With the Connecticut primary approaching, one could expect local newspapers to consider endorsements, even though papers do not usually endorse candidates until the general election. Having not one but two national newspapers outside of the contest endorse primary candidates is even more unusual — but given the exposure of Connecticut’s Senate race, it seems utterly predictable that the New York Times and the Washington Post would feel it necessary.
The Gray Lady likes Ned Lamont, and that should come as no surprise, either. The one issue on which Lamont seeks to oust Joe Lieberman is the war in Iraq, which the Times has opposed from the beginning:
This primary would never have happened absent Iraq. It’s true that Mr. Lieberman has fallen in love with his image as the nation’s moral compass. But if pomposity were a disqualification, the Senate would never be able to call a quorum. He has voted with his party in opposing the destructive Bush tax cuts, and despite some unappealing rhetoric in the Terri Schiavo case, he has strongly supported a woman’s right to choose. He has been one of the Senate’s most creative thinkers about the environment and energy conservation. …
If Mr. Lieberman had once stood up and taken the lead in saying that there were some places a president had no right to take his country even during a time of war, neither he nor this page would be where we are today. But by suggesting that there is no principled space for that kind of opposition, he has forfeited his role as a conscience of his party, and has forfeited our support.
Mr. Lamont, a wealthy businessman from Greenwich, seems smart and moderate, and he showed spine in challenging the senator while other Democrats groused privately. He does not have his opponent’s grasp of policy yet. But this primary is not about Mr. Lieberman’s legislative record. Instead it has become a referendum on his warped version of bipartisanship, in which the never-ending war on terror becomes an excuse for silence and inaction. We endorse Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary for Senate in Connecticut.
The Times tries to throw in more meat than just Iraq, but its reasoning seems faulty at best, and more than a little bit of a stretch. They blame Lieberman for leaving the task of “investigating” the Bush administration to Lindsey Graham, but the American electorate left that “task” — as if a never-ending investigation of another branch should comprise some sort of standing committee — to the GOP. Joe Lieberman has no chair on any committee, thanks to Democratic ineptitude at the polls the last three election cycles.
The Times also faults Lieberman, and takes a quote out of context, by claiming that he endorsed the idea that American forces should be held to no better standard than the terrorists. This comes from Lieberman’s response during the Abu Ghraib scandal, when Lieberman noted that the world has not held any of our enemies to the Geneva Convention when they flew civilian jets into civilian buildings in New York, killing almost 3,000 of our fellow Americans. I might add that few members in Congress who blathered on for years about Abu Ghraib spent more than a few moments noting the depraved manner in which terrorists killed several of our troops in Iraq.
Bill Keller and his editorial board may think they have built a broad argument for Ned Lamont, but every word in their endorsement says one thing over and over again: the war, the war, the war.
The Post, however, talks about Lieberman’s efforts to bridge partisan divides to accomplish difficult tasks in its endorsement:
[I]t seems that Mr. Lieberman is also being pummeled for his ability to work with Republicans and get things done in Washington — also rare traits — and that’s a criticism that strikes us as shortsighted even from a partisan Democratic point of view. Throughout his Senate career, Mr. Lieberman has been faithful to the fundamental values that most Democrats associate with their party: care for the environment; dedication to a progressive tax code and other ways to help the poor and middle classes; and support for Israel and other democracies around the world. But he’s managed to hold on to those values while also working with Republicans to move legislation forward: with Susan Collins (R-Maine), for example, on homeland security; or with John McCain (R-Ariz.) on climate change.
This is a talent and temperament that is helpful to the Democrats in the minority but will be needed even more if there’s a change in power in one or both houses of Congress or, in 2008, in the White House. Then, more than ever, the Democratic Party, if it hopes to accomplish anything, will need people such as Mr. Lieberman who bring some civility to an increasingly uncivil capital — who can accept the idea that opponents may disagree in good faith and who can then work to find areas of agreement and assemble working majorities of 60 senators. His ability to do so is a strength, not a weakness, for the party as well as the nation.
I have seen no evidence that Lamont lacks civility, either, but that really isn’t the point. His backers have almost an allergic reaction to civility, and that has fueled the Lamont campaign from its inception. The same party that blames George Bush for divisiveness is about to pillory one of its most effective and yet solidly Democratic members for disagreeing with the activist base on one issue. Under those circumstances, it would be hard to imagine that Lamont — no matter how much of a nice man he probably is — could work across the aisle to get decisions made and accomplish good works on behalf of all Americans.
In fact, it sends a message to all Democrats that to differ from the base on any issue puts them at serious risk of attack from their own ideological compatriots. In the last three sessions of Congress, Lieberman has come in close to dead center in his caucus. At least 15 Democratic Senators in each session had more conservative voting records than Lieberman, including Minority Leader Harry Reid in all three. Will the activist Left start unseating those incumbents as well for committing heresy to the Left — and if so, how can Democrats ever expect to gain a governing coalition of moderates when even Joe Lieberman cannot be abided in the caucus?
The Post seems to understand this, although their advice will likely get dismissed by the Left as conservative propaganda. Instead, they will follow Bill Keller’s political advice, and likely suffer the same declining support as the Paper Of Record’s declining subscriptions. That’s what happens when any organization panders to the extremes.
UPDATE: Connecticut newspapers have endorsed Lieberman. The Hartford Courant:
He is now called a renegade by many in his party for standing with President Bush on the invasion and occupation of Iraq. We have not often agreed with Mr. Lieberman on the conduct of the war but admire his sticking to his beliefs in the face of withering criticism. Not enough members of Congress have such character. …
Mr. Lieberman’s history of enthusiasm for military interventions overseas is an anomaly in a man famous for mediating among warring factions in Washington. But to dismiss this moderate – a vanishing breed in a Congress sundered by extremism on both sides – for dissenting on a single issue would be a terrible waste. And a mistake.
It would show an intolerance unworthy of any political party.