Ned Lamont: A Wise Netroots Gamble? genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

At the risk of having my left-leaning credentials pulled, I decided I would venture into a topic that has been ruminating in my head for some time. My goal is to understand and evaluate the objective of those who comprise the left in the netroots. More specifically, I wanted to discuss and debate the calculations and benefits of seeking the ouster of Joe Lieberman by Ned Lamont as well as the more recent rumblings to possibly target the removal of Jane Harman.

First, let me offer some caveats in order to lessen the possibility of being misunderstood or misinterpreted. One, in my effort to be pragmatic and realistic, I often find myself playing the role of devils advocate; and that includes looking at my own ideas and beliefs…perhaps because as a friend once told me, “everyone is motivated by the fear of appearing to be stupid". Secondly, despite my predisposition to being opinionated, I am always interested in more information and dialogue in order to refine the opinions I may hold. Lastly, if my observations or opinions are incorrect, I’m not afraid to admit as much. Don’t get me wrong, I can be stubborn and I enjoy a good argument, but when it’s all said and done, I see no benefit in holding onto indefensible positions. Self-deception isn’t a worthy objective.

To begin, I have, like many others, found myself at odds with Joe Lieberman. To be clear, I often disagree more with the words and the style he uses to deliver his positions than I do with a number of his actual positions. As I’ve watched Lieberman since his failed Vice Presidential bid, I have sensed a bruised ego and a fair amount of recalcitrant recoil. In that regard, in my opinion, he exhibits a similarity to Howard Dean that I find troubling.

An example might be helpful to demonstrate my thinking. As much as I don’t like the fact that we have the problem, I’m inclined to agree with Lieberman that we cannot simply walk away from Iraq despite the initial misguidance and subsequent miscalculations of this administration. While the debate tends to have two extremes…we stay until Iraq is a functional democracy cast in the image of America…or we pull out and let the prevailing influences fall where they may…I doubt either is realistic. I expect any solution will continue to cost large amounts of American dollars as well as precious political capital. While this country is locked in partisan rhetoric, I’m convinced that what we desperately need is some bottom line analysis that allows us to make some informed decisions.

At the same time, I fully disagree with the critique Lieberman has leveled at those who are critical of the war effort and the administration whereby he has asserted that said criticism is detrimental to the effort and undermining of the President’s plan for victory in Iraq. In my opinion, the reality is that the lack of a plan has created the criticism. His spoken remarks are consistent with my contention that he is overly sensitive to criticism and therefore he is prone to projecting his own heightened and, in my opinion, unhealthy sensitivity onto the issues he encounters. In classic psychological analysis, his defense of the President is transference of his own issues surrounding his difficulty with criticism.

There are other issues and examples that could be provided and discussed but I don’t think that is necessary. That brings me to the next question. In supporting Ned Lamont, who in my opinion is not likely to unseat Lieberman, what are the message and the objective of the netroots movement? Is Lamont an anger driven response to Lieberman’s ill-advised remarks and his cozy relationship with Bush and does he actually have the ability to defeat Lieberman? How much energy, effort, and cash should be focused on a single senate race in a single state?

First, let me make the argument in favor. While a Democrat, Lieberman has voted with the Republicans on a number of issues and he continues to support the President on the issue and the execution of the war in Iraq. Lamont has clearly stated he would not do the same. These are legitimate reasons for Connecticut voters to support Lamont. Nonetheless, polling seems to indicate Lamont is trailing Lieberman and would lose to Lieberman even if he won the Democratic Party nomination (assuming Lieberman ran as an independent in the November election). My concern is whether the netroots can afford to pour its energy into such a narrow focus in light of the probable outcome? At the same time, I'm not certain that the desires to unseat Lieberman are properly motivated and sufficiently reasoned.

Broadening the view, I can’t help but wonder about the impact of the eventual outcome of this effort to influence this particular senate race. Is the rationale to defeat Lieberman simply an issue of policy or has it also become an issue of personality? Would Lieberman’s position be so objectionable if the Democratic Party had a coherent and comprehensive plan for the Iraq situation? I tend to think the heightened focus on the difficulties in Iraq and the lack of a successful plan amplifies the problem. I understand the strategy that says let the Republicans flounder rather than propose detailed solutions to complex problems…if the election is going to be a referendum on the Republican Party, don’t provide distractions.

