Sunday, April 10, 2005
NOmentum: Lieberman re-election and the Connecticut Democratic PartyPosted by Bob Brigham
Swing State Project has been closely following the potential 2006 primary challenge to Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman. We've looked at the polls, the geography, the tactics, and the news. In a recent post on the news, I cited a Manchester Journal-Inquirer article with the following quote:
In an extraordinary encounter last week with members of the Democratic State Central Committee, the senator was forced to defend his hawkish record by Myrna Watanabe, Harwinton's town chairwoman.
Watanabe, a professional science writer who took notes on the exchange, told Lieberman that while she appreciated his "very good" voting record, she wanted to know how she could present him for re-election in her town when "our people are pretty pacifistic" and were opposed the war in Iraq "from the beginning," when "our people don't support Rice," and when "they are most unhappy with Gonzales."
She said Lieberman responded that he does what he believes is right, that he didn't want the war to be used as a litmus test, and finally that he didn't have to come to Harwinton.
Watanabe read the post on Swing State Project and contacted us. I asked her if she could give a quote I could post. She responded with 2,000 words...
Myrna Watanabe is retaining the copyright for what follows:
If it weren’t that computers are very glitchy, I would think I’m getting the electronic finger from Lieberman. Granted, I do sign these group emails asking our congressional delegation to oppose this bill or that bill, as there’s not much out there to support nowadays; but the day after I asked Lieberman that very polite question at our Democratic State Central Committee meeting about how to sell him to my town committee, I followed up with a fax (letterhead, real signature) offering a dialogue with him. (I wasn’t going to offer to contribute to his campaign or babysit for his dog or anything that would have fiduciary value.)
Since then, I’ve received two emails from his office. The first was a form letter thanking me for visiting his online contact center. As I haven’t a clue what that’s all about, having never visited his online contact center, and having no interest in spending my time visiting it, I thought that perhaps, just perhaps, it was in response to one of those People for the American Way or some other group’s click-through email letters. But just in case, I figured I’d send an email back, warning them that if it just happened to be a response to my fax, it was unacceptable. It bounced. Not really having the time or inclination to send it to one of his staffers directly, I figured I’d forget the whole thing—although I must say, some of my friends in the Party are egging me on to push for a real reply.
But today, I received another email from his office. This time, it was totally blank. My system’s a little slow, so I gave it enough time to develop, just in case it had a photo of our senator as a young man pumping Lyndon Johnson’s hand or something else of historic value. Nada. Just blank--an email written in the electronic equivalent of invisible ink. Is this, I have to ask myself, the way Joe Lieberman’s office responds to a request for a dialogue?
It shouldn’t be this way. Many of my friends, both inside and outside the Democratic Party, have known Joe Lieberman for a long time. When I first introduced myself to him, requesting that he listen to the anti-war message during the run up to the Iraq War vote, I mentioned the name of a mutual friend who had nothing but praise for Joe. “He’s a good man, a fine human being,” my friend had said.
But something must have happened to Joe Lieberman during his political career. I was chatting with one of his old political friends the other night, who remembers when Joe was a true liberal. I asked him if he thought that Joe could be a victim of what my dear friend Robert Flower, who has run many a political campaign in Westchester County, New York, refers to as the politician’s revolving door. Joe’s friend agreed that, yes, this is what probably happened to Joe.
Robert’s theory, which I explained to Joe’s friend, is that after people are elected to office, they suddenly believe all the rhetoric and think that they were elected, not because they supported a particular stance, or the party line, or were in the right place at the right time, but that there's something intrinsic in them that makes them better than the people who worked for them and/or voted for them. In their minds' eyes, they assume mythic proportions. And they begin believing the myth. Once that happens, Robert says, they go through this revolving door where they become something other than a member of the group that elected them. They forget where they came from. It sort of reminds me of a T-shirt I saw a young man wearing yesterday, with a two-headed arrow, one end pointing to his head and the other pointing to his genitals. The one to the head was labelled, "The Man," the one to the genitals, "The Myth".
And, unfortunately, that's what happened with Lieberman. He goes around joking that he was elected vice president of the United States--except it isn't a joke to him or to his audience. He has to know he is an historic figure, but he seems to have forgotten how this all occurred and to whom he owes his luck (or lack thereof).
