Lincoln Chafee Thinks America Needs The Metric System, And Lincoln Chafee

Lincoln Chafee began his bizarre run for the Presidency in the strangest way possible.

Lincoln Chafee

Late yesterday, former Rhode Island Governor, and former Republican and Independent, Lincoln Chafee  became the latest Democrat to enter the Presidential race and his entrance was just as bizarre as his entire candidacy seems to be:

ARLINGTON, Va. — He has served as a mayor, a senator and a governor. He has been a Republican, an independent and a Democrat. On Wednesday, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island added presidential candidate to the list.

During a foreign policy speech at George Mason University here, Mr. Chafee announced that he was seeking the Democratic nomination, joining Hillary Rodham Clinton, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland.

“I enjoy challenges, and today we have many facing America,” Mr. Chafee said. “Today, I am formally entering the race for the Democratic nomination for president.”

Many were surprised when Mr. Chafee, 62, signaled in April that he was interested in seeking the White House. The move raised eyebrows in Rhode Island, where his record in one term as governor received mixed reviews. Facing the prospect of a primary challenge and sluggish poll numbers last year, he chose not to run for re-election.

While considering a presidential run, Mr. Chafee has shown a willingness to confront Mrs. Clinton, questioning the financial dealings of her family’s foundation and criticizing her for supporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Mr. Chafee, a Republican at the time, was the only senator from his party to vote against the war.

“I think Chafee wants to have the same dialogue on foreign policy that Sanders wants to have on domestic policy,” said Scott MacKay, a political analyst for Rhode Island Public Radio. “He sees the country as becoming too militaristic, and he will talk about the Iraq war vote.”

Mr. Chafee made that clear during his announcement, arguing that the Iraq war continues to haunt America’s credibility and advocating “waging peace” through multilateralism. Although he did not mention Mrs. Clinton by name, he referred to the controversies surrounding her use of a private email account while secretary of state and foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation, calling them “regrettable.”

Mr. Chafee’s long résumé belies what some have deemed a disappointing record. While he received praise for his overhaul of Rhode Island’s pension system as governor and for his education policy, he also oversaw a flagging state economy and was ensnared in several high-profile controversies, such as a debate over whether Christmas trees should be called holiday trees.

“This is the most Catholic state in the country,” said Maureen Moakley, a political science professor at the University of Rhode Island. “He took a beating over that.”

Ms. Moakley said many in Rhode Island saw Mr. Chafee as principled but quirky. While he can charm voters in small settings, she suggested, he tends to struggle when trying to communicate before the types of large audiences he will face on the national stage.

Some of that quirkiness was on display Wednesday, when Mr. Chafee unveiled that switching to the metric system was an important part of his strategy for integrating the United States with the rest of the world.

“I happened to live in Canada as they completed the process,” Mr. Chafee said. “Believe me, it’s easy. It doesn’t take long before 34 degrees is hot.”

Questioned about the idea, Mr. Chafee struggled to make the case that switching measurement systems would eventually be good for the economy.

Mr. Chafee’s presidential announcement lacked the festive atmosphere that some other candidates have sought to create. His logo was projected on a screen in front of about 100 people, many of whom said they were students and required to attend for class.

Chafee’s call for the United States to adopt the Metric System, something which I’m fairly certain was last a political issue when I was in grade school a long time ago in a galaxy far, far way, was perhaps the most bizarre part of his speech yesterday and, of course, it led to much snarking on political Twitter:

Even before the speech started, though, it was obvious things were going to be rather odd. Last week, for example, Chafee’s wife posted a note on her Facebook page asking if any of her husband’s former staffers remembered the password to Chafee’s old Facebook page from when he was candidate for Rhode Island Governor. Perhaps even more embarrassing for Chafee is the fact that the largest newspaper in Rhode Island is basically ignoring Chafee’s campaign even though he’s the first person from that state to ever run for President.  Given his position in the polls, this would seem to be a wise use of journalistic resources. Chafee is at the bottom of the pack nationally and in all of the statewide polling, even in New Hampshire, here you’d think he’d get a boost in the polls from just being a New Englander, he’s only averaging 1.7% in the polls. This is pretty much the walking definition of a non-entity, and there’s really no reason to expect that will change. Unless, of course, there’s a big pro-metric constituency out there that we haven’t heard about.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. John H says:

    There are some serious comedy possibilities here. Add questions about the metric system to the usual mix in debates and we could have them proposing “Defence of Inches” acts, or vowing that they will never allow the Super Bowl to come down to fourth and centimeters.