The risk of such a strategy is that it tends to make situations like Lieberman’s more visible such that they undermine the Party method and the message. He brings an unwanted focus on the contrast among Democrats that garners media attention which can then be used to portray the Democrats in disarray and disagreement. At the same time, if the efforts to defeat Lieberman fail…and the battle pushes him to change party affiliations after reelection, will it have been a reasonable venue in which to invest netroot capital? In the end, each Party must live with the realities that are entailed in achieving a 51% majority coalition.

It seems to me that mounting a publicized netroots campaign to oust Lieberman runs the risk of bringing more unwanted attention to the divisions and also provides fodder for the opposition to portray the far left as more intolerant and radical than the far right. Now the response from the left to these observations will likely be that they are simply honoring their principles and demonstrating the spine that they feel is absent in many establishment Democrats. Point taken.

There is truth in that response, however I keep returning my focus to the goal of victory. Perhaps I’m simply not a purist but in saying as much, I’m left to wonder if either party can hope to establish a majority constituency when the vocal left and right seek to drive doctrine such that incongruence is not tolerated. I’m just not convinced that can ever be a winning strategy...especially in a party that generally exhibits disparate views. Lieberman may not be ideal but what price are netroots Democrats willing to pay if they don’t succeed and could their efforts be better spent elsewhere? I’m not persuaded that that calculation has been discussed or derived.

I’ve often labored to understand the calculations of the left and the right when pushing for what I view as rigid compliance. In my thinking, I can’t fathom that either side believes they have enough votes and that they can assemble enough philosophical symmetry to obtain or maintain power while still remaining true to a purist platform. I think a simple understanding of the bell curve is all that is needed to dispel such beliefs. By necessity, if I’m correct, it seems obvious that both sides must then calculate the degree of tolerance they will entertain in order to create a majority coalition to obtain the necessary authority to implement change.

As I’ve read the thoughts of many on the left and the right, there is a tendency on both sides to talk about wholesale change such that they believe that the existing order needs to be cast aside. The premise is that there is no palpable distinction amongst establishment politicians and therefore there is no impetus for supporting the objectives of those who seek change. I comprehend the argument but, in attempting to understand the concerns, I’m left to struggle with the difficulties inherent in the notion of black and white thinking. Despite my efforts to understand or even adopt such thinking, I remain convinced that stasis and equilibrium is gray…or as I recall it said statistically…there is a natural regression to the mean. Therefore efforts to retool the government lead me to expect the same predominantly gray results.

Where does that leave us? Well, the charge that those in the establishment are all the same has some legitimacy. The problem is that it exists more by the nature of politics, sociology, and psychology than by any antagonistic or deliberate disregard for the changes sought by those on the left or the right. In my estimation, understanding this reality is the best argument one can make for limited government in that the more government seeks to limit, impose, or dictate to the society, the greater the risk of fomenting the margins. Simply stated, limited government provides less to oppose or change.

The ability to find equilibrium and balance is difficult…especially when those on opposite ends of the spectrum make value judgments about the beliefs and actions of those they disagree with. When this is prevalent, there is pressure to push the system out of balance in order to alter the society through the imposition of a set of beliefs. From the definitional perspective of political science, we are simply identifying the parameters of the social contract that is a necessary element of any successful government. If that contract fails, the potential for anarchy and revolution enters the equation. While America is clearly divided, I don’t believe we are poised or prepared for either and that has to be a factor in the current considerations.

There is another psychological concept that must be explored when attempting to understand the actions of opposition groups…it is called the “false consensus effect". Essentially, the concept states that if you form a group of individuals with similar thoughts and beliefs and they remain relatively isolated from opposing views or dissention, the certainty of their convictions will be falsely amplified by the constant reinforcement being provided.

An example might be helpful. Before undertaking a blog, most individuals (me included) believe they have some unique thoughts and insights to share. Typically, a degree of confidence exists that the thoughts and ideas have been vetted such that they are comprehensive and relatively conclusive. That often comes about because the blogger has shared these thoughts and ideas with friends and family who posses a similar mindset. Once an individual begins to broadcast those thoughts and ideas into the blogosphere, there is likely to be an array of unexpected or unexplored feedback from discordant individuals. All of a sudden, there is more data and more divergent perspectives to entertain and analyze.

The example isn’t perfect because blogs tend to draw like minded participants but that often takes some time to materialize. It is during the period of time when this is being defined that the blogger will experience what I am speaking about. I think the example is sufficient to demonstrate the concept. In looking at the group that can loosely be defined as left-leaning progressives, there is a tangible risk of false consensus just as there is on the right.

