A Letter to Chuck Schumer
Readers away from the East Coast might not have taken notice of this but Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman has a real primary challenge on his hands as his opponent Ned Lamont is closing in the polls. Lieberman's been in the Senate for 18 years and, of course, was Gore's running mate in 2000 and was the Alan Keyes on the Democrat side during the 2004 primary. He's vulnerable, most say, because he has been unapologetic in his support of the Iraq war, even going so far as to imply that we shouldn't be criticizing Bush during the hostilities. It goes beyond that, though. Lieberman has also helped Bush appoint conservative justices to the courts by giving cloture votes (and then, after a party-line vote seems sure, voting against the nominee) and he did the same to help the bankruptcy bill pass (he voted it to the Senate floor and then voted against it when it didn't matter). Lieberman's willingness to push for the Bush agenda has made him vulnerable.
It's likely that he'll still win the primary election, by the way. But, if he doesn't, it's implied that he'll run as an indepedent candidate and will likely win the general election by a plurality in a three-way race.
Lamont has promised, if he loses, to endorse Lieberman as the Democrat candidate. Lieberman refuses to make the same promise.
Now, my senator, Democrat Chuck Schumer, is among the leaders of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which exists to help get Democrats elected to the Senate. But Schumer is also an old pal of Lieberman's and he's said that if Lieberman loses the primary but runs as an independent who promises to caucus with the Democrats that the committee will give him its support.
I just wrote a letter to Schumer, asking him to reconsider. See, in a state like Vermont, where an independent liberal like Bernie Sanders will run without opposition from a member of the party, having the DSCC support some one who is a friend of the party but not a member makes sense. But in Connecticut, we've got a real, tight primary race at hand. Schumer, the DSCC and all Democrats with a national voice should really support the candidate that Connecticut's Democrats choose to run.
I wrote to Schumer that the merits of Lieberman and Lamont are actually immaterial to this discussion. Both have their strengths and weaknesses and a Democrat could make a case for either one. This is really about politics. What did we learn from the ascent of the Republicans? It seems to many that the Republicans went from being the congressional also-rans to the dominant force in national politics over night, but that's not at all how it happened. What happened was, over the course of decades, Republicans running national organizations (both in and out of government) lent their support to the choices made by Republicans at the local levels. That's why they've got a party that's a mix of both well-heeled economists and religious zealots that somehow manage to get along. To build an organization like that, you just have to accept that if your parties local voters boot your longtime pal in the primary that you best serve the party by trying to support and to make the best of the choice that those voters made.
At the moment, voters in the Democratic party are having a big debate about who should represent us and how. The media shorthand says it's a debate about Iraq, but that oversimplifies things. Another shorthand says it's about moving to the left vs. moving to the center, but it's not that either. In it's broadest sense, I think it's really a debate about whether or not center-left political views will be heard and considered by the government. For six years, they really haven't been. Some sitting senators, congresspeople and governors, who have had the chance to be heard but who either haven't been noticed or haven't represented what their voters want are going to be removed over the next few election cycles. The national party needs to accept that. Being in the Senate for 18 years does not automatically entitle a senator to be there for 24.
There are a lot of thoughtful Democrats out there, in government and outside of it, in Connecticut and in the rest of the country, who believe that for good reasons, Connecticut's primary voters would make an error by dumping Lieberman right now. There are also people, in all of those classes, who think it's a good move and a risk worth taking. In a couple of months, we'll know what Connecticut's Democrats want to do. We should support their decision, whatever it is. I hope that the national party will, too.
If Schumer answers my letter, I'll post it here.