I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.
—Thomas Jefferson to Francis Hopkinson, 1789
I can't decide what best describes the plight of Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT).
Is he a former Don who did the Family wrong, only to wake one day with a severed elephant head in his bedsheets? Or perhaps a political Winston Smith on the verge of vaporization by the Party's Thought Police?
Or is Sen. Lieberman's decision — upon losing the Connecticut Democratic primary race two weeks ago — to declare his candidacy as an "independent Democrat" just the desperate effort of an incumbent politician to hold onto the power and trappings of office for another six years?
In the arena of political campaigning, nothing is ever clear cut, and the most dubious solution is probably the correct one, so in typical pundit style I'll suggest the answer is "all of the above." No one can know Lieberman's true motivations except Lieberman, but his refusal to roll over has managed to have one substantial impact, win or lose: it's exposed the Democratic party as being just as extremist-driven and out of touch with voters as the Republicans.
Lieberman's determination to remain an option to Connecticut voters this November has driven a wedge between moderate Democrats and the increasingly extreme, more liberal wing of the party, and the panic which has ensued is both hilarious and troubling.
The humorous slant comes in watching the glitterati of the Democratic party convulsing into apopleptic outbursts in the days immediately following Lieberman's "damn the primary" announcement. Sen. John Kerry declared Lieberman "out of touch with the people of Connecticut." New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Lieberman should "respect the will of the voters and step aside." Some incensed Democrats in Connecticut have gone so far as to petition to have Lieberman thrown out of the Democratic party.
And that's where things shift to the chilling side.
Lieberman's poor showing in the Connecticut primary can be tied directly to his firm support of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Time and again he has publicly bucked the tendency of his fellow Democrats who clamor for a timetable for the pullout of American troops, which seems to be the only drum Democrats care to beat about the war lately.
"Lieberman’s tone and message has shocked a lot of people,” said a senior Democratic aide who has discussed the issue with other Senate Democrats. “He’s way off message for us and right in line with the White House.”(1)
Never mind that Lieberman just last Sunday called for the resignation of Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, or that he's openly criticized the Bush administration's prosecution of the war. Lieberman's challenger in the primary, a cable mogul named Ned Lamont, saddled the senator with collusion with Dubya and rode that horse to victory.
He had some help along the way, of course. Twenty-six Democratic senators have endorsed Lamont, and several campaigned on his behalf — or helped paint Lieberman with the traitor's brush — before the primary election. He received (and continues to receive) significant assistance from the DNC. He even got some mysterious help in cyberspace, as Lieberman's campaign site was hit with a denial of service attack the day before the election. With all that in his favor, how could Lamont lose?
Truth is, he won; but he only won by four percent of the vote. Add to that the realization that only Democrats were voting in this election, and Connecticut's constituency has a Republican/Independent majority. Lamont's victory was a fait accompli because he was preaching to the converted; the Democratic machine essentially had told them for whom they were to vote.
An aside here that suggests the Democratic machine will, in the event of a Lamont victory, tell him how to vote as well. In a 2006 Q&A between a Connecticut politics website and candidate Lamont, the following was recorded:
Q: What specific policy differences do you have with Senator Lieberman (including and beyond the war)? In short, why should Democrats vote for you instead of him, should you run?
Lamont: I believe that we as the Democratic party should and I as a senator would push back against some terrible policies, starting with the wrong headed invasion of Iraq and ill-advised tax cuts, and stand up forcefully for a Democratic agenda....
Ned Lamont — Always puts the party first!(2)
Fortunately for the state of Connecticut, the Democratic Party will not hold that kind of sway over the remainder of the population. They are free to vote for whomever they want, whether it be a free-swingin' Lieberman, a DNC-backed Lamont, or the barely-a-blip Republican candidate, Alan Schlesinger. And that's how it should be.