Coming back to the netroots, Lieberman, and Harman…I am convinced that all of the above issues are at play. Also at play is a period in American politics that has seen increasing apathy to vote, especially by those who are not sufficiently moved by any particular issues. This reality has led the two parties to a realization that the best way to influence the outcome of an election, which is largely driven by the motivations to turn out the vote, is to address the topics of those on the opposite ends of emotional and impassioned issues. The calculation is to determine if there are enough votes at either end of the spectrum to tip an election. Further, the party must evaluate if the right tone can be struck with the targeted groups such that they will vote in disproportionately large numbers.

This strategy has proven effective yet increasingly unpredictable and volatile. Each party also realizes that those who occupy the middle are constantly monitoring the degree to which either party has moved too far in either direction. Since this is ultimately the largest voting block, the rhetoric used by each party to entice those on the polar opposites must be constantly tempered and adjusted to prevent other wholesale voter defections. In so doing, the left and the right frequently feel they have been misled and manipulated while the middle feels ignored. Further, if the promises made are not fulfilled, the pendulum is put in motion and the equilibrium is again lost. At that point, each party must recalculate their constituency and adjust accordingly.

Unfortunately, often absent from this equation is any sincere emphasis or interest in public service on the part of many politicians. All too often they seek to serve their own interests and in so doing become focused on the manipulations needed to maintain office. This dynamic becomes a seesaw scenario whereby many voters become disenchanted and either look for alternative candidates or merely refuse to vote. Sadly, many of the alternative candidates simply learn to employ the same tactics and the process becomes self-perpetuating.

From my vantage point, the solutions are complex and difficult. Expecting those on the extremes (and I don’t use that as a pejorative…it is simply used to point out proximity) to compromise is a daunting task. The underlying beliefs are often derived from religious convictions and often weighted with moral judgments. Both groups feel their beliefs are threatened by the beliefs or non-beliefs of the other. Absent compromise, we are forced to continue down the path that requires voting out politicians that fail to meet our strict expectations in a never ending ideological tug of war…or, conversely, we can agree to return to a system where government provides a basic structure that allows for diversity and difference; one that wisely chooses to remain impartial beyond providing the means and the methods to insure fairness and equal opportunity with as few moral and religious judgments as possible. One might call it a live and let live equation.

That brings me back to asking if the netroots effort to support Lamont will ultimately help or hurt the movement. If I were a betting person, I think it is an overreach that has the potential to damage the credibility and diminish the influence that the movement has gained over the last few years. Again, my remarks are intentionally an attempt to look beyond the merits of Lamont vs. Lieberman and towards the larger goal of the netroots to effect structural changes. If by virtue of the defeat of Lamont the netroots were to simply be viewed as a vehicle to raise capital for left leaning candidates in order to deliver a message of protest, it will have ceased to be a viable change agent and will have evolved into being a faction on the fringe. A loss may also hinder the ability to raise funds for future candidates as all donors eventually make determinations about the feasibility of any groups recommended campaigns. Unfortunately, the line between vision and obscurity is measured by the success that is achieved. Whether that is fair or not, each miscalculation of those who represent themselves as visionaries raises the subsequent bar over which they and their successors must navigate.

I simply don’t see sufficient meaningful, permanent, or transformative results emanating from the current political positioning to unseat Lieberman. Perhaps that remark ignores the satisfaction that comes from prosecuting and fighting the battle and I apologize if I am minimizing the value and the meaning of that associated benefit. In no way am I attempting to diminish the sincerity or disregard the emotions of any group or individual. However, I find myself struggling to endorse a position that I perceive may be choosing to engage in a risky endeavor. The decision may offer some immediate satisfaction but it may also jeopardize the larger goals in that it could possibly be construed to be the prioritizing of narrow or punitive objectives over meaningful and sustainable changes.

In my opinion, promoting a change that risks simply fomenting an equally threatening outcome is not unlike the folly of the mythological character Sisyphus. It’s a lot of effort for little return. That is my concern regarding the effort to oust Lieberman even though I have significant issues with some of his positions. I’m just not sure there is an upside unless one can be certain Lamont can win. Granted, I may be wrong but the odds seem to be formidable. Keep in mind that the Lieberman vs. Lamont primary election will take place in early August. A loss by Lamont, so close to November, could have an additional adverse impact on the netroots ability to influence the midterm elections.

