When you're right you're right
Monday, August 21, 2006
  A "maverick" is not a "maverick" when he is a Democrat
Joe Lieberman is no Republican, but you wouldn't know that by some of the things that have been written about him in the run-up to the Democratic primary, which he lost to "anti-war" candidate Ned Lamont.

Connecticut's Journal-Inquirer all but accused him of being a Karl Rove puppet. In an op-ed entitled "Why Did Rove Call Joe?", the paper claims that "Joe Lieberman will run for his fourth term in the U.S. Senate as a Bush Republican."

As if that weren't absurd enough, the paper continues:

"Whatever the outcome, Joe Lieberman has removed the mask once and for all. He is out of the closet. He's a Bush man and the de facto GOP nominee for the Senate this year. There may not be a direct 9/11-Saddam link, but there is a Lieberman-Rove one."

Joe Lieberman is not a Republican in Democrats' clothing, as the article suggests. Let me be the first to say that he's much too liberal for my liking, and I probably wouldn't vote for him for dogcatcher. But he has never managed to make my blood boil quite the same way Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have done. He seems like an honorable man, a man of faith, and a man with whom I could probably have an intelligent and reasonable debate.

So where does this stealth Republican stand on the issues? He voted against drilling at ANWR. He voted against a constitutional ammendment that would have banned gay "marriage". He co-sponsored the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act, which aimed to give the homosexual partners of federal employees similar benefits as the married spouses of heterosexual federal employees. Lieberman received and "F" from the National Rifle Assocation, but a rating of ninety percent from the Coalition to Stop Handgun Violence. He voted against allowing guns to be sold without trigger locks. He supports federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research. NARAL Pro-Choice America gave Lieberman a rating of one hundred percent for the years 2000, 2001, 2003, and 2004. For the year 2005, his rating was a scant 95%, because he voted to confirm Chief Justice John Roberts. He voted against banning partial birth abortion. Lieberman also voted against the Bush social security plan and recently called for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

So that's the type of closet Republican ol' Joe is. As strange as it seems, today's Democratic Party does not have room for this accomplished Democrat and junior United States Senator from Connecticut. On August 8th, Connecticut Democrats chose challenger Ned Lamont over the incumbent Lieberman by margin of 51.8% to 48.2%. For a sitting Senator to lose his party's nomination in a primary race is almost unheard of in American history.

With the snubbing of Joe Lieberman, the Democratic Party is telling the world that the "big tent party" is a thing of the past. The Democratic Party has long been a broad coalition of competing interests. Back in the 1940's, the term "typical Democrat" was almost an oxymoron. There was the Dixiecrat wing of the party whose first priority was to preserve Jim Crowe laws; there was the "progressive" wing of the party, represented by former Vice President Henry Wallace, an admirer of Stalin's Soviet Union. But the party also had a lot of support from urban ethnics--Irish in Boston, Italians in Philadelphia, Poles in Chicago, as well as religious minorities such as Roman Catholics and Jews. The Democrats also enjoyed some degree of support from Midwestern farmers, blue-collar workers, and Southerners who were impressed with Roosevelt New Deal improvements such as the Tennessee Valley Authority.

But the party of Roosevelt is gone. Somewhere along the line, the big tent got a lot smaller. Dissenting voices were less and less welcome. Pro-life Democrats were squeezed out, Democrats who were a little squeemish about affirmative action were labeled racists, and Democrats who maintained their faith in God as a central object in their lives were told they were "Jesus freaks" whose opinions had no place in politics.

Pennsylvania's Bob Casey was one of the first Democrats to feel the crunch. A rising star in the Democratic Party, he parted ways with his party on one of its central issues--abortion. Casey is pro-life, and wanted to give a pro-life speech at the 1992 Democratic Convention at New York City's Madison Square Garden. The Democratic Party, under great pressure from NARAL pro-Choice America, nixed the idea. Only weeks before, Casey had been the defendant in the landmark supreme court case, Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania v. Casey, and was consequently walking around with a figurative bullseye on his back at the convention. Casey, the popular governor of a large swing state (Pennsylvania) was not allowed to speak at the Democratic National Convention.

Ever since there have been political parties, there has been a delicate balance between party discipline and political independence. Though they are at odds, I believe that there is a time for a party to hang together, and a time for independent leaders to make independent decisions.

