During his trip to Columbia last month to drum up support for climate change and energy legislation, former U.S. Sen. John Warner lamented the fact that many fellow Republicans — particularly on Capitol Hill — have decided they'd rather thwart such attempts, even if they would be in the country's best interest.
Republicans are using the issue "as a political tool," he said, adding that it's to the GOP's "advantage not to promote climate change."
In other words, Republicans have decided that the climate change debate gives them another opportunity — as did the health care debate — to try to torpedo the efforts of President Obama and the Democratic majority and sway voters in their favor.
But Sen. Warner and others traveling with him to Columbia noted that there's at least one GOP senator who's thinking about more than himself or his party. Not surprisingly, they were talking about the Palmetto State's own Lindsey Graham. While he's not without fault at times (he could have been more constructive on health care), Sen. Graham routinely rises above raw politics and gamesmanship to display a brand of statesmanship missing in so many of our elected leaders. In Washington, he assumes the role a U.S. senator should: Act in the best interest of the nation, not a party or special interest.
Remember, this is the guy who took a political risk in trying to address immigration in 2007; the one who reached out to Democratic moderates to clear the way for President Bush's judicial nominees to be approved.
So, it's no surprise that while many Republicans might be looking for efforts to stall - or even kill - climate and energy legislation for political gain, Sen Graham is working with Sens. John Kerry, a Democrat, and Joe Lieberman, an independent, in an effort to forge a compromise. Many details are to be worked out, but the senators are working on compromise legislation that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as 17 percent by 2020, and also would include allowances for offshore oil drilling and incentives for increased use of nuclear power. They want to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil and create a new energy economy.
They agree with one of Sen. Warner's major arguments: that such policy would be in the best interest of national security.
Mr. Warner was in town in mid-March as part of a national tour to raise awareness about how global warming affects U.S. security and world stability. The tour was organized by a division of the Pew Charitable Trusts, a philanthropic organization with offices in Philadelphia and Washington.
Sen. Warner, who retired from the Senate at the end of 2008 and is a former Navy secretary and World War II veteran, is a longtime advocate of addressing climate change. He said people who don't believe the science as he does should at least want to reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil and bolster national security.
It's Mr. Graham's independent thinking and willingness to do what he thinks is right that has earned him the praise of the Virginia Republican and others. Sen. Warner said Mr. Graham's effort on climate change takes courage.
The S.C. Republican has been under fire by some in his party for pushing climate and energy legislation, among other things. He's been censured by the Lexington County Republican Party as well as the Charleston GOP. Two years ago, he was censured by the Greenville GOP for his support of immigration reform, an issue he once again is preparing to tackle.
Phyllis Cuttino, a Furman graduate and director of Pew's U.S. global warming campaign, traveled with Sen. Warner. She also singled out Sen. Graham. "He's doing the right thing, and he ought to be thanked for it," she said.
Not only should Sen. Graham be thanked for working on the climate issue, but he should be thanked for the way he's gone about it. He's made compromise and working with others an art. In the process, he's made South Carolina proud while others in his party holding federal and statewide offices have managed to do otherwise in recent years.
It would be easy - and even to his advantage if all he was concerned about was himself and party politics - for Mr. Graham to stonewall and throw a tantrum. You know, like our baby Sen. Jim DeMint, who tends to want every issue to be Mr. Obama's Waterloo.
But grownups tend to see the big picture and work to get things done. We're fortunate Mr. Graham's our senior senator — in attitude and action as well as tenure.