Ultimately, I’m hoping the netroots will be thoughtful and prudent in choosing to invest its hard earned and well deserved capital. Frustrating as it may be, sometimes victory includes accepting some calculable defeats. Remaining a viable change agent is essential. Like it or not, inherent in that is a significant amount of acceptance and compromise. In the end, all change should posses the potential to sustain itself. That can only be achieved if it seeks, at its core, to honor and adapt to the realities and complexities of the existing terrain and the full spectrum of the human condition. I fear that efforts to narrowly define and diminish the size of the Democratic tent in order to effect the desired change may be detrimental to the goals and successes of the Party in the long run.

A functional society is a formidable challenge. When all is said and done, in order to achieve some degree of equilibrium, both the citizenry and the leadership must be equally committed to a social contract. That commitment must contain a willingness to demonstrate the restraint that comes from knowing that no one group will ever be able to assert absolute influence over another and, in so acknowledging, we each must cease our futile efforts to dictate the lives of others. I have to trust that the people of Connecticut and California and next door will honor that contract and make thoughtful decisions accordingly. It is the ultimate responsibility of each citizen and it is the fabric of every successful society. If that doesn’t happen, the battle has been lost. Therein lays my passion.

The alternative is to squander energy and effort to assuage the demands of our often fragile egos…demands that can so easily succumb to requiring compliance in order to validate our chosen existence. In my way of thinking, that isn’t an existence worth fighting for. Likely, it is actually no existence at all.

Daniel DiRito | June 1, 2006 | 7:09 AM
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Comments

1 On June 1, 2006 at 2:38 PM, Brian Malloy wrote —

You're an excellent writer who can beautifully lay out the pros and cons of an argument. However, you seem afraid to back a new candidate who is a better alternative to the incumbent simply because the new candidate may lose. If we always take that stance than we will always back the incumbent unless he or she is certain to lose, lest we waste valuable netroots capital. Thus you ask:

>Is Lamont an anger driven response to Lieberman’s
>ill-advised remarks and his cozy relationship
>with Bush and does he actually have the ability
>to defeat Lieberman?

The first question that I ask is, "What's wrong with voting out of anger?" Many of the religious evangelicals vote out of fear, fear that gay people are attacking their families, that gay people are attacking their marriage. Is there anything wrong with going to the polls because we're angry with the current administration and those who fully support this administration and, by backing the current administration, have essentially abandoned the ideals of their electorate.

My second question is, "Is there never any payback for those politicians who go against the wishes, ideals and values of those who elected them?" If not then, once elected, we are then "stuck" with the elected official until he or she steps down or is indicted?

I believe that is okay to vote out of anger and that we are definitely not "stuck" with the incumbent, even if it's tremendously difficult to oust an incumbent once elected. Moreover, I believe that there is something to be gained even in a losing Lamont cause. If the Lamont/Lieberman election is lose, it sends the message that an elected offical is not elected for life and that they need to remain somewhat faithful to their electorate. Moreover, if Lieberman does win only by a slim margin, it sends the message that the next election might cost him his job.

Lieberman has committed more sins than simply supporting the Bush attack on Iraq and his stubbornly held divine mandate that "we'll stand down when they stand up."

2 On June 1, 2006 at 3:55 PM, Daniel wrote —

Brian,

Thank you for your thoughtful observations and comments. I enjoy the feedback.

I will try to respond to each of your points but first let me say that the overriding purpose of the posting was not to endorse Joe Lieberman or suggest that the voters of Connecticut should not vote for Ned Lamont. I fully support the right of the voters to decide and I would embrace either outcome. What concerns me is the amount of effort and political capital that the netroots should invest in this one election.

Keep in mind that the netroots track record for winning selected elections includes more losses than victories. I don't say that to be judgmental or sarcastic...but it has to be a consideration in the strategy. Ultimately, we have to win. Again, I understand the sentiment that challenging the establishment can be considered a victory in and of itself. However, for the movement to grow and gain added credibility and influence, we have to win some elections. Recall that we didn't win with Cegalis, Hackett, or Rodriguez.

As to backing the incumbant, that is certainly not a requirement and I'm not afraid to oppose an incumbant. Again though, I'm focused on winning. While needing a number of seats in the House and the Senate to assume Democratic control, the netroots has spent significant energy to unseat other Democrats...and often with good reason...but there is also a larger battle that needs attention.

