Published on Monday, August 21, 2006 by The Nation
by William Greider
The question of party identity takes on weird new relevance now that Joe Lieberman is cross-dressing in Connecticut. Defeated once as a Democrat, tiresome Joe is now running again as an independent. Only he says he's still a loyal Dem at heart. How can we know he's not lying?
Karl Rove and the Republicans appear to think otherwise. They are pouring serious money into Lieberman's campaign and dumping a classic Republican smear job on Ned Lamont, the legit Democrat. Ned, remember, beat Joe fair and square in the party primary.
But Joe agrees with Karl that Ned is a threat to the Republic because Lamont thinks Bush's war in Iraq is a bloody catastrophe--as do nearly two-thirds of the American public.
Something about this odd drama doesn't pass the smell test. I suspect Karl and Joe have made a deal. A back-scratching understanding, you might say.
Karl says to Senator Joe: We will help you beat Ned in the general election and you will agree to cross over and sign up with the Republicans--if we need your vote to retain our majority in the Senate.
Joe says: It's a deal--but only if my fellow Democrats make a sincere effort to support Ned and defeat me. Otherwise, if the Dems go limp and sell out Ned, I have to stay loyal.
Karl: Fair enough. How do we make the terms of the deal clear to everyone without announcing it?
Joe: You very publically dump the no-name Republican candidate in the race. I start attacking the patriotism of anti-war Democrats like Bernie Sanders, who's running for senator in Vermont. We both cut up Ned Lamont with the same vicious slurs--portraying him as a fellow traveler for al Quaeda.
Karl: Excellent. I have a hit group called Vets for Freedom, who will start tossing the mud.
Joe: My Democratic pals will understand completely. This is the kind of bipartisan civility I've always sought in politics.
Okay, I cannot prove any of the above. But it is at least clear that the devious and undependable Lieberman has devised a very nasty dilemma for his erstwhile friends in the Democratic minority. Most of them have declared their support for the party nominee, Ned Lamont, and at least some of them seem sincere. That demonstrates the party establishment's respect for the new energies that Lamont's anti-war supporters are bringing to the party.
But Joe's flagrant turncoat routine effectively warns the party regulars to back off--or else.
His suggested logic goes like this: the Dems will win the Connecticut senate seat by doing nothing from the national level, since it's either going to be Lamont or Lieberman. But if the party establishment provokes Joe by putting real heft behind Lamont's campaign, then it risks losing the seat. If Joe wins with the heavy support provided by Bush and Republicans, he may feel compelled to walk out.
Some Democrats--I hear this second-hand--are flirting with this "go limp" strategy. Others are arguing intensely that the party has no option except to put all of its weight behind the party nominee and, in effect, make damn sure Ned wins. Above all, they have to demonstrate their commitment to Lamont followers, those new rank-and-file forces who harbor deep skepticism about the party's timid leadership.
If Democrats fail to demonstrate their genuineness, they may very well create a much more serious problem for the party down the road. A Lieberman victory, regardless of how it occurs, would encourage the rebels and insurgents from within the party to skip party primaries as bogus events and run their challenge candidates in the general elections--just like wayward Joe.
These rebel challengers might not win, but they could rally enough dissenting voters to bring down a lot of incumbent Dems. Joe tossed party identity out the window; why shouldn't they?
This would be a far bloodier path to reinvigorating the Democratic party--bringing it down in order to rebuild it--but some reform agitators have noticed that it works. Fratricidal bloodletting was how the Republican Right got its groove and gained its power over the other party.
Copyright © 2006 The Nation