Join News Letter

Iraq War

Peak Oil

Climate Change

US Imperialism











Gujarat Pogrom



India Elections



Submission Policy

Contact Us

Fill out your
e-mail address
to receive our newsletter!




Ned Lamont And The Progressive Democrats: Not Ready For Prime Time

By Stanley Rogouski

12 July, 2006

For anyone who supports an end to the war in Iraq, the Connecticut Senate debate between the pro-war incumbent Joseph Lieberman and his challenger Ned Lamont was painful to watch. Lamont, an old money Greenwich aristocrat, a former Republican who made his fortune in telecommunications, was obviously not ready for the big leagues. Nervous, stammering, bug-eyed, and wearing an ill-fitting suit, he was easy prey for the cool, confident Lieberman who bullied his way through the debate with a passion that was nowhere in evidence during his lackluster performance against Dick Cheney in 2000. Lamont, the darling of the anti-war grassroots of the Democratic Party, came off looking like a naughty schoolboy getting a stern rebuke from the vice principal.

Political debates are rarely this one-sided, even in statewide contests that are not as tightly controlled as the presidential debates, and even when one candidate is an experienced political operative and the other a novice. How exactly was Joseph Lieberman, the laughing stock of the 2004 Democratic primaries, able to transform himself into the Lloyd Benson of Connecticut and his opponent into Dan Quayle?

While other Democratic Senators like Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and John Kerry have been careful to cloak their “yes” votes on the Iraq War Resolution in anti-war rhetoric, Lieberman almost seems to relish pointing out the cognitive dissonance of his colleagues. He voted for the war and he’s not ashamed of it. Just like the rest of the Democratic Party, he’s a reliable source of support for the Israeli right. But, unlike the rest of the Democratic Party, he doesn’t try to hide it. As a result, he’s earned the passionate animosity of the party’s anti-war grassroots, who often refer to him as “the Senator from the Likud Party”. The problem is not anti-Semitism (although Lieberman’s orthodox Jewish religion if often the elephant in the room) but the fact that the rest of his record has been distorted beyond all recognition. Lieberman, who’s a rather typical centrist Democrat on most domestic issues, and who, unlike Bill Casey in Pennsylvania or Tim Kaine in Virginia, is a reliable supporter of Roe vs. Wade, has been painted almost as the second coming of Tom Delay or Newt Gingrich, rather strange considering how he’s been endorsed both by Planned Parenthood and the AFL-CIO.

The problem for Lamont is not that Lieberman has been justifiably called to the carpet by the Democratic Party’s grassroots for his pro-war voting record, but that Lieberman’s Democratic colleagues in the Senate have been allowed to get away with so much. Indeed, for all of his anti-war rhetoric, Howard Dean has never spoken at an anti-war rally. Hillary Clinton, who’s more hawkish on the issue of Iranian nukes than even George Bush, will get hit by an occasional Code Pink demonstration, but still retains some of that mythic Clintonian luster on the Democratic Party’s left. Chuck Schumer, who’s not only pro-war but a powerful national figure in the party’s fundraising apparatus, is rarely even mentioned. And John Kerry, who flip flops as much as the Republicans say he does, gets a pass for his flip flopping simply because it was the Republicans who first pointed it out.

What’s more, the Democratic Party’s “anti-war” grassroots is often uncomfortable with the anti-war movement, at least as represented by International Answer, United for Peace and Justice, and other organizations who have been organizing large mobilizations against the war in Iraq since 2002. It’s not only the presence of openly pro-Palestinian radicals and supporters of Hugo Chavez that keeps Democratic politicians away, but the fact that Democratic politicians are caught between the desire to please the party’s rank and file and the necessity of appealing to their elite corporate donors and potential supporters in the military industrial complex. As a result, the party’s anti-war grassroots often gets stuck with empty rhetoric while its pro-war elite gets the actual votes. Far from inspiring the party’s anti-war rank and file to get involved in the political process, the anti-war rhetoric coming from the party’s leaders often has the effect of demobilizing people and it puts novice politicians like Ned Lamont in a tough position. Caught between their sincere desire to end the war in Iraq and the consciousness that they can only criticize the war within a narrow framework (i.e. you can criticize its poor execution of the war but not its morality and you must constantly reiterate your support of the troops even as you criticize their mission), it leads to paralysis, especially when confronting an open supporter of the war like Lieberman, who need face no such complexity.

Indeed, Lamont, wound up looking like the living embodiment of these contradictions. While Lieberman spoke authoritatively from his own experience and forcefully argued for continuing the occupation, Lamont couldn’t seem to express an opinion without citing an authority from the military: “General X agrees with me. General Y agrees with me”. He stammered and twitched, swallowed his words and shrunk into his ill-fitting suit as his opponent moved in for the kill, brutally pointing out the number of times Lamont has changed his position on the war.