Voting out of anger...I have no problem with someone making that choice...but I still come back to the need to win. An analogy might be helpful...say a football player gets held by the opposing tackle and no penalty is called and he is mad...so on the next play he smacks the tackle in the head and gets called for a personal foul...15 yards puts the team out of field goal range and they lose the game. The point is choices matter...and we don't have a bunch of free ones to give away.

Lieberman has disappointed a number of Democrats...but he's also voted the Party line far more often...if we lose that senate seat it only gets worse. That's a risk to consider. I am pointing out the risks but I'm not so arrogant as to tell people how to use their choices...information has value but I would never seek to impose my will on another...I would try to persuade them by providing information to consider...nothing more.

I also have no problem with administering "payback" to elected officials who don't follow through...but that analysis isn't black and white...unless we're all willing to endure the consequences of being single issue voters...which will make it awfully hard to put together a 51% coalition. Hence, I come back to the bigger picture of "winning".

You mention that even if Lamont loses, there is gain. That may be the case...but it could also end up being the difference between a Democratic majority in the Senate, especially if Lieberman won and bolted the Party...which could mean one more vote for the next right wing Supreme Court Justice. Again, it is simply a consideration worthy of discussion.

How many people have you heard say they regret voting for Nader in 2,000? Were some of those votes motivated by anger? Probably. Would some of those people have made a different choice if they had been made aware of the risks...maybe.

Finally, the overriding problem is that all too often we don't want to hear anything that puts a damper on our hopes or creates doubt...I understand that sentiment...but I've always found that the disappointment experienced after the fact is far more difficult to endure than to accept some measured caution in advance...even if that caution isn't what I want to hear at the time.

I hope that provides some added clarification. Thanks again for commenting and I hope to hear more of your thoughts in the future.

Daniel

3 On June 3, 2006 at 1:00 PM, Brian Malloy wrote —

Hi Daniel,

You're right: the strategy should be to win, not get even. I agree with your football analogy: it's always the second guy who commits the foul that gets caught. And angry people don't think straight.

But I'm clueless. As you pointed out in your Bush/Rove strategy analysis -- they always win. They scare the hell out of the religious right and get them running to the polls, lest two men might be allowed to walk down the street holding hands. Or worse yet, it might become acceptable that two men can walk down the street holding hands -- then we're in real trouble. Two men holding hands have to be bashed, or at least legislated against and called out for the man on beast that they are!

But progressives seem to have no fear factor going for them. Democrats seem fearless. They aren't even afraid of losing.

I'm depressed,
Brian

4 On June 4, 2006 at 11:24 AM, Daniel wrote —

Brian,

Thanks for your comments and observations. I really enjoy the dialogue.

I started to reply to this comment and the other one you offered in another thread and I ended up concluding that I would do a new posting to address your remarks and questions. I hope you don't object that I have mentioned your first name in the posting. The posting is titled, "Political Strategy: The Opening Dialogue".

Again, I greatly appreciate your comments and perspectives and I hope we can continue a productive dialogue. Oh, and I hope your not depressed...even though I often play the devil's advocate, I'm always filled with hope...and I wish the same for you.

Daniel

5 On June 5, 2006 at 3:31 AM, met00 wrote —

Let me start by stating that I disagree with you on a number of points. I should also state that I started the site timetogojoe.com back in Jan 2005 and have been a very active proponent of removing Joe Lieberman from office. I also have nothing to do with the Lamont campaign

That said I would like to point out that keeping Joe Lieberman at the top of the CT Democratic ticket is actually hurting the chances of the Democratic party to take back the House.

These three races have Democratic challengers who have all come out with positions that are against America's involvment in Iraq and want American troops pulled out. They will be running against incumbant GOP members that have all backed Bush's war. In a recent example of how Lieberman is hurting these Democrats, when challenged to debate his stand on the Iraq war Chris Shays told the Democratic challenger to debate it with Joe Lieberman who agrees with Chris 100% on Iraq. So ends the debate.

As long as Lieberman is at the top of the ticket for Dems in CT they can not take the debate, a debate where 90% of the people in CT agree with their position, to the GOP incumbants. Heck, over 90% of CT Democrats agree with the anti-Iraq position but the CT Democratic Party can't even put in a plank position about getting out of Iraq in any way shape or form since Lieberman is at the top of the ticket and he won't allow it.

