Challenging the Democrats-in-Name-Only

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Six years ago, Joe Lieberman was the Democratic Party’s nominee for Vice-President of the United States (and, were it not for some well-organized cheating by the Republicans and the collusion of the Supreme Court, he would have been elected). In a quirk of the American electoral system, he was also running at the same time for re-election for a third term representing Connecticut in the Senate, a race that he won handily.

This election cycle, with the Senate seat again on the line, Lieberman is facing another electoral battle, but his major challenge is not coming from Republicans. Rather, it is coming from Democrats who argue that Lieberman might as well be a Republican. Since 2000, Lieberman has steadfastly supported the Bush Administration on everything to the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, energy policy, the Terri Schiavo case, and judicial appointments. He’s the most obvious example of the frustrating phenomenon known as DINOs – Democrats in Name Only.

Canadians would, of course, recognize our own version of the DINOs in the Liberal Party. When challenged on their failures, they merely point to the other guys (the Republicans or the Conservatives) and tell voters that the alternative would be far worse. They try to turn elections into a choice between “bad” and “worse” (reasoning that voters will usually choose “bad”). In Connecticut and elsewhere, voters are fighting back, trying to introduce the option of “better”.

As anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan puts it: “I believe that we are not going to get leaders of integrity and honesty and courage until we start voting with our integrity. It's time for us to stop holding our nose and voting for the lesser of two evils, because that person might be just a little less evil, but they're still supporting the evil policies of the Bush administration. So we have to stand up and have courage. If we all have the courage we need to vote for people who do have integrity, then we'll get leaders of integrity. And that's the only time we will.”

Lieberman is being challenged for the Democratic nomination by Ned Lamont, a self-made businessperson who opposes the policies of Bush and Lieberman. “I am running for the US Senate because Connecticut deserves a Senator who will stand up to the Bush administration, whose policies are so harmful to the long term interests of our state and our country. Connecticut deserves a Senator who will turn back judicial appointees outside of the mainstream, who will fight for affordable universal health care, and who will challenge the status quo in Washington DC.”

Lamont argues, in language that has for too long been missing from the American political debate that “The war in Iraq has diverted far too many of our dollars, and too much of our attention, from our needs back home. The crisis in health care, lack of progress towards energy independence, and struggling public schools are examples of how our government is not leading, but allowing lobbyists and special interests to write the rules. Government has a role in ensuring fundamental rights and equal opportunity for all Americans... Democrats should be ready again to defend and build upon all that we have accomplished – equal rights and equal opportunity for all.”

Lamont overcame long odds to force Lieberman into a primary on August 8. Polls now show him trailing Lieberman by only six percentage points. He’s collecting endorsements from unions, local elected officials and even former Connecticut Governor Lowell Weicker (a former Independent who lost to Lieberman when he was first elected to the Senate). In a speech to Lamont supporters, Weicker commented: “I am not a Democratic activist. I am an anti-war activist. I am not some left-wing nut or liberal crazy. I am an American of common sense who can recognize failure and pigheadedness.”

Meanwhile, Lieberman is relying on endorsements from the likes of Bill O’Reilly and running an anti-Lamont attack ad that more than one progressive blogger has labelled “the most embarrassing political ad ever.” He’s using the same accusations of irrational “Bush hatred” that the American right regularly throws around (even though, as Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting noted in their May/June newsletter, polls show that “a majority of Americans ‘hate’ the president”). He’s even compared Lamont supporters to “jihadists” and “crusaders”.

Lieberman has also cynically refused to rule out a run as an Independent in the event that he loses the primary to Lamont. ““If the unexpected happened, do I want to keep open the option of taking my case as an independent Democrat to all the voters of Connecticut so that they can have the last word in November?” Lieberman asked. Having posed the question, he then refused to answer it, suggesting that the answer would be yes.

As The Journal Inquirer noted in an editorial, “Lamont is near the center of the Democratic heart. And Lieberman is far from it. He flunks almost every litmus test. Of course Lamont is a strong primary candidate. Of course Lieberman can win the primary only by smearing Lamont, in the great GOP tradition of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove… Is he running as a Democrat?” If the Democratic Party wants to salvage any shred of the limited credibility that it still has among American progressives, it will turf Lieberman and back Lamont.
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