Until recently, we on Democratic town committees (DTCs) didn't even hear from his people. Now, they're trying to schedule meetings between town committees and him, and the number of takers is probably far fewer than Lieberman would like to see. But back when Lieberman started in politics, so I hear, he made his way with the help of Democratic town committees and good Democrats from around the state, an obligation, some say, he has forgotten.
Lieberman doesn’t need the town committees to run for office, but he needs them because their delegates designate the party nominee for U.S. Senate. Town committees in Connecticut are the groups politicians love to hate. A good town committee, one that will work for a candidate, raise money for a candidate, and share information with a candidate is worth its weight in gold. But, like everything else, some town committees are terrific, some are helpful, and others are useless. But even if useless, they are powerful. If a town committee chair doesn’t support a candidate for a wider office—as an example, my enthusiasm for our last congressional candidate was negligible, and I didn’t like some of her volunteers—he or she can tell the candidate, as I did, not to come to their town. The candidate can ignore it, but it looks bad for a candidate to have no elected officials from the party, no other party candidates, and no members of the town committee with her when she visits. One town committee chair told me that Lieberman’s people asked him to fill a room with people for a visit by Lieberman to take place within a few hours of the request. The town chair said something very rude to Lieberman’s staffer, and asked that that message be given directly to the senator. So Lieberman appeared with only one elected Democratic official at his side. (It was in my district. They didn’t call me and ask me to bring out the troops—as I tried to do for Dodd--but they know better than to send me anything but blank emails.)
These negative feelings toward Lieberman have been growing for several years. The war in Iraq, of course, has been a major polarizing factor. During the buildup to the vote on the war, Lieberman was unreachable for discussion. The anti-war groups, including moveon.org, found it impossible to meet with him (not that Dodd was much more reachable, but Dodd's office was, at least, accommodating and was willing to share his conflicted thoughts about the impending war vote with us).
By the time Lieberman's people attempted to contact Democratic town committees for support for his run for president, his people were on the receiving end of quite a bit of hostility from the committees. I told his people outright to stay away from us: we weren't interested. And I was not alone.
When rumors hit the streets that Lieberman was possibly up for a Bush cabinet position, many of us had had enough--and that predates the Rice, Gonzales, and Chertoff votes. I asked at our State Committee meeting if we could have a vote on the sense of the State Committee to tell Lieberman exactly how we felt about him taking a position with the Bushies. Our then state chair, George Jepsen, discouraged us from doing that, but another state committee member urged that we call Lieberman's office to voice our displeasure, and Jepsen agreed.
Meanwhile, some people who are considering running for office--from town selectman on up to statewide office--are privately voicing concern about making a run with Lieberman at the top of the ticket. Although our voters tend not to vote straight party line (despite our endless statements that they undoubtedly will), there is a concern that voters will see anyone on the Democratic ticket as painted with the Lieberman brush. Now, with the Quinnipiac poll showing positive figures for Lieberman in the comfortable high 60s, one would ask why should that matter? Yet I can tell you that three years ago, when I was distributing flyers that had a local candidate posed with Lieberman (something we can't do anymore because of campaign finance laws), people came up to me, pointed to Lieberman's photo, and said, "If he's with your candidate, I can't vote for your person." If I were in Lieberman's shoes, I wouldn't get too comfy with the poll numbers because they do not detect the undercurrent of dislike and mistrust.
Now, let's get back to DTCs. If the state Democratic convention were held right now, Lieberman wouldn't have the votes to get the nomination without doing some very, very, very serious arm twisting--and even then he might not have the votes. Maybe the population still likes Joe Lieberman, but his friends in the Democratic Party are having second or third thoughts about him. To some it's the votes, to others it's the war, to still others it's the Dem-bashing rhetoric, while others are concerned about the spectacle of Lieberman at Bush's elbow when Bush signs some particularly un-Democratic piece of legislation. But even more telling is that his good friends, people who've known him for 20 or 30 years and who came into politics with him or came up in the party with him, don't want to be associated with him. Months and months ago, many of them, independently, contacted Joe or his close associates and made it clear that Joe was doing himself and the party no good by kowtowing to the Bushies and by continuing his strong support of the war.