But this is about much more than Iraq. Lieberman has a history of going before the media and promoting Lieberman before party. He did this and undercut the Dems on Social Security and a number of other issues (going back in history you will also see he did it in the educational voucher debates). Now having an opinion is fine, and voting that opinion is the Senators choice, but undercutting your party in public by using the GOP frames and GOP talking points (Krugman at the NYT has a wonderful piece on Joe using a GOP Talking point LIE that then let Bush reference Lieberman's use of it in a stump speech to show how even goodDems know that social security is in trouble) is unacceptable. That is yeat another reason that Lieberman should go.

And if you need one more, just loook at Lieberman's "progressive ratings". These look real good. But a quick search will show that Joe Lieberman has become an expert at using the Senates dual-vote process to push the GOP agenda when his vote counts, and then get progressive points when his vote doesn't. This tool is one Joe has used in Senate bills and the Nomination process. The Sentae does TWO votes on every bill or nomination. The first vote is to end debate. Thsi vote takes a supermajority and the GOP majority can NOT win this without Democrats crossing the line and voting to end debate. In these cases you can find any number of instances where Lieberman jumped over to the GOP side and sided with them to end debate. Now, that would make sense if the next vote was also with the GOP. For instance Jow voted to end debate on the Bankrupcy Bill, and then voted for the bill. That makes sense. There is no need to attempt to force the GOP to further negotiate and include Democratic admendments since you are going to vote for the bill as it stands. BUT that is not what Joe does. He votes for cloture (the GOP position) which stops the Democrats from being able to leverage their supermajority stopping capability into amendments and negotiation that will create a more balanced bill, and then votes the "progressive" position - against the bill - when it's a simple majority and his vote doesn't matter to the GOP, as they can win without him voting with them. This kind of sellout doesn't get recorded by the progressive scorekeepers since he ultimatly did vote the way that they wanted, but that vote would never have come to pass had he voted NO on the cloture motion (the one that requires a supermajority, that the GOP doesn't have).

In this way Joe gets to do the bidding of the GOP (and the corporations, special interests and lobbiests that have provided him the bulk of his campaign financing) yet still say that he voted "progressively".

Okay, a final reason to NOT vote for Joe Lieberman, and why the netroots should take a stand on this election. I ran for Congress back in 1994. When I did there were seven of us in the primary. We were all asked at one time or another "If you don't win the primary, will you support the candidate that does win." Now this is a no-brainer in terms of answering the question. The answer is ALWAYS "Yes." That's part of what it means to be a Democrat. The people decide and if you don't win, you agree that the people decided and you support the candidate the people decided they wanted because YOU ARE A DEMOCRAT. This is not rocket science. It's standard operating procedure for any candidate. When Lamont was asked this question there was zero hesitancy and he said "Yes". But Leiberman has REFUSED to say yes, and has even gone so far as to insinuate that he would run as an Independant rather than back the people the Democrats choose. This is a sin of the highest type. He is refusing to listen to the will of the people of his party, and even hinting that he would run against his parties candidate in a general election, while claiming to still be a member of his party. This is NOT acceptable rom any Democrat. Ever. In refusing to say that he will accept the will of the Democrats, the party he claims is his own, he is stating that the seat in the Senate is HIS, not the people of the party that sent him there. I called this a sin, and I choose that word very carefully. There is no sin in disagreeing with the party, but there is a big sin in saying you're in a party and then refusing to say that you will support the will of the voting members of the party. If for no other reason than this, netroot Democrats should get out in large numbers to make sure that Democarts all know that when you run as a Democrat and the Democratic voters don't vote you in, that you just don't abandon them and start running against the Democrats in general elections. This sin has to be stopped NOW. It's very bad precedent to let be set.

6 On June 5, 2006 at 5:28 PM, Daniel wrote —

met00,

Thank you for your comments and observations. I welcome the differing perspective.

Keep in mind that my comments have been focused on the risks of the netroots efforts to unseat Lieberman. I've specifically stated that I wasn't attempting to argue the merits of Lieberman over Lamont on the issues relevant to Connecticut voters...quite frankly I don't know enough to comment. I understand the larger national issues with Lieberman and my posting points out that I often disagree with him.

Let me ask you a question...and I don't ask it to be argumentative...but because I am genuinely curious and have spent some time pondering it myself...if Iraq weren't such an impassioned issue, would there still be the same intensity to unseat Lieberman?

