For some, ANWR is a frozen paradise, to be forever preserved in its pristine entirety. For others, it is an iced-over desert of little use for anything beside oil drilling and as a backdrop for the Ms. Arctic calendar.
The administration's proposal to set aside 2,000 acres out of 19 million in a search for oil that will reduce American dependence on imported crude set off a pitched battle inside Washington, with strange coalitions of interests being formed on both sides.
Among those supporting drilling are trade unionists, business leaders, and Jewish organizations that believe the production of more oil domestically will increase the security of U.S. support for Israel.
Against drilling are many of the usual suspects including the radical environmentalists that dictate so much of the Democrat's natural resource policy.
The fight over this frozen wasteland is causing a lot of people to spend a lot of money to get their point across. It was inevitable that someone, somewhere would cross the credibility line -- that happened Tuesday.
A full-page newspaper ad sponsored by a group calling itself Americans for Alaska appeared in Washington, heaping great praise on four U.S. senators for their leadership in keeping oilrigs out of ANWR.
The four, all Republicans, are Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Peter Fitzgerald of Illinois, and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. They are generally to the left of the party mainstream and are among the GOP'ers most vulnerable to defeat when they next seek re-election.
Three of them are from that class of politicians pundits generally consider most endangered -- the northeastern Republican.
Collins was first elected in 1996 with 49 percent of the vote as Al Gore carried Maine with 49 percent of the vote to Bush's 44 percent. Snowe was last re-elected in 1994 with 69 percent of the vote in a GOP landslide year but the fact remains that Maine is a much better state for the Democrats then for the Republicans.
Lincoln Chafee was appointed to the Senate to complete the term of his late father, Republican Sen. John Chafee, then won a six-year term in 2000 with 57 percent of the vote while Al Gore was thumping George W. Bush 61 percent to 32 percent. Before Vermont's Jim Jeffords left the GOP for independent status, Chafee made similar noises about his general level of unhappiness with the tenor of the party's agenda, causing some to fear that he too was on his way out of the Republican ranks.
Peter Fitzgerald defeated the scandal-plagued accidental Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill., in 1998 by what must have been for him an uncomfortably close 50 percent to 47 percent margin. Al Gore carried the Land of Lincoln 55 percent to Bush's 43 percent.
With the Senate currently divided 50 Democrat to 49 Republicans and one Independent who has voted to put the Democrats in charge, neither party is likely going to make allowances for ideological compatibility in the fight for partisan control.
This is what makes the Americans for Alaska ad so interesting. It praises the four aforementioned senators "for their key leadership on the Arctic Refuge" under the headline "Only the Senate can Protect the Arctic Refuge -- Only Great Senators Would."
Under ordinary circumstances, it is understandable that an issue group might engage in a bit of hyperbole to shmooze or win over the votes of targeted legislators. But in this case, Americans for Alaska may have gone to far, if one examines the list of ad signers closely.
It includes former President Jimmy Carter, former Vice President Walter Mondale, former Interior Secretary and Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, former Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson, former Colorado Sen. Tim Wirth, former U.S. Rep. Wayne Owens of Utah, former Ohio Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, and former Interior Secretary and Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt -- all Democrats, and extremely partisan ones at that.
If the honorifics bestowed on the four GOP senators by Americans for Alaska on behalf of these luminaries are honest praise, and there is no real reason to believe they are anything but that, then it will make for very interesting campaign literature when they next face the voters.
A campaign mailer that says, "Vote to re-elect me! Even former President Jimmy Carter says I am a great senator!" will certainly take some of the sting out of the charge that these four GOP moderates are somehow rightwing extremists.
If the praise is not genuine, well, it is just one more reminder of the hypocrisy and dishonesty that infects so much of what goes on in Washington. Either way, it's going to be a bumpy ride.
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