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Free Liberal: Coordinating towards higher values

Free Liberal

Coordinating towards higher values

Joe Lieberman and the Soul of the Democratic Party

By Paul J. Gessing

On Tuesday, voters in Connecticut’s Democratic Primary will go to the polls to decide whether they would rather allow Joe Lieberman to represent them for six more years or whether it is time for a change. Ned Lamont is running neck-and-neck with the incumbent. Who will win is anybody’s guess.

This race, however, has broad implications not only nationwide, but that will reverberate for years to come. Nothing hurts the egos of Members of Congress worse than electoral defeat. It would wound Lieberman even more deeply to be rejected by Democratic Party faithful while Republicans sit on the sidelines cheering him on.

So, why is the man that so many Republicans derided as “Joe Loserman” in 2000 now the favorite Democrat of many Republicans? Let’s put it this way, it is not Lieberman’s admirable support of free trade or openness to school choice. Republicans favor Lieberman for much the same reason as they now adore English Prime Minister Tony Blair, that is, because of his exceptional willingness to adhere to President Bush’s interventionist foreign policy actions and his unquestioning support for curtailed privacy rights at home. All of this, of course, is done in the name of “fighting terrorists” and “defeating the enemy overseas so they don’t attack us here.”

If Ned Lamont beats Lieberman, the tide will have turned. Democrats may finally decide that to oppose Bush is not the same as being unpatriotic. Republicans may begin to distance themselves from Bush’s “War on Terror,” and most of all, America may have a functioning opposition party for the first time in five years.

This last point is really the key because aside from his opposition to the Iraq War, Lamont is pretty much a run of the mill liberal Democrat. So, while he has made himself competitive based simply on opposition to the war, his ascendancy could be the result of a transformation in flux or it could be simply a change of tactics. It was political corruption driven by ambitious attempts to expand the role of government (Hillary Clinton’s health care plan for example) that finally drove the Democratic Party out of power. While Lamont’s genuinely progressive politics have their place, adherence to them are unlikely to make the Democratic Party any more than a legitimate opposition.

Rather, the Democratic Party needs to build on Lamont’s successful antiwar platform while adopting policies that allow them to fill the void left by Republicans who at one time were considered the party of limited government. Despite his limited military forays into Kosovo and Somalia, the last six years of President Clinton’s presidency were far less militaristic than those of most American presidencies and government shrank dramatically relative to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product.

By standing up to President Bush and those who would have us believe that to oppose war is to oppose America, Ned Lamont is performing not only a useful service to his party, but, if he wins, an invaluable service to his country. America has gone for five years without an organized movement willing to stand up and fight against the Orwellian concept of “perpetual war for perpetual peace.”

Unfortunately for the Democrats, Lamont’s victory and the victory of “progressives” in left-leaning New England states is not enough to return them to power. Perhaps when they have proven themselves by challenging Bush’s misguided policies and have created a coherent message that large groups of Americans can accept, the election of Ned Lamont will go down in the history books as an important turning point.

Paul J. Gessing is a Senior Editor of The Free Liberal and is a member of its founding committee. His writings have been published in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, and U.S. News & World Report. Prior public policy jobs included working at the Marijuana Policy Project and Congressman Bernie Sanders' office.

He completed his B.A. in Political Science at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and received an MBA from the Robert H. Smith School at the University of Maryland. Paul resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico and manages a think-tank there.

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