I ask the question because my impression is that the Democratic Party doesn't have a consensus position on how to get out of Iraq. I think there is a consensus that we entered Iraq with bad information that was likely manipulated to allow the neocons to pursue the war they wanted from the get go. Nonetheless, I couldn't tell you that I believe the Democratic Party agrees on a plan for getting us out of Iraq.

The netroots are certainly in agreement that we have to get out, but besides getting out, I remain unclear on the actual details. That tells me that the anti-war sentiment is a strong and driving force for change but I find that I'm left wanting an actual plan to review. We can agree that the war was wrong but in my opinion we have to deal with the problem regardless.

Polls show a large majority of Americans feel the administration doesn't have a good plan for Iraq. On the other hand, there aren't many other detailed plans to consider. The closest thing to a comprehensive plan is the suggestions of Congressman Murtha or possibly the suggestion of Joe Biden to divide the country into three autonomous factions with some shared structures.

I point this out because I believe Lamont has garnered the support of those in the Democratic Party that fully oppose being in Iraq and that feel the Bush administration has a failed policy. Lamont has generally embraced the notion that we need to "step back" and let the Iraqi's "step forward". He cites Murtha when speaking of a plan. That may make many of us feel better but I want to remain focused on making the right decisions to take back the House and Senate. That begs the second question...would Ned Lamont garner as much intense support if Iraq weren't such a volatile issue? I doubt it.

The last question...is the Democratic Party ready to make Iraq the deciding issue in 2006 and if so, have they fully calculated the plan for exiting Iraq such that they believe it will work...or have they only calculated it as far as it can be used to win in 2006?

It may be a good strategy...if Democrats don't make it a litmus test for all Democratic candidates. If it becomes a litmus test and a highly visible issue of contention among Democrats (as it appears to be in Lieberman vs. Lamont), it may have the unintended consequence of giving Republicans the opportunity to say that Democrats have no real plan and are a Party in conflict and disarray...which may scare independent voters into sticking with Republicans. That may hurt our chances to win the House and the Senate.

Regarding vote tracking and scoring, I don't have sufficient data to make any reasoned conclusions. Anecdotally, the fact that Lieberman has been a Senator for 18 years, was Al Gore's running mate, and has been reelected a few times, tells me that those who now want to unseat him are reacting primarily to the Iraq issue. It seems logical that the other voting record issues must have never before been enough of a negative to call for his ouster...that makes me think he cast some votes that were concerning but also lead me to suspect that they are more the exception than the rule.

As to sins, I try to avoid using that template to make judgments. I understand your point and it has merit. I'm also not naive enough to believe that many politicians would support the Party candidate and forego winning as an independent if they think they can win by running as an independent (there would have to be real evidence they could win and not simply pie in the sky wishful thinking or I would then label it as spiteful behavior). At the same time, the results of the caucus and primary system doesn't always produce results that match the full spectrum of the Party...but it is what it is.

I would guess Lieberman's argument would be that it's a sin to oppose a sitting Democrat...and if people outside the state get involved to try to nominate a different Democrat, then he has a right to run as an independent if the will of the people of Connecticut will ultimately elect him as their Senator.

Having attempted to respond to your argument with some reasoned remarks, I come back to the main concern of my original posting...the issue of the risks associated with the netroots effort to unseat Lieberman. I'm not convinced this is the time, the place and the race in which to invest an inordinant amount of the netroots hard earned capital. I understand why someone in Connecticut might prefer Lamont but I haven't heard anything that reassures me that mounting a national effort to elect him is prudent. I've never been much of a gambler and my attempts to be realistic and mindful of the bigger picture tell me this effort is too risky for my own calculations and comfort.

Thanks again for your comments and I hope to hear more of your thoughts in the future.

Daniel

7 On June 5, 2006 at 8:08 PM, withoutApurpose wrote —

Like Met00, I disagree with much of your argument. Rather than echo what's already been said, I'll address a few specific areas of difference.

