The Yale College Democrats welcome and encourage bipartisan statesmanship. Yet there is a difference between a politician who sticks by his principles even in the face of opposition from his party and a politician who jeopardizes the future of his party’s very principles, all the while claiming to believe in them. Unfortunately, Senator Joe Lieberman’s recent actions place him squarely in the latter group. For that reason among others, we proudly support Ned Lamont for Senate.
We sincerely thank Senator Lieberman for his years of dedicated service. But what America needs now is not a senator who can work the levers in Washington; we need a senator who can fix the machine. Joe Lieberman’s recent record shows he is the wrong man for the job. Lieberman supported government intervention in the Terry Schiavo case. He backed the truly awful Cheney energy bill. And he refused to support a law requiring hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims — Lieberman even insensitively suggested that rape victims take “a short ride to get to another hospital” if denied care. In contrast, Ned Lamont is a principled politician who supports the progressive vision of America’s future. On issues like health care, education and energy policy, Lamont will deliver where Lieberman has faltered. And as an outsider, he will make it his mission to shake things up in Washington.
And then, of course, there’s Iraq. Lamont’s antiwar position has captivated the media and largely defined this race so far. But it is not merely Lieberman’s support for the war that has tarnished him in the eyes of so many Democrats. Declining to count yourself among your party’s antiwar wing is one thing; going out of your way to undermine and slander that wing is quite another. Lieberman’s public assertion that Democratic critics of the Iraq War “undermine the president’s credibility at our nation’s peril” would have been outrageous even for a Republican; to hear that from a Democrat just makes it all the more inexcusable.
And that’s the problem with Joe Lieberman’s version of “bipartisanship.” As the New York Times has argued, it’s no use having a prominent politician who is respected by the other side if he won’t challenge the other side when they’re wrong. Lieberman may have some cachet with voters the Democrats don’t often appeal to, but he only ever uses it to make himself look better, painting ever bigger and bolder strokes into his self-portrait as a principled moderate. He rarely uses his standing to advance the Democratic agenda (which he says he believes in) nationally or to support progressive principles even in the abstract. Especially lately, it seems the only times he goes on news programs or talk shows it’s to criticize the Democrats.
Which brings us to the crux of why Lieberman has fallen out of favor with the Democratic Party and why he is not just disliked but reviled by many Democrats today. It’s not because he’s a moderate politician; it’s because he’s a selfish politician. We saw it in 2000, when he put his own political career ahead of party and country by running for Senate at the same time he ran for vice president. (If he and Gore had won, the Republican governor would have appointed his replacement and, as it turned out, that would have cost Democrats the Senate.) And we see it today with his independent campaign. Lieberman is now campaigning with Republican candidates for House and governor. Those House races in particular are some of the most critical in the country this year to Democrats’ chances of taking back Congress. Could there be any clearer a demonstration of Lieberman’s all-about-me attitude than the fact that he is willing to campaign with Republican candidates he claims to disagree with, running against Democrats in close races, if only they will endorse him? Perhaps there is. When Fox News asked Lieberman if he was concerned that his independent campaign would energize Republicans and make it harder for Democrats to win this November, Lieberman said, “They should have thought of that during the primary.”
There is, and will always be, room in the Democratic Party for moderation in the service of principle. There is, and will always be, room in the Democratic Party for bipartisanship in the pursuit of better public policy. But there is no room for self-serving politicians who demonize their opponents and disrespect voters, who are willing to jump into bed with anyone who will support their re-election campaign even if it harms the party and the principles they claim to believe in, or whose twisted version of “bipartisanship” largely involves seizing every opportunity to jump up and down on their party in order to score some cheap political points. Come November, Democrats should vote for the principled politician who is in touch with his party and his country, and to whom the Democratic Party is more than a convenient punching bag. This year, only one candidate fits that description: Ned Lamont.
Brendan Gants is a junior in Morse College. He is president of the Yale College Democrats.