“That’s the second position you’ve taken Ned,” Lieberman bellowed. “That’s the third. That’s the fourth. Oh there you go again. That’s the fifth position you’ve taken. What is your position Ned? Oh Ned. That’s the sixth position you’ve taken.”

Lamont had no answer for this devastating performance because Lieberman was accurately pointing out the contradictory statements of Democrats who want to have it both ways, want to gain the support of their party’s anti-war grassroots but still want to remain within the framework of what the ruling class considers “respectable” and “moderate” dissent. And Lieberman, justifiably incensed over the way that he’s been chosen as the sacrificial lamb for his party’s support of the war in Iraq, and under none of these restraints, tore into the hapless Lamont like a pit bull who has been released after a long period of tugging against his chain.

“How dare you question my commitment to the Democratic Party” he roared. “Five years ago you were a Republican. Three years ago you gave me money. And Now that you have the opportunity to be a Senator you’ve decided that you’re against the war.”

Indeed, after pummeling Lamont’s contradictory stances on the war and calling him to his face an opportunistic amateur with no solid core of principle, a silly upstart willing to slander another Democratic politician for his own ambition, Lieberman, secure in his mastery of the debate, went right back to an old classic, the same line he used against Howard Dean in 2004: “Will Ned Lamont release his tax returns the way I have?”

Lamont, who should have seen this coming from 100 miles away, once again had no answer and dodged the question in a way as obvious I was embarrassed for him. It was painful and embarrassing to watch, not because Lamont or his supporters are bad people. Indeed, they’re not. It was painful and embarrassing to watch precisely because Lieberman is a pro-war Bush sycophant and an advocate of mass murder in Iraq - just like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Diane Feinstein, and Bob Casey - and Lamont was so clearly out of his league. He so clearly was incapable of making the anti-war case against his opponent.

Debates, of course, mean little in and of themselves. Kerry beat Bush decisively in all three in 2004. Bush still went on to win (or get close enough to steal) the election in November. As unlikely as it would seem to anybody watching his wretched performance in the debate against Lieberman, Lamont could still pull off an upset. Lieberman has made a number of enemies in Connecticut. He is unpopular and, most importantly of all, the Republicans want to run against Lamont, so their sycophants in the media will still talk him up.

But even if Lamont wins the primary, it still doesn’t mean that Joe Lieberman will no longer be the Senator from Connecticut. While Lieberman is deadly serious about taking on people inside the Democratic Party’s left (vowing to run as an independent if he loses the primary), his anti-war opponents have already vowed to support him if he defeats Ned Lamont in the primary. No progressive Democrat would go anywhere near the idea of running as a third party candidate and this has the effect of preemptively disarming them against the determined Lieberman. There’s also a culture of militarism and jingoistic nationalism that’s beginning to infect even the anti-war grassroots of the Democratic Party, as is evidenced by their bizarre infatuation with right wing ex military men like Jim Webb.

In other words, on ex-Republican millionaire securing the Democratic nomination for the Senate in a small liberal northeastern state means very little. The Democratic Party’s grassroots are putting all their eggs in Connecticut’s basket. There is no national push to knock out pro-war Democrats. There is no support for Jonathan Tasini on any of the big Democratic Party weblogs so enthusiastic in their support for Ned Lamont. Robert Menendez, a co-sponsor of the flag burning amendment, receives enthusiastic support on the Daily Kos and on other liberal Democratic websites. Robert Casey, the anti-abortion, right wing Democratic challenger to Rick Santorum will get no serious opposition. While the Democratic Party’s elite will trumpet Ned Lamont as a reason to abandon the anti-war movement, to give up organizing mass non-violent protest, don’t listen to them.

Whatever the propaganda coming from Democrats and the Democratic Party’s intellectual elites about how “protests don’t work” or how “there can be no anti-war movement without a draft” or about how “people only act when it affects them personally” or how “we can’t support the extremists of International Answer” it’s clear that the only real opposition to George Bush’s policies over the past 5 years has come from the anti-war movement, from mass protests and from leftist radicals. We need to continue to support International Answer, Cindy Sheehan, United for Peace and Justice and the anti-war movement in general as they build mass rallies. But this isn’t enough in and of itself. The anti-war movement has to take a step past simple opposition to the war and coalesce around a position of driving George Bush and his whole regime out of office. We need to evolve beyond protest to resistance.









Search Our Archive

Our Site