A Bipartisan Mirage

Article excerpt

Byline: Howard Fineman

The slippery style of Lindsey Graham.

Only a few senators could have pulled off what Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, did last week: -snagging major airtime at two high-profile confirmation hearings, seemingly at the same time. Graham was so busy shuttling between office buildings, in fact, that he missed a White House meeting on redesigning an energy bill.

Over the next two weeks, he'll keep moving on a fact-finding trip to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel with his best bros, Sens. Joe Lieberman and John McCain. As leading advocates for our vast military involvement in the region, they will have maximum access, of course. But Graham will go the others one better. He is a judge advocate in the Air Force Reserves and will be on "active duty" in Afghanistan, so he can advise the locals on how to set up a court system. "It's gotten too dangerous for civilian contractors," he explained to me. So here is a guy who wants to be in the dangerous middle of things, a guy who is everywhere, or so it seems. The question is whether that is a good thing--or, for the Democrats, a sign of continuing trouble.

In a brutally, bitterly divided city---Washington, that is, not Kabul, Baghdad, or Jerusalem---Graham is what passes for a bipartisan Republican statesman. The only Republican on the Judiciary Committee to vote for Sonia Sotomayor, he will almost certainly be the only one to vote for Kagan too. He openly discusses, and perhaps even considers, concepts as taboo (for Tea Party types, anyway) as a carbon-emission trading system and a green-card process for illegal immigrants. And he is beyond cordial to home-state Democrats such as Inez Moore Tenenbaum, an early Obama supporter who now heads the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

In his earnest, almost claustrophobically informal way, Graham pines for the old days and old ways, when friendships and loyalty to the Senate and the Constitution could override mere politics and parties were not so suffocating. Party labels mean less and less to voters, especially young ones, he says, yet those same labels mean more and more inside the Beltway. "Here it's not enough to support a cause," he told me, as he downed a breakfast of Special K and Diet Coke in his Washington office. …