Senator Joe Lieberman is making a number of Connecticut Democrats cranky. He has, they say, forsaken his party and embraced (quite literally, if you watched the State of the Union) President Bush and his policies. The latest rumor is that Lieberman is favoring compromise with the Republicans on Social Security privatization, thereby giving the administration "bipartisan cover" for its plans. Lieberman dispelled that yesterday:
U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., said Tuesday he is "totally un-convinced" the government can shift Social Security toward private accounts without accelerating the onset of the program’s insolvency.
"I don’t see how you make Social Security more solvent ..by taking trillions of dollars out of the trust fund," Lieberman said, taking his fist public stance on President Bush’s proposal. (Straw)
There. The left wing of the party will doubtless not be appeased, however. Lieberman is simply too close to President Bush for their comfort. His positions on the Iraq War, especially, have alienated and angered a significant segment of Connecticut's liberals, and his rather obvious campaigning for the job of Secretary of Homeland Security (a bid that, embarrassingly enough, failed) has confirmed the opinion of those who believe he is nothing but a DINO (Democrat in Name Only).
So what to do?
"I think it would be a very healthy thing for Lieberman to be challenged in a Democratic primary," said Mary Sullivan, a former Democratic National Committee member from Greenwich. "It might make him more accountable or responsive to the sentiment of Democratic voters in the state." (Vigdor)
Support for a primary against Lieberman is strong on the liberal blogosphere (this thread from Daily Kos illustrates my point nicely), guaranteeing any primary challenger money and exposure. But is it a good idea?
Let's take a look:
--A primary might help refocus Lieberman's attentions on his constituents.
--Democracy is always healthy. Connecticut Democrats should have the opportunity to choose the candidate they feel most represents them.
--It would draw attention away from a very boring governor's race.
--A primary could split the party between liberals and moderates. This is the coalition Democrats depend on; a split could be disastrous. If a primary is announced, expect a high-profile Republican like Rob Simmons or Nancy Johnson to step in to the race.
--As with any primary in today's incumbent-dominated world, this one has little chance of success. Indeed, the quote from Mary Sullivan above indicates that the primary would, in effect, be held to keep Lieberman honest. Why run if you're not trying to win?
--Even worse, Joe Lieberman has a 69% approval rating in Connecticut, according to a Quinnipiac Poll from last month. Only 20% disapprove of him. Those are rock-solid numbers, and they haven't changed very much over the past decade. Lieberman support is entrenched, and his appeal crosses party lines.
--On the other hand, what if the challenge succeeds? In that case, a moderate Republican like Shays would probably win against a candidate already painted as "liberal".
--Liberals might be shooting themselves in the foot. Lieberman's voting record is not as conservative as they believe. Here are some of the ratings he gets from various interest groups:
2003 On the votes that the National Abortion Reproductive Rights Action League considered to be the most important in 2003, Senator Lieberman voted their preferred position 100 percent of the time.
2004 On the votes that the United Auto Workers considered to be the most important in 2004, Senator Lieberman voted their preferred position 92 percent of the time. Those who supported or provided other assistance in connection with a UAW organizing drive are given an extra 10% bonus. Priority issues are given double weight in this voting record.
2004 According to the National Journal - Liberal on Social Policy's calculations, in 2004, Senator Lieberman voted more liberal on social policy issues than 82 percent of the Senators.
By contrast, the Nat'l Journal rated Senator Dodd as more liberal than 77% of senators.
Lieberman's record, to be sure, has some sizable holes in it. The ACLU gave him a 40% rating in 2001-2002 (up to 80% last year), for example. But by and large, Lieberman's voting record is right in the mainstream for Democratic senators.
What seems to anger liberals most is Lieberman's perceived closeness to the administration and his love of compromise. They cite his appearances on conservative cable programs on FOXNews, and his breaks with the Democratic party line on several issues, such as his vote to confirm Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General. Yet it seems that when it comes time to vote, Lieberman by and large supports progressive measures.
Therefore, it may be misleading to say that Lieberman is a Democrat-In-Name-Only, and that having a Republican in his seat would essentially change nothing. Democrats may wish to ask themselves if they want to risk a sure vote for Harry Reid for Majority Leader in 2007 simply to make a poltical point.
"Cause for scrutiny of Shays, Lieberman". Stamford Advocate 3 March 2005.
Straw, Joseph. "Lieberman not convinced on Social Security". Bristol Press 2 March 2005.
Vigdor, Neil. "Is a kiss just a kiss? Lieberman's bond with Bush angers liberal Dems". Stamford Advocate 25 February 2005.