Democrats, while expecting the best — "Ned will win," was the promise of the DNC's Fearless Leader, Howard Dean — are also planning for the worst. In addition to the Connecticut petitioners attempting to have Lieberman expelled from Democratic rolls, there is talk among Democratic senators of stripping Lieberman of his seniority, should he be reelected — essentially booting him back to freshman status, robbing him of the opportunity to chair select committees.
“At this point Lieberman cannot expect to just keep his seniority,” said the aforementioned Democratic aide. “He can’t run against a Democrat and expect to waltz back to the caucus with the same seniority as before. It would give the view that the Senate is a country club rather than representative of a political party and political movement.”(3)
"The Senate is...representative of a political party and political movement"?! What civics class did you attend, sir? Because I was of the understanding that the Senate was representative of the constituency of each state of the Union, not of any party or movement.
That aide's cocksure postering was the impetus behind this entire column. I'm not attached to Joe Lieberman; he's Connecticut's problem. But his bravery in thumbing his nose at party politics has brought out venomous attacks that reveal the true nature of win-at-all-costs Washington power politics.
But if the Lieberman thing's not enough, consider the DNC's other, quieter project — rearranging the primary/caucus schedule for the next presidential election.
"The proposal calls for the inclusion of states that reflect the nation's diversity, as well as the goals of allowing Democrats to gain a foothold in the South. States would be selected based on minority populations, the presence of organized labor and geographic diversity."(4)
Iowa and New Hampshire, apparently, are a little too white bread. Or perhaps, too grass-roots. That's just what then-candidate Howard Dean loved about those states in 2003:
"I think we've got to continue the tradition of the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary because it's the only way candidates with no money -- but with strong backing and who are willing to put backbone and spine back into the Democratic Party -- have any chance at all."(5)
It's a good thing that Dean isn't demonstrating aspirations for 2008, then, as the DNC has inserted the Nevada caucus after Iowa's, and South Carolina's primary right after New Hampshire's. The Secretary of State for New Hampshire, William Gardner, is threatening to reschedule his state's primary so it comes before Nevada's caucus. But the DNC, anticipating such a move, has already threatened sanctions against candidates who campaign in any state that switches its primary/caucus schedule.
In short: you'll play by our rules, according to our schedule. If you try to use your legitimate authority to break our rules, we'll see to it that not a single candidate sets foot in your state.
That's the party line, comrades. We'll tell you when to vote, and who to vote for. Step out of line, we'll kick you out of the party.
With any luck, the voters of Connecticut will be the first to send a clear message back to DNC nogoodniks: you can't be a Democrat unless you're willing to accept democracy.
1. TheHill.com, 16 Aug. 2006
2. Connecticut Local Politics, 17 Jan. 2006
4. Las Vegas Review-Journal, 12 March 2006
5. Portsmouth, NH Union Leader 22 Aug. 2006
If the media is the eye on the world, Russ Carr is the finger in that eye. Tune in each month to see him dispersing the smoke and smashing the mirrors of modern mass communication. The world lost Russ on 2/7/12, but he lives on.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
8.23.06 @ 9:38a
In every western democracy I can think of a candidate's party affiliation is paramount. Even in the parliamentary systems such as the UK, it's the winning party which determines who is prime minister. Thus, our congress is organized along party lines. The party leaders hand out the committee appointments. Even Thomas Jefferson a few years after 1789, changed his mind about parties and founded one of his own.
There is no one party which encompasses all the various beliefs and positions of its members. Politics is the art of compromise, and even party members must compromise some of their priorities about issues when choosing to belong to one, or to work for one, or to run as a candidate within one. In our country where there are really only two viable national parties we don't have much of a choice, and in certain issue areas there's very little perceptible difference between them.
