Thursday, March 03, 2005

Lieberman vs. the Democrats?

Primary Challenge Possible

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 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.
Project Vote-Smart

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.


stomv said...

It's nice to finally find a blogger who "gets it."

Would I prefer it if Lieberman was less lovey-dovey with the current administration? Of course. Would I prefer that he voted on issues alligned with the ACLU more often? To be sure.

Am I willing to risk losing a major blue player in the Northeast -- an area that doesn't have nearly enough Democratic senators for it's level of liberalness? No way.

Let it go. Lieberman votes the right way, and Bush will be gone soon enough. Instead, spend money and energy in races where the Democrats need to protect a seat or can pick one up. The Dems could pick up a few seats this go-round, but wasting resources on Lieberman simply won't help the Dems progress toward a majority in the Senate.

Genghis Conn said...

Agreed. Democrats will probably find their money is better spent trying to unseat Shays and Simmons, both of whom are extremely vulnerable.

Anonymous said...

What has Joe done to help get rid of any of the three CT Republicans in congress.Get your head out of your ass because incumbents protect incumbents.If you're happy with Dems in the minority in both houses and without the whitehouse just keep spewing the DLC line and be prepared to send your kids to war.Google Joe Lieberman and hit news and do some more reading.If being a PNAC supporter and a hack for the defense industry and corperate america is ok with the Dem party then why even stay in it.

stomv said...


It seems to me that the Dems have neither the cash nor the candidates to fight every single battle simultaneously. The fact is JL caucuses with the Dems. If the Dems can get a majority in the Senate, they'll be able to set the tone. They'll be able to dominate the committees. They'll be able to decide which legislation comes to the floor. They'll be able to slow down the GOP runaway train in the House.

Until the Dems have a majority in the Senate, why attack itself? The New England Dems would be better served getting another Dem or two in the House in CT, getting a GOP senator in Maine, continuing the push toward the Dem Party in NH, and getting a Democratic governor in MA. These initiatives would help the regional and the national Democratic principles far more than purging JL and risking a GOP gain the Senate seat.

Nobody has argued that JL is the quintissential liberal politician. However, he ain't half-bad, and there are plenty of politicians in New England that are far worse. When Joe Lieberman is the anchor on the Democratic Party (the CT Dems take back the state house and all 5 House seats), than you'll have yourself a mission. Until then, focus on the goals of majority rule.

Anonymous said...

If Joe is the Dem nominee for senate in 06 no Dem gains will happen.If,However there was a "new Obama or Wellstone type candidate" that excited Dems and the minority community in this state and the black vote increased by 25% we could have a Dem sweep.Paticipatory democracy is not what the Lieberman faction of the party is the least bit interested in.Until state central figueres that out we're stuck with 3 out of 5 Republican house members from this state in which 56% of those who voted for a house member in 04 voted for a Dem.

Anonymous said...

One more thing.
Jodi Rell is the "Gerald Ford" of CT.Every time someone asks why her #s are so good this is the answer that should be given.Everyone liked Ford but he wasn't EVER elected President and Jodi Rell will never be elected Governor.
PS. If I am making a mistake in my assumption that this is a partisan board please let me know genghis conn.

Genghis Conn said...

I'm not quite sure on what you base your assertion that no Democratic gains will be made if Lieberman is on the ticket in 2006. Two current Republican seats are very vulnerable (Shays and Simmons won narrowly; Nancy Johnson is safe); both Democratic (Larson and DeLauro won easily) seats are safe. Democrats should stop looking for a "magic bullet" candidate like Obama or [enter celebrity here], and concentrate on solid party-building at the state and local level.

While there are parallels between Ford and Rell, I believe that they end on the surface. But that's a large topic for another time.

And as for partisanship...? I don't like blind party loyalty, and I see it too often on other blogs. My commentary here will trend in the direction that I feel is most reasonable, whether it be right or left or (most likely) center.

Anonymous said...


Joe’s stance on aggressive offensive warfare is unacceptable. I appreciate his environmental efforts and I can support his labor record. However he has serious questions to answer to in regards to censorship, his support of torture, and his attacks on other Democrats including his part in the anti-Clinton attacks.

There are other moderates in the Senate. No problem. Conservative Democrats from conservative states. In this solid blue state we should not be electing warmongers. Joe is going to fail us on the votes the things that count most.

Senator Lieberman should have been booted out of the party when he risked putting a Republican in his senate seat should Gore have won in 2000. Then again when you look at just who supports Lieberman you notice he really isn’t a Democrat even if he does a fine job on some parts of the progressive agenda. He has a higher approval rating amongst Republicans than he does amongst Democrats.