His candidacy had become a joke among political observers, who only ever mentioned him to point out his microscopic polling numbers, and his only debate performance may be remembered for his plea that he got a banking vote wrong in the Senate because his father had just died.
But he did have a number of heterodox policy positions that were at odds with the rest of the Democratic field, and as he exits the stage, it’s worth taking a look at what topics we might have seen discussed this election season if Chafee had been a better candidate.
Yes, it’s true that the candidacy of Bernie Sanders has sparked a serious discussion in America about “democratic socialism.” And, yes, it's true that Chafee, a former Republican and the only Democratic candidate to defend Obama’s big free trade deal, is himself no socialist.
But Chafee does have a unique position on socialists in other countries, and not the socialist countries of Northern Europe that Sanders is so fond of bringing up. Chafee has been one of the few people in Washington critical of the U.S. policies vilifying the late Hugo Chavez, the socialist former president of Venezuela. Speaking at a foreign policy forum earlier this month, Chafee expressed regret about “what happened with Chavez,” and told the audience that Chavez was “democratically elected in free elections. I think the doors were open with good relations with us."
Relations between the U.S. and Chavez deteriorated during the George W. Bush administration, and by the time of Chavez's death, members of both parties were demonizing him. Even Sanders, the only socialist in the race, denounced Chavez as a “dead communist dictator” after a Clinton-backing super PAC tried to compare him to Chavez sympathizers. Despite his Chavez sympathies, Chafee’s candidacy never rose enough to warrant similar attacks.
With Chafee out, the Democratic Party has lost the only candidate who might have forced a real debate about peace in the Middle East. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have been criticized by anti-occupation activists for their support of military aid in Israel and for failing to offer solutions to the crisis. Chafee, on the other hand, had a long history of being proactive on the subject, and taking stances far outside the mainstream.
During his tenure on the Senate Middle East subcommittee, Chafee was a thorn in the side of Democrats and Republicans who supported increasing military aid to Israel, and he voted against bills with broad bipartisan support. As his hometown paper, The Providence Journal, reported in 2006, Chafee was “among a handful of senators who often dissent from measures calling for support of Israel and sanctions against its enemies. Supporters call Chafee a courageous voice of independence from the pro-Israel lobby who is willing to prod Israel to take difficult actions needed for peace.”
Chafee even said that the ascension of Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian leader after Yasser Arafat's death was a “missed opportunity” for Israel to negotiate peace and condemned the U.S. for not doing more to bolster Abbas. Chafee currently sits on the advisory council of J Street, a group that describes itself as “Pro-peace, pro-Israel” and is often seen as the counterweight to the more hawkish lobbying group AIPAC.
Chafee was was the most forgiving of the Democratic candidates when it came to the NSA whistleblower. Asked about him at the debate last week, Chafee said: “I would bring him home. The courts have ruled that the American government was acting illegally.” All the other candidates on stage said that Snowden should face punishment, though Sanders said that his role in “educating us" should be considered in assessing punishment. Early in his short-lived campaign, Chafee staked out a position against U.S. mass-surveillance programs.
The metric system
Yes, Chafee really did care about this. During his candidacy, he was chided more than once for suggesting that the U.S. should “go metric” and “join the rest of the world.” In his announcement speech, Chafee said: "Only Myanmar, Liberia, and the United States aren't metric, and it will help our economy." Though this position quickly became one of the many things Chafee was mocked for, the logic is sound, especially for anyone who wants to make life easier for people immigrating to the United States.