It seems that Republican politicians who break with their party are referred to as "mavericks", a complimentary term that denotes a certain courage and independence of thought. The Republican Party's leading maverick is Arizona Senator John McCain, a man whose name has almost become synanamous with "maverick".

McCain is not my kind of Republican, and I would have a hard time voting for him, "maverick" or not. I will criticize his voting record simply because I disagree with it, but I would never suggest that he is doing something nefarious by voting against his party.

No elected representative should be a slave to his party or take his marching orders from the party bigwigs. In an ideal republic, representatives would vote the way their constituents want them to vote, not the way their parties want them to vote. John McCain, the quintesential Republican "maverick", works for the people of Arizona, not the Republican Party.

I guess I would have more respect for John McCain's "independent" positions if I thought they were actually independent. It sometimes apears that McCain is just looking for the media accolades that reporters so quickly dole out to Republicans who bash Republicans. They love to see Republican infighting and reward it wherever they find it. Reporters love to report stories in which "even Republicans" are turning against the president, and "even Republicans" can't agree on a controversial issue. As the Republican Party's leading Republican-basher, Senator McCain has learned to enjoy the spotlight and revel in his status as an "independent thinker", and "his own man". The press knows that McCain is the man to go to if you want to get a soundbite of one Republican bashing another Republican. For this purpose, Senator McCain is indespensible.

While I understand that our leaders have to take their own path from time to time, I still wonder why some Republicans don't just switch parties. People like Chris Shays of Connecticut and Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, are known as "R.I.N.O.s" (Republicans in Name Only), because of their frequent support for Democratic policy positions. Why not just stop the charade and go join the Dark Side?

I guess it comes down to the fact that we have a two-party system in this country. Political parties almost have to have a "big tent" approach if they want to compete on the national level. After all, the party with the biggest tent wins. Unlike other countries which have one-issue parties, regional parties, and splinter parties, Americans really only have to two realistic choices--the Republicans and the Democrats. Republicans are generally center-right, and Democrats are (supposedly) center-left.

But Americans are not so easily divided into liberal and conservative. Some people who are staunch supporters of securing our borders and oppose abortion may also believe that the Iraq War is a disaster and oppose NAFTA. Pat Buchanan, two-time candidate for the Republican nomination for president, holds those exact positions. On the other side of the aisle, Senator and Governor Zell Miller of Georgia was known as a bit of an irritant to his party, for the fact that he was not on board with some of the Democrat's more left-wing proposals.

Because of the fact that people are not so easily categorized as "liberal" or "conservative", "right-wing" or "left-wing", political parties have to have some tolerance for disagreement. Dissenters cannot simply be drummed out of the party for holding opinions that don't jive with the party platform.

But is there a line? If an elected official diasagrees with his party on almost everything, what is he still doing running on their ticket? At what point does a dissenting politician become a rogue agent, rather than someone who has occasional disagreements with his party?

Apparently, the Democrat's "big tent" is not big enough for Joe Lieberman, a man who faithfully votes with his party on almost all issues, but still stands by his vote for the Iraq War. Lieberman is a hawk in a party that can't quite make up its mind where it stands on the war.

Lieberman's biggest sin is his independence; he won't bow down to Democratoc Party leaders, and that made him a target in the eyes of the party's left wing. In other words, Joe Lieberman is a "maverick", although you will rarely hear him called that in the mainstream press. You see, the term "maverick" is a compliment, and should only be applied to politicians who break with the Republican Party, not politicians who break with the Democratic Party. Republicans "mavericks" like John McCain are praised for their staunch independent streaks, while Democratic "mavericks" (although they are rarely called that) recieve no such praise. In the eyes of the liberal media, these independent Democrats are supposed march in lockstep with the Democratic Party, so their refusal to do so is never portrayed as a virtue.

That's why The Journal Inquirer tries to paint Lieberman is the perfect Bush Administration lapdog.

So the White House is there for Joe. Why back a veteran GOP Congressman like Chris Shays for the Senate? He's an independent spirit who thinks for himself, and views intelligence, defense, and terror as complex problems calling for nuanced responses. Joe is the cookie cutter the president would like to use to remake the rest of Congress.