  2. Tyrell says:

    All these candidates – they have to be getting money out of this when it is over. The Republicans are going to need two buses to take their entourage around. Maybe they should consider the old whistlestop campaigns and get a train. The news will report the big crowds – oh, that is the candidates !

  3. superdestroyer says:

    There actually are good arguments for adopting the same units as the rest of the world instead of the crazy mix of English and Metric systems that the U.S. uses now. There are many incidents and accidents that are caused because organizations are using mixed units.

  4. stonetools says:

    It is passing strange that the metric system has been adopted long ago in the country that invented feet, inches and miles, whereas the colony that rebelled against that country is the major holdout in favor of the old country’s system of measurement.
    Maybe Chafee shining a light on this obscure issue may move the USA slightly toward adopting the metric system. If so, that’s a good thing. The US needs to adopt it before the Vulcans get here in 2063 :-).

  5. DrDaveT says:

    The sad thing is, he’s right. Imperial measurements are an ongoing rock in the shoe for US industry in myriad small ways, even without spectacular gaffes like the Mars Climate Orbiter.

    Science is done in SI units, period. The US, exceptional to the bitter end, clings to acres and bushels and short tons. Engineering has to mix and match and translate and cross-check (and provide two separate sets of incompatible tools), at appreciable ongoing cost. It’s idiotic.

    My generation learned metric in school and was pretty much ready to make the switch — but our elders failed us, not only leaving the cubits and ounces and drams in place, but eliminating the early education that allowed kids to grow up with an intuitive feel for how much a liter or kilogram or hectare is. The irrational resistance to the international standard is so strong that I halfway expect opponents of the metric system to refer to feet and pounds as “Freedom Units”.

    Of course, all of this is an irrelevant aside to the presidential race — nobody who says publicly that we should go metric is going to get any votes.

  6. Hal_10000 says:

    Yeah, I gotta agree that going to the metric system is long overdue. My Aussie inlaws, who grew up with measures like “stones”, have no problem with it. And it’s embarrassing to travel to other countries and have to convert everything in my head. And we once crashed a Mars explorer because of unit disagreement.

    Just tell them that, if we go metric, their weight will go down by a factor of 2.2 and the length of, uh, certain things, will go up by a factor of 2.5.

  7. Andre Kenji says:

    The Metric System is waaay superior. I find the Imperial System completely confusing. I have some idea of what is one inch or gallon, but in the whole that´s completely confusing.

  8. Pete S says:

    It makes sense for a former Republican to be running a pointless campaign with polling results in the low single digits. Its like he never left the Republicans after all, except he is not trying to distinguish himself from 10 other candidates in the same situation.

  9. Slugger says:

    The need to convert to a decimal based system was apparent to Thomas Jefferson. There will be some conversion costs, but many large companies already have lots of plants and customers overseas. I would think that Boeing and Caterpillar are pretty ready to convert. In the long run, it will save money. In the past, I wonder if lives were lost in Vietnam by our use of 5.65 mm ammo in a weapon originally designed for the .223.
    Let’s get with one of the good ideas of the eighteenth century!

  10. al-Ameda says:

    Three things:

    (1) Americans are too dumb to go all-in on metric.
    (2) He’s a normal good government type – voters say they want that but they never vote for it.
    (3) Chaffee will probably peak out at 2 to 3 percent

  11. ernieyeball says:

    Unless, of course, there’s a big pro-metric constituency out there that we haven’t heard about.

    That would be the Coneheads and the soccer fans!
    And Eddie in California…
    Murika! Fvckin’ A!

  12. Franklin says:

    I work with vehicle simulation software and fully agree with Mr. Chafee. It’s a complete mess to deal with two unit systems. I’m glad somebody is ready to make the push again, but I am not particularly hopeful.

    Also: YAY, we can agree with superdestroyer on an issue!!!

  13. gVOR08 says:

    @DrDaveT: Easy thing for Obama to fix. All he has to do is announce he wants the US to remain on the Imperial system and the GOPs in congress will have a metric conversion bill on his desk in a month. Would be quicker, but I’m allowing time for Paul or Cruz to pretend to filibuster it.

