According to scripture, one of humankind's first tasks was to name the animals. Our species has done a far better job at that than in coming up with proper political classifications.
Consider that the oppressive government of North Korea still masquerades as a "democratic republic," when no practice or administrative structure of that government can remotely be said to deserve either part of the title.
In our own country there are some verbal anomalies as well. To be sure, our two major political parties have evolved names for themselves which, in a rough sense, define the difference between them. The Democrats, true to their name, aim their appeal at the broad masses, while the Republicans evoke more distinctly the idea of a representative (as against a participatory) democracy.
But every now and then an officeholder finds himself in the wrong party and goes through a changeover. Some years back, for example, Richard Shelby, a senator from Alabama, judged correctly that his political positions were far too conservative for him to remain a Democrat. He changed.
And now, in a switch that will have far more profound consequences, Vermont's Senator Jim Jeffords has publicly renounced his Republican affiliation -- ancestral as much as anything else -- and declared himself an "independent." More to the point, he has promised to vote with the Senate's Democrats on organizational questions -- as he already does on most ideological ones.
Jeffords' decision has brought upon him more of the kind of abuse from the Bush administration and GOP party elders that hastened his departure in the first place. The switch comes after the ill-advised tax cut which has just passed the Congress but in time to have major influence on such weighty matters as judicial appointments and environmental legislation. Most important of all, it gives the Democrats control of the Senate's parliamentary apparatus and committee chairmanships.
What it will end up doing -- especially if other Republican moderates such as Arizona's John McCain follow suit -- is restore a broken promise of the 2000 presidential election, in which George W. Bush (whose ultimate victory was, to say the least, technical) ran as a centrist and "compassionate conservative." Since his accession to the presidency with a minority of the popular vote, Bush has governed instead from the extreme right, with a minimum of consideration for the rest of the spectrum. In his public leave-taking, Jeffords said as much.
Good for him. In the long run, he may end up a Democrat. In the short run, "independent" sounds just about right. In that same vein, "centrist" is utterly and absolutely wrong for Bush, who so far has been an unblinking servant of the party's extreme right wing.
Our congratulations to the men and women of Memphis in May, who put on a number of first-class events this year -- the stellar Beale Street Music Fest (which drew record crowds), the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, and the Great Southern Food Festival among them.
The weather cooperated beautifully and everything seemed to go off without a hitch. The MIM organization seems to have risen above its troubles of a couple of years back and soared to new heights. Kudos to Jim Holt, Diane Hampton, and the hundreds of others who made Memphis in May a triumph this year.