Greencastle, Ind. – If you’re inclined to think that op-eds make no difference, take it up with Joe Lieberman. The senator from Connecticut wrote one in The Wall Street Journal last November and it brought him no end of attention.
Lieberman had just returned from Iraq and he wrote to extol the Bush administration’s war policies, a warm endorsement of President Bush’s promise to stay the course. Coming from a senior Democrat who had once been on the party’s national ticket as vice president, this was a welcome valentine to the Bush administration, even prompting speculation that Lieberman might soon be picked to succeed Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary.
However, the sweetest reward for Lieberman’s op-ed came after the State of the Union address when President Bush found him in the congressional crowd and planted a very public kiss of thanks on his senatorial cheek.
A photo of that kiss has now been transformed into a campaign button and posted on the blog “DumpJoe.com” with the slogan, “Too Close For Comfort.” Lieberman’s op-ed also produced the senator’s worst nightmare, a serious, credible challenger in the Democratic primary. After reading it, Ned Lamont, a businessman with deep pockets and the conviction that Lieberman is dead wrong on his support for the war, made up his mind to run.
Connecticut has a system purposely designed to make it difficult to challenge an incumbent. You can’t simply pay a fee and file. A challenger must first go to the state convention — a gathering of party regulars — and win at
least 15 percent of the delegates. Lamont more than doubled that number. In opinion polls, his support also has doubled in the past month.
The Aug. 8 primary in Connecticut is the first place where the country might witness an up-or-down vote on the war. Lamont has fleshed out a full platform, but the single issue motivating his challenge is Iraq, the belief that both Bush and Lieberman are unwavering in their commitment to a failed policy. “Bottom line,” says Lieberman, “I think Bush has it right.”
Lamont’s challenge has driven right-wing Democrats into a frenzy. That Lieberman’s support of Bush should prompt a primary challenge signals “an undertow of liberal fundamentalism,” says the Democratic Leadership Council, adding that it is a sign of intolerance of dissent and a purge effort. In Lieberman it has stirred an annoyance sufficient to label Lamont’s campaign a jihad.
From here it looks as if Lamont is simply playing by the rules — rules designed, by the way, to help the incumbent. By common agreement, Iraq is the most important issue looming over the upcoming midterms. Many Democrats would like to find a way to make the voting a referendum on Bush policies, as it should be. Others, calling themselves “national security Democrats,” are afraid that Karl Rove and his political gang-bangers will tag them as cut-and-run cowards, soft on terror. Trapped and suffocating in their caution, they offer no alternatives, as the debate in Congress this past week revealed.
If an incumbent is sufficiently out of step with the views of his constituents on an issue of great importance, why should he not be challenged? Lieberman is unrelenting. He stands by Bush on Iraq and says that neo-conservatives are some of his best friends.
Let up on the jihad rhetoric, Joe. Your views are entitled to a fair test at the polls. Stand up like a man and defend the Bush war policies in the primary. See what the voters decide and respect the results.
However, there comes this additional wrinkle. Fearful of defeat on Aug. 8, Lieberman can run as an independent in November by filing 7,500 signatures the following day, a course he admits is under consideration. He explains, “Primaries don’t always nominate the most electable candidates.”
Addressing this issue, Lamont is running ads that promise to support Lieberman if he wins the primary and asking the senator to do the same for Lamont.
Tossing his weight around, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, the head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, promises to support Lieberman’s third-party effort with Democratic Party money even if he loses the primary. Come on, fellows, who’s not playing by the rules? If Ned Lamont beats Joe Lieberman on Aug. 8, he will become the most visible antiwar candidate in the country. Even Chuck Schumer will have to accept the result.