Nothing could be further from the truth. While he does agree with the president that we need to be bringing the fight to the enemy in the War on Terror, he has come to these conclusions independently. In fact, that's exactly Lieberman's sin--his independent streak. While The Journal-Inquirer gushes over R.I.N.O. Chris Shay's "maverick" posture, it bashes Lieberman for not being independent enough. Sorry, but one could just as easily say that the sitting Connecticut Senator is "an independent spirit who thinks for himself, and views intelligence, defense, and terror as complex problems calling for nuanced responses."

The senator has not become persona non grata in his party because he's a Bush lackey; he's been targeted because he isn't a DNC lackey. While he is accused with "marching in lockstep" with the president, he is in fact cutting his own path. Since his defeat in the Democratic primary, we know that such insolence will not be tolerated in the Democratic Party.

After years of Democrats praising Republican "mavericks" every time they voted against their party, they finally got a "maverick" of their own. Not surprisingly, they don't like it. While praising "independent spirits" like Chris Shays, they expect those on their side of the aisle to toe the line.

In the wake of the Lieberman defeat, the message has gone out to Democrats across the country--break ranks at your own peril. It's not good enough to vote with the Democrats eighty percent of the time, or even ninety percent of the time. You have to sing along with the DNC chorus one hundred percent of the time, or at least when it comes to the Iraq War and the greater War on Terror.

But is that the right message for the Democratic Party to be sending? I would wager that the Democrats will rue the day that they sent Joe Lieberman packing. First of all, the Democratic Party has a little image problem; despite their hysterical screaming that they are a moderate party (not like those Republicans, who are supposedly far right-wingers), many people believe that they are a little far off in left field. I share that opinion. Consequently, they spend most election years striving to put a moderate face on the party, nominating undercover-liberal John Kerry for president, rather than proudly "progressive" Howard Dean. When the Democratic Party is playing its card right, it tries to keep the loony-left members of the party behind the curtain, and only allows more moderate members to represent the party publicly.

But every time the Democrats forsake the middle path for the left one, they get burned. They lost in a landslide when they nominated doveish presidential candidate George McGovern in 1972. President Carter was slightly less liberal, but he barely won his squeeker of a victory because his opponent was tainted by Watergate. Four years later, Carter went to the chopping block. Solid liberal Walter Mondale went down in flames in 1984, and Michael "the Massachusetts Liberal" Dukakis was humiliated in 1988. Clearly, the Democratic Party needs to be projecting a more moderate image. When they show their true colors, they tend to lose elections.

That's why the victory of Ned Lamont over Joe Lieberman presents such a problem for the Democratic Party. More moderate Democrats are beginning to ask themselves if they are welcome in the party anymore. After all, this party considers Joe Lieberman--a man with a voting record that could be considered solidly liberal on all fronts except one--too conservative! A party like that cannot keep up the charade much longer. The facade is gone--the Democrat Party is a left-wing, cut-and-run, weak-on-national-defense party.

Senator Lieberman has vowed to continue his fight to keep his seat, even after losing his party's nomination. He has formed his own party--Connecticut for Lieberman. Leading Democrats have thrown their support to Lamont, and many have suggested that Lieberman should drop out of the race for the good of the Democratic Party.

The Democratic Party is obviously scared, and they have reason to be. This third-party candidate holds a commanding twelve-point lead in the polls. If the election were held today, the Senator would clean the challenger's clock, and prove just how far to the left the Democratic Party has gone. That could be extremely embarrassing to Democrats, and they would lose what used to be considered a solidly-blue seat in the Senate.

But the party big-wigs don't understand that, or at least pretend not to. As Senator John Kerry said, "And the fact is, Joe Lieberman is out of step with the people of Connecticut." Wherever did the Senator come up with that pearl of wisdom? Lieberman is now leading the polls by double digits, and Kerry says that he is "out of step with the people of Connecticut"? What he really meant to say was that Lieberman is just barely out of step with the Democrats of Connecticut. In fact, he's really only out of step with Democrats who voted in the primary, who are usually the most dedicated and ideological of all party members. Sorry, but Joe Lieberman is in step with the people of Connecticut; it's the Democratic Party that isn't.

With the election a scant few months away, the Connecticut senate race is one to watch. The overly zealous Democratic Party has clearly zagged to the left, when it should probably have taken a more centrist path. That center lane led toward the incumbent senator, but the Democratic Party refused to take it, opting for Lamont instead. Time will tell if the left-wing path will lead Lamont and his party straight off the edge of a cliff. I suspect so, and gleefully expect the Democratic Party to suffer for the foolishness of its decision.
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