On August 8th, all eyes will be on Connecticut, to see if political neophyte Ned Lamont can knock off a three-term incumbent senator, who in 2000 was his party’s nominee for vice president.
Some are calling this a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party. Others liken it to a purge by liberals against a good and decent man. In the end, though, this fight is over which man Connecticut voters believe deserves the post more. In short—should Connecticut stick with a loyal, if flawed, servant, or take a chance on someone new?
We need to take the chance.
The list of Democratic complaints against Sen. Lieberman is a long one, but this campaign has from the start been propelled by one major issue: the war in Iraq. I disagree with Mr. Lamont’s recommendation that we bring troops home right away, but I also believe that doing nothing, and allowing the current state of affairs to continue, is by far the worst thing we could do. A new perspective is needed.
Much has been made of Sen. Lieberman’s vaunted bipartisanship, and his willingness to compromise with and support Republicans even at the expense of his own party. This can be a virtue, as many have pointed out. But moderation and bipartisanship can very easily slip into the appeasement of extremism and the stubborn endorsement of dysfunction. On issues like the handling of the Iraq War, the troubling expansion of executive authority and the even more troubling failures of the Republican majority to govern effectively through several crises, a “bipartisanship” that undermines his own party’s attempts to keep the majority honest rather than strengthening ties between both sides is disastrous. In all things, there should be moderation—moderation itself included. Sen. Lieberman doesn’t seem to realize this.
Sen. Lieberman’s conduct during this campaign has also been disappointing, and speaks to a side of his character we don’t often see. From all accounts, he is a good and decent man. But he has been defensive and prickly when challenged, he has largely avoided the issue of Iraq, and his campaign has viciously attacked his opponent on the most insubstantial of grounds, while dismissing all charges made against him as those of a tiny minority. His refusal to engage the serious questions that voters have about his record on Iraq (which he turns aside by encouraging voters to look at the rest of his record, instead), and above all his decision to run as an independent should he lose the primary seems to indicate that the concerns of Connecticut Democrats interests him less than his own desire to stay in office. This is undemocratic.
Lamont is inexperienced, this is true. His inexperience has become less pronounced as he has grown as a candidate, but it is still there. It will be his biggest handicap as a senator, should he make it that far, but it will be a handicap shared by many others if the course of this election year holds true. It shouldn’t be a reason to vote against him. The idea of keeping a candidate in office just because he or she is experienced, despite glaring flaws, leads us into the trap of serial, unwarranted incumbency. This is also undemocratic.
Ned Lamont has been a welcome change from Sen. Lieberman. On many issues, he is certainly more liberal than Lieberman, but he speaks to the concerns that Democrats from all walks of life have: health care, taxes, the economy and, above all, the Iraq War. He is personable, likable, and surprisingly unpretentious.
Sen. Lieberman has failed to realize that, if he wants to win the support of voters, he needs to do more than shake their hands in a diner. He needs to listen to them—and to understand them. Lamont listens, and understands.
Voters desperately want change, this year. We can’t keep doing things the same way in Washington. Lieberman, who seems insulated and out-of-touch, doesn’t realize that. Lamont, on the other hand, embraces it. This, above all other reasons, is why we endorse Ned Lamont for the U.S. Senate nomination.