  14. Ron Beasley says:

    I worked as a scientist and an engineer for most of my life in the manufacturing industry for both foreign and domestic companies. Even the domestic companies that had a large export market switched to metric years ago out of necessity. That included fasteners (screws and rivets) and ball bearings. The American’s phobia of all things international and metric is absurd.

  15. Guarneri says:

    Be wary of this guy. You give him an inch and he’ll take 3 centimeters…..

  16. superdestroyer says:


    In a recent experience of dealing with shipments of Hazardous Materials (Dangerous Goods) is that Fedex needs the amount of dry ice in kilograms to comply with (International Air Transport Association) requirements but wants the weight of the package in pounds because their software for loading vehicles is using pounds.

  17. Electroman says:

    I like the metric system a lot more than I like Chafee, so I am in 50% agreement with him.

    Oh, and the US has never been on the Imperial system – that was the pre-metric UK system as defined by law in the 1820s. The US system of units, like the Imperial system, is derived from the pre-Imperial system of English units. It’s not the same – one US gallon is only about 80% of an Imperial gallon.

  18. Franklin says:

    @Electroman: … and then there’s the U.S. dry gallon, which is completely different than the other two types of gallon.

    Don’t even get me started on all the units of measure called “horsepower.”

  19. Moosebreath says:

    “Lincoln Chafee Thinks America Needs The Metric System, And Lincoln Chafee”

    America needs the metric system far more than it needs Lincoln Chafee.

  20. DrDaveT says:


    All he has to do is announce he wants the US to remain on the Imperial system and the GOPs in congress will have a metric conversion bill on his desk in a month.

    Sidereal month, or lunar month? Or did you mean 2.63 megaseconds?

  21. wr says:

    We can’t switch to the metric system, because American Exceptionalism. Which to Republicans means that we are the greatest country on the earth, and thus everything we do is better than everything anyone else does. So by AE rules, our system is better than the metric system.

    Fascinating article in the NY Times today about the astonishing wifi service in South Korea — I think they said it was a hundred times faster than ours, or will be soon. Because they make companies compete, rather than grant monopolies so that mammoth corporations never have to improve.

    But we’re the best in the world at everything.

  22. Matt says:

    @Slugger: I’m not sure what you’re trying to say as the .223 winchester is a different round from the 5.56 nato.

  23. Slugger says:

    @Matt: This is outside my area of knowledge (except on the internet), but I read a very interesting book, The Gun by C.J. Chivers, which is mainly a history of the AK-47. In one of the chapters he states that the NATO 5.65 and the Remington .223 have very similar external dimensions, and use of the NATO round in Vietnam contributed to the high jam rate that plagued the US forces. When I googled it a few minutes ago, the similarities were confirmed.

  24. Matt says:

    @Slugger: External dimensions is just one small part of what makes up a bullet. The 7.62 used in an AK47 is just a .30 bullet but good luck using a 30 cal bullet in an ak47. Then there’s the differences between 7.62 used in AK47s (x39) vs the 7.62 NATO (x52). The bullets themselves are similar but the cartridge is much different.

    As for .223 there’s the winchester version and the wylde version which preform differently in chamber pressure and velocity despite looking exactly the same. When compared to 5.56 the differences are even bigger. The 5.56 chamber is different from the chambers for .223 winchester or .223 wylde.

    Here’s a source that is both reliable and informative.

    The higher jam rates were a combination of incorrect powder being used in the early 5.56 rounds and the inadequate training of armed forces personal. You can’t tell soldiers their rifle is self cleaning and then expect them to consistently clean them. Hell there were plenty of situations where cleaning kits weren’t even handed out. Some also blame the lack of chrome platting in the chamber for the jams.

    BTW AKs do jam it just takes a bit more than what jams an M16.

  25. Tillman says:

    Just to respond to Suderman’s tweet, Colorado legalized weed about a year or two ago. I can assure you that there are now plenty of people capable of converting ounces to grams.

  26. ernieyeball says:

    As one of my early Pharmacological Gurus once told me: “As long as there are 16 ounces in a pound of weed nobody will get hurt.”

  27. de stijl says:


    The only measure I really care about is the Imperial pint. Those extra two ounces are key.

  28. grumpy realist says:

    @stonetools: Well….not quite. Some things are still measured out in stones.

    (I love the comment that the width of the Shuttle is determined by the width of the rear ends of two horses, when you track all the gauges back far enough.)