ANTIWAR ACTIVISTS WHO ARE opposing the renomination of Sen. Joe Lieberman in next month’s Connecticut Democratic primary complain that he’s not a “real Democrat.” They’re wrong, but Lieberman runs the risk of making prophets of his critics by preparing for a backup reelection campaign as an independent.
An ardent supporter of toppling Saddam Hussein, Lieberman has been immune to the buyer’s remorse that has afflicted other Democratic senators who voted to authorize President Bush to use force against the Iraqi dictator. Two weeks ago, he was one of only six Senate Democrats to vote against a resolution calling for U.S. forces to begin leaving Iraq this year.
Cheered on by a nationwide network of antiwar activists, Ned Lamont, a cable TV company executive, is challenging Lieberman in the Aug. 8 primary. Lieberman is sufficiently spooked by the challenge that he said Monday that he would urge his supporters to sign petitions for an independent candidacy in November if he loses to Lamont -- paperwork that must be prepared before the primary. He called the possible campaign as an independent an “insurance policy.”
Democratic voters in Connecticut have the right to nominate the candidate of their choice. But it is more than a little disturbing for the longtime popular senator (and the party’s 2000 nominee for vice president) to be targeted for defeat by national fundraisers based on his foreign policy views. There were principled people on both sides of the debate to go to war in Iraq. This page did not support the war, but it cannot cheer on liberal activists who run the risk of being guilty of the same sort of insistence on ideological purity that they deplore in Republicans.
The Democratic Party -- the party of Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy -- is a big enough tent to include voices on the conservative end of national security policy. Lieberman’s views shouldn’t trigger a nationwide jihad against him. To their credit, most party leaders are backing Lieberman.
It is equally unhealthy for our two-party democracy when conservatives target more liberal voices within the Republican Party for failing to march in lock-step on matters of principle. Come to think of it, the people of Connecticut are familiar with that flavor of jihad too. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. was a Republican senator from that state who was considered far too liberal by many Republicans elsewhere. After losing his seat to Lieberman in 1988, he was elected governor in 1990. As an independent.