After I asked my polite question to Lieberman at State Committee last week, I started getting emails and calls from people telling me that they, too, are seriously disturbed about Lieberman's political stances. The day after the State Committee meeting, there was a meeting of 4th C.D. town chairs at which Mitchell Fuchs, the Fairfield DTC chair, lambasted Lieberman for his votes, his coziness with the Bushies, his stance on the war, etc. One town chair sent me the following email: "Tell him he doesn't have to come to XXX either, unless it's to announce he isn't going to run again." Another town chair told me, "We hate him here!" He probably doesn't have many friends on State Committee either. When he responded to my question by saying that he had a 70 percent favorable rating, someone in the back yelled out, "From Republicans!"
As I see it, Lieberman has a choice: he can go forward, risk not being the party’s nominee, and come up with a third-party endorsement; switch to the Reps, with whom he will be very uncomfortable; do a mea culpa and take on the cloak of leadership of the Democratic Party (“I made a mistake on the war; I shouldn’t compromise with these people because there is no compromise; I will lead us out of this political morass.”); or declare that it’s time to retire and think of something else he can do as an elder statesman.
I suspect that Joe won’t like any of these choices. But he should have thought of that before he cuddled up with the Bushies. Yes, Joe, Democrats do have a litmus test. You have to support good Democratic principles, 24-7, every day of the year, every vote in the Senate (not exactly every vote; we’ll leave you some leeway, but on the big things, and especially in what you say and how you say it, you’ve got to prove you’re a Democrat). And you can’t sleep with the enemy because the stench of dead bodies stays on you.
© 2005 Myrna E. Watanabe
1:15 to 2:00 p.m. in the Yale Law Schooln auditorium, Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) will give a talk on the 9-11 Commission reforms and answer audience questions.
The Yale Law School is located at 127 Wall Street in downtown New
Haven. To reach Yale Law School by car, take Exit 3 off I-91 (from
North or South).
The exit ramp becomes Trumbull Street. Follow Trumbull Street to the
end (at the fifth light - Prospect Street). Turn left on Prospect
Street. Take the first right (at the stoplight) onto Grove Street.
The Law School is in the
second block on your left. Metered parking is available on Grove
Street and on other streets in the vicinity; the main entrance to the
Law School (127 Wall Street) is a short walk away at the corner of
Wall and High Streets.
DavidNYC's post from the other day is quite instructive as well. You can read it HERE
He draws the parallel between Joementum's seemingly high approval ratings and how Arlen Specter (PA) had similar approval ratings, yet was pushed to the brink by Pat Toomey in a 2004 Pennsylvania primary.
I personally believe that we need to carve out the dead-weight on many levels of the Democratic Party, and that the best way to do that is in the primaries.
I have written about it before I took my current job, so I feel comfortable repeating it. The best chance to do that is in the primaries. That is the only way that the grassroots is going to change the face of the Democratic Party, and in essence, save it from itself. This is not only about taking down candidates who "betray with a kiss," but if necessary, entire organizations that continue to lead our party in the wrong direction.
There is only one direction that will ensure Democratic victory for the decades to come. And the direction from which it starts is the bottom - up.
Outstanding news Bob. I was suspicious of that poll when it came out. It boggles the mind that Joe could criticize Dems the way he has and get a big slobbery kiss from Bush without having his popularity affected. Ideally you would want a Democratic Senator who was more popular with Democrats than they are with Republicans.
Kudos to the good people of Connecticut for saying enough is enough.
Find us a candidate!
"Forget the candidate, we've got a campaign to win."
Whoever would be the challenger I assume will be well compensated by the netroots. This is not to encourage presenting a crappy candidate, but I beleive the right person could get a national outpouring of donations and support that would be unprecedented in a Senate primary.
How strong is the opposition likely to be from the R side in the general? Is it well-known who the candidate will be?
Right now, there is zero Republican opposition. They have a good thing going with Lieberman and it is in the best interests of the Republican Party for him to remain in the Senate.
Let's assume, hypothetically, that Lieberman is defeated in the primary. In that scenario, would the R's have anyone viable to run?
Bob & friends may end up giving this more publicity, by the way, but no one should miss this link re: Lieberman.
In that scenario, would the R's have anyone viable to run?
Take a look at Chris Shays' statements lately. You get the sense that CT really isn't a welcome place for GOPers, with the possible exception of Jodi Rell. I'm not really sure who they could run that would really stand a chance against a serious Dem alternative to Joe.
Nutmeggers, care to chime in?