Roar From the Rank and File
It would be easy to make too little of Ned Lamont’s defeat
of three-term incumbent Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman in
Tuesday’s Connecticut primary.
We on the left are always quick to point out the limitations
of American electoral democracy, and sure, Ned Lamont, a millionaire
cable TV entrepreneur and child of privilege, is no Che Guevara
or even Eugene Debs. Clearly his 52-48 primary victory over
Lieberman is no political revolution.
But whatever one might say about the fine points of Ned Lamont’s
political positions, the people who voted in Connecticut’s
Democratic primary did accomplish something remarkable. Several
things really. First of all, in a cynical age where people
don’t think anything they do matters, they came out to vote—in
record numbers. According to election officials, the turnout
for this campaign was well above 50 percent—about what one
expects for a presidential race these days, and double the
norm for an off-year primary election, where 25-percent turnout
is considered impressive. People cared about this vote, and
they felt that their vote mattered.
And they are right. It will.
In a historic outpouring of passion they denied their party’s
nomination to a three-term incumbent senator—one who has enormous
power, both through his seniority in the Senate, and because
he has over the last five years ingratiated himself to the
ruling Republican Party in Washington, D.C., which has returned
the favor by helping him to delivery the kosher bacon to his
state as if he were a GOP member. In America’s corrupted polity,
delivering the bacon is about all that counts in most elections,
and it’s a primary reason incumbents keep getting reelected
even though voters know they are in hock to corporate interests
and have little or no interest in really helping them. At
least an incumbent—particularly one with seniority—can bring
her or his state construction projects, defense projects,
highway funds, etc.
And Sen. Lieberman always did that.
So why did Connecticut’s Democrats turn out in record numbers
and reject him as their candidate for the November election?
Because Lieberman represented several things that those voters
are sick of: the war in Iraq, the Republican assault on civil
liberties and civil rights, and a cowardly policy of avoidance
and accommodation on the part of the Democratic Party leadership.
Lieberman has been an enthusiastic supporter of Bush’s Iraq
invasion, an enthusiastic backer of the Patriot Act and other
Bush assaults on the Constitution, an endorser of the tactic
of questioning the patriotism of those who might challenge
the president, a supporter even of former Attorney General
John Ashcroft’s crazy, fascistic Operation TIPS plan to create
20 million American spies monitoring their neighbors.
Connecticut’s Democratic voters—never a particularly radical
group historically—showed that they want a candidate who forthrightly
opposes the Iraq War, who proudly defends civil liberties
and the Constitution, and who is willing to confront Republicans,
directly and unapologetically.
That might seem like a small thing. After all, it would seem
to be the least that an opposition party should be doing,
given the grotesque, criminal record of the Republican Bush
administration and the Republican-led Congress. And yet those
voters have done more than that.
For years, Democratic Party leaders, including Lieberman,
the party’s vice presidential candidate in 2000, have taken
it for granted that they could ignore the demands of the party’s
progressive left wing. Those voters, these leaders have assumed,
will always come along in the end and support the corrupt,
conservative and sell-out candidates we present them with
at election time, because they won’t want a Republican to
Now Connecticut’s Democrats, and upstart candidate Ned Lamont,
have thrown a major wrench into that calamitous calculus of
Democratic leaders nationwide now have to confront the reality
that a majority of rank-and-file voters are sick and tired
of “wedge issues” like stem-cell research or “school vouchers,”
sick and tired of carefully crafted nonpositions like Hillary
Clinton’s on the war or abortion rights, and sick and tired
of cowardly compromises like Lieberman’s deal to avoid a filibuster
on nominations of right-wing appellate judges. They want a
party that will take progressive stands and fight for them,
and that will front candidates who will challenge Republicans.
(It will be interesting to see what kind of a bump Lamont’s
win will give to grossly underfunded Jonathan Tasini’s antiwar
primary challenge to Hillary Clinton in neighboring New York.)
And first and foremost, Connecticut’s Democrats have shown
a stunned Democratic leadership that they want their party
to take an unambiguous stand for an end to Bush’s disastrous
and criminal war in Iraq.