Those of us who remain loyal to one or the other of the two are called "party hacks" as an epithet. The assumption is that we cannot think for ourselves. Nothing could be further from the truth. Everybody I know in my party has weighed the party's position on all the issues of importance to us and added up the pro and con columns and chosen the party which agrees with our positions on the largest number of issues. That's the best one can hope for in a democracy where no two people completely agree on ALL the issues. My fellow lefty daughter and I even disagree about the details sometimes. She worked for Kucinich and I worked for Dean, for instance, in 2004. BUT after the conventions, we both worked for Kerry. Do I agree with the Democratic Party all the time? Of course not, but given the choices we have I find myself working for Democratic Party candidates 99.999% of the time. (Yes, I actually worked for a repuglican once. I didn't vote for him because I lived outside his district, but I worked in his campaign.)
If Joe Lieberman is a Democrat he would not be running as an "Independent." There's no such thing as an "Independent Democrat" or an "Independent repuglican." You're either a Democrat, a repuglican, an independent or a member of one of the other parties. If you run in your party's primary and you lose, tough! If Joe Lieberman is not a Democrat anymore then he can hardly expect to be handed juicy committee appointments by the party he has betrayed, even if he does win the general election.
We probably all wish we could think of a better way to organize a democracy, but until somebody does, this is what we have.
That's just my opinion. I could be wrong.
Signed: Sandra, Democratic Party hack (Or Loyal Democrat, depending on your POV)
8.23.06 @ 2:44p
The two party system needed to go away 50 years ago, and what happened in Connecticut is proof-positive why: a free-thinking individual can't make headroads or sound decisions.
It's corporation government, that's all. You have Democrat, Inc. and Republican Corp.
Everyone knows it takes an odd number to break a tie: that's why people who are truly democratic should back independent candidates until one or two start to forge serious cracks in the system.
Lieberman seems like an earnest enough individual, but even he isn't progressive enough to have moved ahead if he had won without Democratic party streamers attached to his behind.
8.23.06 @ 2:57p
Poor Sandra with a great mind, heart, and soul but whose platformless party has degraded to nakedly bigotous exploitation:
States would be selected based on minority populations, the presence of organized labor and geographic diversity.
The 40-year-old mantra of unions and minorities is their hope for today? Sorry, but we don't manufacture anything anymore, and our biggest minority isn't even fully legal and can't vote.
Little people need to be empowered, not governed, at least in a democracy. See state television in China/Venezuela/Iran for the alternative, obviously Dean has been watching.
The DNC will swing some seats this fall, but that's no different than in '94 for midterms, but they are done as far as the presidency in '08 goes.
You heard it here first!
8.23.06 @ 4:02p
Understand that the shift in the primaries, etc., has little bearing on the Republican candidates, per se. Instead it's a means by which the chaff (ie, outside and fringe candidates) can be more quickly winnowed away from the Democratic slate, so that the Party-approved candidate can run AS the candidate well before the nominating convention. It's not just a slap at Iowa or New Hampshire, it's a slap at any free-thinking Democrat with presidential aspirations.
As New Hampshire's Secretary of State William Gardner said, "It's insulting and disrespectful to the people of New Hampshire for Chairman Dean to threaten potential Presidential candidates if they dare to set foot on the soil in this state."
It's intimidation and blackmail within their own ranks!
8.23.06 @ 4:52p
I think that there should be a 2 term limit in the Senate. 12 years is plenty of time to get your agenda taken care of, and after that it's high time to step aside and let some new blood in.
That said, I think you're really simplfying the Dems stance here, and part of the problem is that the Dems don't really have one stance. The comparison to Communism isn't fair either. They don't have the balls. They're really trying to be socialists, and they're not even very good at that because they're so damn wishy-washy.
It's high time that people realize that the main difference between Republicans and Democrats is who they argue against, not what they argue for. All this partisan politicking is all just esoteric bullshit largely designed to keep those in power in power.
I think that Lieberman is a fool for turning around and running as an Independent. It makes him look like a sore loser and, frankly, makes me distrust his intentions. What's the deal, Joe? Don't wanna give up your condo? If you really have all these great ideas, why not turn the loss into a good reason to go on the speaking circuit. You've got national media attention, don't waste it on a run as an Independent.
