapiers and pulled out the “Chafee in 2016” hats because, as Conan O’Brien put it last week, “it seems like the nice thing to do.”

You’ve never been one to decline a kindness. When you were appointed to fill your deceased father’s Senate seat in 1999 after serving only as mayor of Rhode Island’s second-largest city, you jumped at the opportunity. Alas, lineage alone is not political destiny, and the Republicans you encountered in Washington were not the genteel ones your father had known or whose sons, like Jeb Bush, you had run with at Andover. But you persevered, winning re-election to the Senate and going “against the tide” (as you titled your memoir), backing abortion rights, same-sex marriage and higher taxes on the wealthy. Somewhere, though, you went from a symbol of resistance to one of obsolescence, the dodo bird of modern American politics. An endangered species, a “dying breed,” or quite possibly “the last liberal Republican to serve in the U.S. Senate.”


So you changed your spots, shedding your ancestral affiliations and becoming the Ocean State’s first Independent governor. And from there, it wasn’t hard to switch again, to the Democratic Party three years later. Was this opportunism? An honest acknowledgment that the plates of American politics had shifted beneath your feet? We may never know, as your campaign declined to get back to us with comment. Either way, Americans have a name for someone who changes uniforms twice in a misguided, last-ditch bid for glory: Brett Favre. And we all know how that turned out.

You supported President Obama in 2008 and you seem dead set on re-litigating his Iraq War claims eight years later, hoping that the electorate will again punish Hillary Clinton for her vote in favor of the war. But from Iraq to the adoption of the metric system, your campaign is too intent on beating dead horses, even if you have risen to the defense of at least one — Secretariat — in response to the Donald’s slanderous remarks against the Triple Crown winner.

And you do know your horses. What other presidential candidate has graduated from a farrier school in Montana, worked at a racetrack and shod 5,000 horses? The American voter, you know, can be a lot like the American thoroughbred: hardworking and proud but also high-strung, unpredictable, easily spooked. And as any good farrier knows, no matter how expert or likable you are — or whether you stand to their left or to their right — sometimes you’re just going to get kicked. Hard. So now it’s time to put some ice on it, Governor, and get out of that stable. Leave the racing to the jockeys.

A moment of silence, please, for the fallen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. The odds — who are we kidding? The odds barely even glanced in your direction.

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