Criticizing Democratic Party politics from a right-wing perspective can be a hard sell, mainly because it involves throwing stones in a glass house. Whereas the Republicans are worried about their prospects in the 2006 election as a result of a lack of fidelity to their base, the Democrats are finding out what their base feels -- and it's not pretty.
The three-term senator from Stamford faces accusations of being "too conservative" as he is reportedly losing ground to a relative unknown while seeking the Democratic nomination. He is frequently cited for criticizing Clinton's affairs, supporting the war in Iraq, castigating Hollywood for exposing children to sex and violence, and calling for school vouchers. All this has earned him the reputation of being "further to the right than most Republicans in the Northeast." So, clearly, the Democrats would be a little upset, wouldn't they?
Actually, no, that's a trick question. Lieberman's criticism of Clinton resulted in a push for censure, not for impeachment. His religiosity doesn't preclude his cozy pro-choice stance, most of his rhetoric favors big government, and during his candidacy in 2000 for the Vice Presidency, one could hardly say his was even a remotely conservative platform. On the issues, Lieberman is an establishment Democrat. So why are people treating Joe Lieberman like the next Zell Miller?
He seems to have gone out of his way through this process to provoke the Democratic base.... You know, the entire idea of a primary had really wound down in Connecticut until he went out last fall and ... criticized Democrats for criticizing President Bush.
Here are a few of Brownstein's examples. The same night MoveOn.org held a 24-hour online primary to decide whether to enter the Democratic race, Lieberman received an award from the conservative Committee on the Present Danger. Prior to that, he was the first speaker on the Republicans' time against the Kerry-Feingold amendment to pull out troops from Iraq.
That's it? That's a Democrat sell-out? When Republicans complain that someone sells out, they usually switch parties or raise taxes. Lieberman's greatest sin, apparently, is supporting the war effort and being statesmanlike in his approach. The fact that Lieberman isn't angry is apparently reason enough for Dems to get even more angry.
RUSS FEINGOLD RECENTLY told the press that whoever wins the primary will get his support. This is the Senator's way of saying "I support his opponent" without actually saying it. That's a big if, especially when taking into consideration Lieberman's opponent, Greenwich executive Ned Lamont. Lamont mirrors Feingold's approach, particularly against the war. One of Lamont's ads starts, "I'm running for the U.S. Senate. I'm running because George W. Bush is wrong." Well, if this is the new Democratic junior senator from Connecticut, Feingold would have good reason to celebrate.
Seeking to exploit the association between Lieberman and Bush (the other commercial in the previous link references the senator as Bush's lapdog) may not be the worst tactic: An in-state June 8th Quinnipiac University poll finds 73% disapproving of the War in Iraq. But that may be too many eggs in one basket. Lamont is ecstatic about emphasizing he's no one-issue candidate by making something of remarkably small differences.
When asked what issues define the differences in the campaigns, a spokeswoman from the Lamont campaign offered that Lamont would never have stood among the Gang of Fourteen famously touted as clearing the way for an Alito nomination. Lamont will make universal health care a greater priority. Oh, and Lamont would never have voted for the last energy bill, condemned roundly by environmentalists. And you could forget about Lieberman's stance on Terri Schiavo. The spokeswoman concluded confidently, "The people want a change."
Really? Connecticut Democrats would give up Lieberman's political savvy and committee seniority over these seemingly minor quibbles? Isn't that just, well, dumb?
FOR ALL THE CARPING on the part of conservatives complaining that Republicans are spend-crazy lunatics, one would think they could appreciate why the anti-war grassroots left looks at Lieberman with the kind of scorn reserved typically for an interfering mother-in-law. But the issue isn't ideology; as mentioned, Lieberman fits the bill. It's his tone.
The primary is in Connecticut, a state set to re-elect its incumbent Republican Governor, Jodi Rell, who came into office after her predecessor, John Rowland, was indicted on charges of corruption and sent to jail. Rell has apparently cleansed herself of the association by pushing low taxes (including the phasing out of an estate tax she herself signed into law) and government reform, and though considered a liberal Republican, is fiscally conservative and pro-gun. Rep. Chris Shays, a prominent Connecticut RINO in the House, is only somewhat similar to Lieberman, and faces a challenge in the upcoming general election because of his support of Iraq. And for what it's worth, the AFL-CIO in Connecticut voted to endorse Lieberman in the primary. It does not seem obvious by looking at Connecticut's political roster that the drift is toward the left. The drift is toward "stodgy northeasternism." Hardly a mandate.
And here is the rub: the same poll that finds the Iraq War so abhorrent still finds that among all voters Republican and Democrat, Lieberman is the best candidate to go up against anyone the Republicans have to offer in the general election, even if he runs on an independent ticket. Apparently the Iraq War isn't the problem everyone is saying it is. What's worse, if Lieberman does run on the independent ticket, as the Prowler noted Monday, Democratic strategists worry that he will be all the more likely to align himself with Republicans. In their minds, such a move would mean a kiss of death for their plans to reverse the 1994 Republican take-over. But Lieberman campaign officials have clearly stated they're not much interested in pursuing the independent ticket (even if they haven't officially ruled it out). As one noted, "He's a Democrat, through and through."
Even so, the prospect of an Independent Lieberman serves as a helpful reminder of his worth to his party. Lieberman's candidacy is a fact, and on August 8th, primary voters will have to decide what's worth losing. Besides, if Lieberman runs and wins on an independent ticket, he only has to say the word and come back to the Democratic Party, where he belongs.