Ned Lamont is a tool.
You wanna talk about devious political activities? Let's talk about the Republicans funding the Green Party candidate in PA.
8.24.06 @ 5:56a
Joe Lieberman's declared candidacy as an "Independent Democrat" has a smelly air. It doesn't bother me that he's giving the Democratic Party a big "fuck-it", but what bugs me is that he says he'll vote Democrat anyway if elected. Why that announcement? Why not have the balls to go all the way?
Since he genuinely thinks something's wrong with the Democratic Party, then he should do it all the way as a true Independent candidate, and indicate that he'll vote independently and above party lines. With the national exposure he's had, he's got terrific potential to start cracking the two-party system as a genuine Independent and create some change. Yet he's still intent on aligning himself with the Democrats and Republicans, and keeping up all the usual traditions and overall crap. Which in turn shows me he's using a convenient-for-Lieberman-Independent springboard to bounce back into office for the usual hustle and his wishy-washy politics. (Oh, fun.)
As far as being stripped of seniority goes, again, I think he should go all the way and embrace that prospect. I can understand that it would be unfortunate given that he's been in the Senate for 12 years, but since he's running as an Independent- well, let it happen. Being stripped of it seems lousy, but it would further expose the flaws in the system. I don't think Lieberman's willing to accept that, though. People unwillingly cede power unless they're made to for unscrupulous reasons.
If Lieberman were to say, "I'm running as an Independent, they're probably going to strip my seniority, but I want to do something else while I'm there and shake things up," then I'd think he'd be remarkable. But I think he's more about keeping the perks for another 4 years.
All in all, Lieberman doesn't really look like a guy who'll wake up in bed with a bloody horse head. He looks like some kid whining, "Do over! I want a do over!"
8.24.06 @ 7:56a
Alex, that's exactly my point. Well, all of my points, really. It's a shame Lieberman doesn't have the guts to call a spade a spade and say, "Look, the Democratic Party has railroaded me out in favor of a puppet who'll vote the Party line. I want to vote my conscience and according to the desires of my constituency.* So as of now I relinquish my party ties and am running beholden to no one but the people of the great state of Connecticut."
And I think John McCain should do the same with regard to the Republicans.
However, both men have been on Capitol Hill long enough to know that you don't change parties during an election; you change mid-term, so you're already in. Lieberman stops well short of critiquing the party because he doesn't want to risk alienating too much of his voter base, or his fellow moderate Democrats.
8.24.06 @ 8:21a
You won't get any thoughtful political analysis from me, but I will say that what Lieberman's doing just seems kinda-- I dunno, skeevy. Feels like one of those Bush/Cheney moves where we all say, "Uh, are they allowed to do that?"
(Looking for a Swedgen/Wu ticket in '08.)
8.24.06 @ 4:17p
Since it seems the President campaigns on a continuing basis, I think we should limit the President to one year terms. Granted he would get nothing done, but that might be a good thing.
Congress/Senate should have 2 year terms.
Lieberman made his mistake aligning himself too closely with Bush. His loss doesn't prove much because it was a democratic primary, so all it shows is democrats are unhappy with him. Big deal. It's not like he was going to get massive swings of republican voters in the Fall.
I truly think it comes down to which party gets more of the voters out, and not only slightly relies on a handfull of independent or undeclared voters to sway an election. Recent history shows both parties have gotten more voters out than throughout most party histories, resulting in closer elections.
Personally I didn't like Lieberman, but I don't vote in Connecticutt.
8.25.06 @ 5:03a
Earlier tonight, I was talking about this website to a new acquaintance. After a lively conversation about Lieberman's do-over and making fun of K-Fed, my new friend said:
"Lieberman and K-Fed are exactly the same. They're trying to front like they're cool, but they're both really skeevy."