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August 8, 2006
Will Moderates Survive In The Democratic Party?

Today, Connecticut voters go to the polls to for their primary, an election that has received national attention due to Ned Lamont's challenge to incumbent Joe Lieberman. Lieberman, who has a solidly Democratic voting record in his long tenure, got targeted by anti-war activists due to his friendly relationship with George Bush and his ongoing support of the war in Iraq. E.J. Dionne casts this as a preview for the midterm elections, but then argues that Democrats really aren't targeting moderates:

Republican supporters of Bush and the war are claiming that a Lamont victory would signal a dovish takeover of the Democratic Party by activists organized by anti-Bush bloggers -- and would show that there is no room left in Democratic ranks for moderates.

The most over-the-top version of this argument came from William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard. "What drives so many Democrats crazy about Lieberman is not simply his support for the Iraq war," Kristol wrote. "It's that he's unashamedly pro-American."

This charge of extremism enrages Democrats, including many Lieberman supporters.

In this case, Dionne seems almost incoherent. I agree with Dionne that we can discard the "pro-American" argument, which might describe the segment of the Left driving the energy of Lamont's campaign but doesn't describe Lamont himself or the majority of his support. The entire point of Lamont's campaign was to give a voice to the anti-war Left in the Senate, and they chose a solid-voting Democrat as their target, for two reasons: the war and his willingness to work with the White House.

Now, to me, that indicates that the Democrats want to accomplish two goals with the Lamont campaign. One, they want to impose a dovish policy stance on the party, and two, they want to discourage Democrats from working with the White House. One cannot eat his cake and have it too; if those are the issues driving the Left to support Lamont, then they're not kneecapping a senior Democrat merely to replace him with himself.

Dionne appears to get his cause and effect somewhat confused as well:

The embattled incumbent received a modest piece of good news yesterday when the Quinnipiac University poll, whose survey four days earlier showed him trailing Lamont by 13 percentage points, found the margin cut to 6 points. Although Lieberman's own friends were pessimistic (and, truthfully, polling for a summer primary is notoriously difficult), it's at least conceivable that Lieberman's closing declaration of independence might be just enough to push him over the top.

Unfortunately for Dionne's analysis, his closing declaration took place long after Quinnipiac took the polling sample. It seems to reflect more the meltdown that occurred at the end of the polling effort, when Lamont supporter Jane Hamsher published a photo of Lieberman in blackface, and Lamont attempted to plead ignorance of blogs in general and Hamsher in particular. When Hamsher's close relationship to Lamont's campaign became known -- she personally shot a campaign video with Lamont -- his dishonesty seemed to strike a much different tone than what he had managed to produce so far.

Another issue arose in the last couple of weeks that may have reminded people of the nature of the war against Islamist terrorism. When Hezbollah attacked Israel, Lieberman's efforts to support Israel contrasted with Lamont's platitudes about using incentive diplomacy as a response to terrorist-sponsoring states such as Iran and Syria, which use Hezbollah as a proxy. Whatever Connecticut voters think about the Iraq war, they understand that appeasing terrorism only produces more terrorism, and that September 10th thinkers such as Ned Lamont are anachronisms, and potentially dangerous anachronisms at that. They're not un-American; they're just wrong, and if they push American policy in that direction, they're going to get us killed.

We will see what Connecticut voters decide today, but if the race is close, we can expect a rematch in November. If Lamont does manage to win, the only possible interpretation is that the activist Left wants to cow the moderates in the Democratic party to support a pacifist policy and to end cooperation across the aisle. Anyone thinking that this is merely a referendum on George Bush is quite mistaken.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 8, 2006 6:00 AM

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