In 1988, Joe Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 was elected to the Senate. He campaigned by running to the right of the incumbent Republican, Lowell Weicker, and with the support of William F. Buckley Jr. ’50, one of the biggest figures in the modern conservative movement. Since that time, he has charted a legislative course worthy of his initial electoral history. Lieberman has been one of the Senate’s most conservative Democrats overall, a particular shock given that his solidly blue home state is Connecticut. Although he may feel like a moderate maverick for his supposed bipartisanship, his politics make many feel that he has abandoned his constituents and his party. This is why Ned Lamont ’80 is running to unseat Senator Lieberman in this August’s Democratic primary.
Lieberman’s stance on the war is quite troubling. He introduced the Iraq War Resolution to the Senate floor in October 2002, and has continued to unabashedly support every failed Bush administration policy on Iraq ever since. A press luncheon with Lieberman in Baghdad so shocked Time magazine’s Baghdad bureau chief Michael Ware that he reported, “Either Senator Lieberman is so divorced from reality that he’s completely lost the plot or he knows he’s spinning a line. Because one of my colleagues turned to me in the middle of this lunch and said he’s not talking about any country I’ve ever been to and yet he was talking about Iraq, the very country where we were sitting.”
But this race is about much more than Iraq. Just this past year, Lieberman voted to confirm John Roberts, and he voted against the filibuster of Samuel Alito LAW ’75. He also voted for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who, as White House Counsel, called the Geneva Conventions “quaint” and was responsible for the legal justifications for torture at the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay prisons. Lieberman’s strong ties to industry left him standing alone as a Democrat willing to work on Bush’s ultimately failed privatization of Social Security. And just this week, he refused to join an overwhelming majority of lawmakers from both parties in opposing the Bush administration’s sale of administrative contracts for 21 ports to a company owned by the United Arab Emirates. Lieberman supported federal intervention in the Terry Schiavo case, voted to stop federal aid to public schools that used materials “supportive of homosexuality” and, in 2002, he presided over the confirmation hearings for Michael Brown, the supremely unqualified nominee for FEMA chief whom Lieberman wholeheartedly supported.
It can’t get much worse than that, can it? Oh, it can. Perhaps Lieberman’s most galling characteristic is his willingness to appear in conservative media and to publicly and unreservedly bash Democratic policies and other Democrats. As a Democrat with a bullhorn, Lieberman can and does do more harm to the Democratic message machine than any Republican. It is no surprise then that his approval rating is 15 points higher among Republicans than among Democrats or that he has fundraising parties hosted by Republican lobbyists. He carries water for the GOP and reinforces GOP frames. Consider the case of Rep. John Murtha, a retired colonel. After many talks with commanders on the ground and other Pentagon experts, Murtha — an elder statesman of the House Democratic Caucus and a respected voice on security issues — called for a measured withdrawal of troops from Iraq. In response, Sen. Lieberman cried, “In matters of war, we undermine presidential credibility at our nation’s peril.” Murtha retorted, “What credibility?” It’s bad enough for someone like Karl Rove to routinely impugn the motives of Democrats; it is quite another for our own Democratic senator to do so.
For these reasons and more, Ned Lamont needs to run and he needs to win. He is a successful businessman from Greenwich who appreciates the values for which progressives fight. He represents a dramatic departure from every one of Lieberman’s faults. He supports withdrawal from Iraq along the lines of Congressman Murtha’s proposal, proposes progressive health-care reform from the perspective of an entrepreneur, and advocates, from his experience as a teacher, education reform (while opposing Lieberman’s favored school vouchers). He supports energy conservation efforts, gay rights and fighting the Bush administration when the president nominates individuals for federal positions who clearly do not represent the interests of Americans. Most importantly, he supports other Democrats, and he will support the party in its efforts to win back the country.
While this will be an uphill battle for Lamont, it is not insurmountable. He has the financial capacity to get the campaign going, and there is tremendous activist and grassroots support for a challenge to Lieberman. A recent poll shows that among self-described liberals, who are more likely to vote in the primary than anyone else, only 47 percent want Lieberman re-nominated and 47 percent say it should be someone else.
But Lamont said it best: “Some people have told me that I would be jeopardizing a safe seat. This is a blue state. We wouldn’t be losing a senator, we’d be gaining a Democrat.”
Benjamin Simon is a junior in Berkeley College. He is the co-chair of Yale Students for Lamont.