By Morton Kondracke
This is no exaggeration: The soul of the Democratic Party – and possibly the future of civility in American politics – is on the line in the Aug. 8 Senate primary in Connecticut.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, Conn., one of the last “liberal hawks” in the Democratic Party and a leader in efforts to find bipartisan solutions to America’s problems, is being targeted for defeat by an emergent new left that’s using savage, Internet-based attacks to push moderation out of politics.
If former Greenwich Selectman Ned Lamont beats Lieberman in the Democratic primary, it will represent a signal victory for the MoveOn.org-Michael Moore-DailyKos left wing of the Democratic Party and for vicious name-calling as a political tactic.
The Democratic Party already is handicapped by the fact that its liberal base amounts to just 20 percent of the electorate, while the Republicans’ conservative base is 33 percent, according to decades of polling. Both parties must appeal to the remaining 47 percent who describe themselves as “moderate” – which Democrats can’t do if the left triumphs.
But the left is ascendant. MoveOn’s preferred 2000 presidential candidate, Howard Dean, is now chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and the party’s leaders in Congress, Sen. Harry Reid, Nev., and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Calif., give every evidence of being influenced by the left-leaning blogosphere’s obsessive hatred of President Bush.
Reid and Pelosi press conferences are dominated by Bush-bashing and virtually empty of positive proposals. Even so, mainstream Democrats are under constant Weblog pressure to “take on” Bush and routinely get attacked for being too accommodating.
Lieberman is a target primarily because he supports the Iraq war, but also because he rejects Bush-hatred and often cooperates with Republicans, even though he votes with his party 80 percent of the time.
When fellow Senate Democrats Joseph Biden, Del.; Ken Salazar, Colo.; and Barbara Boxer, Calif.; endorsed Lieberman, the liberal blog Democrats.com featured this warning:
“If they read progressive blogs at all – and by now one would assume they do – (these Senators) certainly know that the Democratic ‘base’ hates Lieberman and will be furious at his defenders.”
The blogger, Bob Fertik, asked, “So why are these senators kissing Lieberman’s ass/ring?” He speculated that one reason was that Lieberman could help them raise money, “in particular conservative Jewish money” and noted that “ideologically, Lieberman practically owns the ‘Democratic sellout’ brand,” which he warned Biden and Salazar to avoid.
Even before the current Middle East conflict, Lieberman was subjected to anti-Semitic attacks on liberal blogs DailyKos and Huffington Post. One commentary declared, “Ned Lamont needs to beat Lieberman to a pulp in the debate and define what it means to be an American who is NOT beholden to the Israeli lobby.”
Such comments – and there are worse – aren’t those of site operators Markos Moulitsas Zuniga or Arianna Huffington, but they also are not edited out as extreme or tasteless.
To his credit, Lamont himself is not stooping as low as his supporters are, though he is distorting Lieberman’s record on the environment, energy and Social Security. And Lamont generally is supporting Israel in the current crisis.
But as Lieberman told me in an interview, Lamont’s (and the left’s) policy on Iraq would have profoundly negative consequences for America’s interests in the region and would embolden Iran, whose leader has pledged to destroy Israel.
“If we leave Iraq before the Iraqis are able to self-govern and self-defend, it greatly strengthens Iran’s hand,” he said. “Iran will take this as a sign that the U.S. does not have the will to win the war against terrorism.
“And Iran will surge into the vacuum we have left and play a dominant role in Iraq. In fact, as we think about how to check Iran in the future, one of the great balances for them will be a strong and independent Iraq. The Iranians know this, which is why they are trying to do everything they can right now to stop that from happening.”
Lieberman favors “aggressive diplomacy” and economic sanctions, not direct talks, with Iran to control its nuclear program, but if that fails, “I would never say we would not use military power, air strikes, to incapacitate ... their nuclear program.”
Lieberman is a rare remaining vestige of the assertive Democratic foreign policy typified by presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John Kennedy. Though he’s accused of being Bush’s cheerleader on Iraq, Lieberman first called for toppling Saddam Hussein in 1993, before Bush was even governor of Texas.
Lieberman surely is out of his party’s force-averse post-Vietnam mainstream on foreign policy. But the party desperately needs his voice, and American politics also needs his willingness to cooperate with his political adversaries and to act independently.
“Hatred divides the country and blinds us to the fact that we are all in this together, particularly when it comes to national security,” Lieberman said. “You can have disagreement, but once you think the other side is evil – and there is a group in each party that thinks the other side is evil – we have a problem. The hatred of Bush among some Democrats mirrors the hatred of Bill Clinton among some Republicans in the 1990s. It’s destructive.”
And it’s now up to Connecticut voters to decide whether hatred-politics will prevail.
(Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill.)
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