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A 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 win.

Now Connecticut’s Democrats, and upstart candidate Ned Lamont, have thrown a major wrench into that calamitous calculus of complicity.

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.

—Dave Lindorff


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