I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Obligatory Lamont/Lieberman Post

(updated below re: Comment section)

By Anonymous Liberal -- As voters in Connecticut go to the polls, discussion of the Lamont/Lieberman race is dominating the blogosphere. Rather than fight against the current, I thought I'd finally weigh in on the issue, for what it's worth.

The now painfully annoying conventional wisdom among Beltway insiders (Republican and Democrat) is that Lieberman's opponents, especially those within the so-called "netroots", are trying to drag the entire Democratic party leftward, that Lamont's campaign represents an attempted ideological purge. This simplistic analysis strikes me as utterly inane. Last week, Mark Schmitt observed, correctly I believe, that "Lamont supporters actually aren’t ideologues. They aren’t looking for the party to be more liberal on traditional dimensions. They’re looking for it to be more of a party."

The problem with Lieberman--at least in my opinion--is that he doesn't seem to understand the significance of the fact that his party is entirely out of power. Ironically, this point was perhaps best explained by Peter Beinart in the latest issue of the New Republic in a column intended as a defense of Lieberman. Beinart writes:

Listen to Joe Lieberman's liberal critics and you
hear the same lines again and again. He has
"betrayed his party" and practiced "turncoat
politics." He has "defined his image by distancing
himself from other Democrats." He's not a "team
player." Funny, that's just what originally drew
me to the guy.

Beinart then goes on to describe a number of examples of Lieberman's "apostacy" that arguably made the Democratic party stronger. He observes:

To be sure, Lieberman's record in the '90s was not
flawless. . . . But, on balance, his Clinton-era heresies
--many of which became the heresies of Clintonism
itself--left liberalism in a far stronger position at the
end of Clinton's presidency than it had been at the

After laying out this defense of Lieberman, however, Beinart is reluctantly forced to acknowledge a key difference between the 1990s and the present:

For Lieberman's activist opponents, his failure to
challenge Republicans aggressively--especially on
Iraq and torture--is all that matters. The idea that
he might deserve reelection because in the past he
usefully challenged Democrats seems downright
perverse at a time when Democrats have no power.
The best argument against Lieberman is that, by
acting the same way in the radically conservative
Bush era as he did in the moderately liberal Clinton
one, his liberal iconoclasm has morphed from a
strength into a weakness.

But Beinart doesn't seem to buy it:

The best argument for him is that, with Bush's power
on the wane, and Democrats resurgent, that
iconoclasm may soon become necessary again--to
keep liberals from learning so much from Iraq that
they forget Bosnia and from becoming so defined by
their opposition to Bush's politics that they forget

If that's the "best argument" for Lieberman, then he very much deserves to lose. The distinction Beinart highlights--between being in power and out of power--is no trivial detail. When a party controls one or more branches of government, it is in a position to make policy decisions that actually matter. The other side cannot do anything without its help; bipartisan deal-making is necessary. But when the other party controls every branch of government, a different sort of stance has to be adopted.

This is what Lieberman either doesn't get or willfully ignores. As a result, he has allowed himself again and again over the last six years to become a useful cudgel for a Republican party intent on ramming through its agenda (and which is utterly uninterested in bipartisan compromise). And worse yet, Lieberman has seemed to enjoy this role immensely.

This is what infuriates Democratic activists, and rightfully so. They realize that priority one is always to stop the bleeding. Until the Democrats regain control of at least one branch of government, the interests Lieberman claims to stand for will continue to suffer. But regaining power requires a greater degree of party unity than was necessary when the Democrats had a seat at the table. Individual members of Congress have to consider more carefully how their actions and words will affect the electoral prospects of their party as a whole.

This is something that nearly all Republican politicians internalized during their years in the legislative wilderness. It's a matter of simple logic.

Lieberman is, of course, free to do and say whatever he pleases, even when it gratuitously harms the electoral prospects of his own party. But it's silly for him to then turn around and claim that he is the victim of some ideological purge. There are a great many people in this country, including myself, who are nothing short of alarmed by what President Bush and the Republican Congress have managed to do to this country over the last six years. These people want someone in Congress who will do whatever is in his power to stop the damage and right the ship. Joe Lieberman has demonstrated time and again that he is not that person. I'm not a Connecticut voter, but if I were, I'd vote for Ned Lamont.

-posted by A.L.

UPDATE (by Glenn): Due to some glitch (or, perhaps, some mistake I made with the new Haloscan program), it appears that many people who were trying to comment today were receiving a message indicating that they have been banned. You haven't been (unless you are one of four or five people who has been deliberately disruptive, and you would know if you were one of them). It should be fixed now. If it isn't, please email me.

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