The Yale College Democrats do good work. By getting undergraduates involved in congressional campaigns across Connecticut, they promote civic participation, which is perhaps the most important aspect of U.S. democracy. The United States would truly be a better place if all Yale students — Democrat, Republican, independent, undecided or apathetic — engaged in such activities.
But the Dems’ recent editorial (“Lamont’s vision, ideas are in line with Dems,” 9/14) seems unsatisfying, at least to readers who identify themselves as centrist or slightly left-of-center. The editorial’s first image is that of Sen. Joe Lieberman “working the levers” while Lamont would “fix the machine.” This example creates some nebulous idea of corruption somewhere, and that Lamont will somehow go in and change whatever needs fixing. This is where the Democrats fall short: They don’t say anything of the kind. The image might give the impression that either they don’t think their readers are intelligent enough to handle actual information or, worse, that there is no actual information about Lamont’s views to be told. Readers who are undecided and who are looking to be persuaded to vote for Lamont feel they are being duped. The same problem comes in describing Lamont as a “principled politician” who will “deliver where Lieberman has faltered” and “his mission [is] to shake things up.” The reader knows just as little about Lamont or Lieberman as he or she did beforehand.
Charges of political opportunism on Lieberman’s part also seem to be missing something. It’s not that Lieberman isn’t an opportunist, but other Democratic congressmen are, too. When centrist voters hear criticism of Lieberman and consider the fact that the overwhelming majority of Democratic congressmen have criticized the president for things which justify impeachment, they see the criticism of Lieberman as hypocritical. After all, if they are not willing to publicly call for impeachment, what other reason could Democratic lawmakers have for criticizing the President except political gain? Has Lamont called for the President’s impeachment? Will he lead the charge? From reading the Dems’ piece, we simply don’t know. The only thing they do know is that it’s unfair to criticize Lieberman for political opportunism when the majority of Democrats, by not calling for impeachment, are guilty of the same thing. The worst way to persuade voters who lean toward the Democratic Party is to stoop to the level of the politicians they criticize.
But perhaps the most difficult thing for slightly left-of-center voters to stomach is the lack of respect for the principles and civic virtues the U.S. version of democracy is founded on. The Dems have said, in so many words, that Lieberman’s campaign is selfish and thus he shouldn’t be running. The way the U.S. system is set up, any candidate can run for office as long as he or she has enough signatures on a petition. The U.S. system doesn’t judge reasons for running, it just requires you be a citizen and fill out the necessary paperwork. Anyone could exercise the right to run for office on a white supremacist platform or a platform to repeal the Fifth Amendment, rather than running just to keep one’s job. While Lieberman’s reasons for running are not good ones, and while it would have been the best thing for him to have bowed out after the primary, the Democratic Party doesn’t get to make that choice. Dedication to principle and class should have governed the Dems’ response. Lieberman’s running as a third candidate, in principle, epitomizes everything noble and good about U.S. freedom.
This senatorial race serves as an exemplar of civic participation at a time where such participation is typically painfully lacking. A better response would have been something like this: “The YCD recognizes Lieberman’s right to run for office. Even though we disagree with his decision, we celebrate the fact that he is exercising one of his Constitutional right, just as we celebrate the decision of any American citizen to exercise any of his or her rights. We wish Lieberman the best of luck, and we hope the candidate who will best serve the citizens of Connecticut will win. However, the YCD endorses Ned Lamont because we believe he is that candidate based both on his qualifications and his views on the following issues …”
A party classy enough to say that would be a party I would want to be a part of. Rather than worrying about unhelpful language and tired metaphors, I would have clear and precise information. Rather than feeling ashamed by name-calling and subtle hypocrisies, I would feel proud of how honest and frank the Democratic Party is. Rather than worrying the political left has lost sight of our values, I would be assured that my party is championing them. They do good things, but the way the Dems endorsed Lamont in their editorial falls short of the values they should hold most dear. As a voter who needs any sign that the Democratic Party will serve me well, I can’t help but feel disappointed.
Michael Harris is a sophomore in Branford College.