1. Regarding your question "if Iraq weren’t such an impassioned issue, would there still be the same intensity to unseat Lieberman?" I say definitively yes and no. As for the YES: Many of us that have been politically active in Connecticut have been displeased with Lieberman for a very long time - long before the Iraq War or 9/11. He has played the type of voting games pointed out by Met00 for much of his tenure in the Senate. For example, every decent Democrat opposed the Thomas nomination to the SCOTUS. Lieberman is on record stating that he didn't make up his mind util 15 mintes before the vote, suggesting that he would have voted in favor if his vote was needed. Another example proving that Joe abandoned Democratic values long before Iraq is his work with Jesse Helms and other right-wing and religious extremists to block the progress of gay rights. Lieberman was a craftsman of "don't ask don't tell." So why did I qualify my response as "yes and no?" For whatever reason, the history I just described has not been enough to rattle those that are less passionate about politics than the NetRoots. Iraq has been a wake-up call and now the voters are finally taking a look at Lieberman's overall record. In conclusion, a campaign to oust Lieberman has been brewing for some time, but Iraq is the issue that turned up the heat.

2. Regarding one of your main premises, that the NetRoots should be careful about where to expend its resources... One of the well documented myths that has held back the Democratic party is the notion that money is limited. Single-issue PACs and lobbying groups have seen themselves in competition for the same dollars. In reality, the pool of dollars is unlimited. It's just that people are motivated to open their wallets at different times and for different causes. For example, if I give $100 to Planned Parenthood, that doesn't mean I won't give another $100 to NARAL. In the past these groups assumed that they each needed to compete for the same $100. I would argue that this is true of the NetRoots resources as well. The NetRoots movement is massive, with hundreds or thousands more joining each week. The more we take on large, controversial, and exciting challenges, the more people we will attract to our movement. So, I don't believe that the Lamont candidacy is taking resources away from other causes. Many of us are involved in other campaigns in addition to Lamont, though they tend to be less visible. Others got involved purely because of Lieberman/Lamont. Hopefully many of these people will stay involved beyond August/November. A great side-effect of the Lamont campaign is that many new progressives are getting involved in the party. I know of at least 3 people now on their local Democratic Town Committees who had very little political involvement before they were motivated by the Lamont campaign. The best way to affect change over the long term is to get more progressives involved in the party at the local and state level.

3. Perhaps my greatest disappointment in your piece is that you have bought into frames of "left" and "right" as defined by Republicans and the likes of Fox News. Our political climate, and politicians like Joe Lieberman have shifted so far to the right that people who were once mainstream/centrist Democrats are now called "liberal extremists." By today's standards, Nixon would have been ousted from the Republican party for being to far left. If our progressive movement is to succeed, we need to re-educate the news media and the voting public. Those of us that believe the President should be held to Constitutional standards, or that we should use our military in a responsible manner are not extremists. We represent the majority opinion of Americans.

4. Please ignore the polls. Stop quoting them because they are meaningless. The most recent polls were done at a time when Lamont had ZERO name recognition in the state and before the media, blogs, and candidate advertising had started reaching large numbers of voters. Here's how the last poll was conducted: "who would you vote for in Novemeber, A)Joe Liberman running as an independent, B)A Republican candidate that has not yet been named, or C)Democrat Ned who?" By the end of June we will see some meaningful polls, and I can assure you that Joe Lieberman will be scared to death of the results.

5. Finally, I am a firm believer that we need to take back our party. I'm sick and tired of people throwing around terms like "litmus tests" as a way of saying that we shouldn't have any standards. Being a Democrat should MEAN something. I'm not saying that we need to agree on every issue. But, there should be some core values to which we aspire and we should support candidates that will help uphold those values. I like the Duck analogy - you know, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck. Joe Lieberman might look like a duck, but he walks and talks like an elephant.

8 On June 5, 2006 at 10:29 PM, Daniel wrote —

Thank you for your comments and observations. As I mentioned in my remarks to met00, I welcome differing opinions.

Regarding #1, I think we are saying much the same thing. We may differ on degree but I am comfortable concluding there were issues with Lieberman before Iraq and that Iraq pushed the concerns past a tipping point for many Democrats.

I do think your examples (don't ask, don't tell and the Thomas nomination) seek to make the issues more black and white in order to support your position but that's something we're all prone to do. I try my best to distinguish my subjective analysis from that which is verifiably objective but there is always room for disagreement.

As a gay person, I was certainly disappointed when having openly gay individuals in the military became "don't ask, don't tell" but I understand the nuances of the political climate at the time. I talk about the issue and Bill Clinton's presidency in the posting titled "Political Strategy: The Opening Dialogue" at length.

Concerning #2, I should have made a clearer distinction between cash and political capital (goodwill and/or momentum). I do think they are connected but my posting was intended to be most concerned about the latter. If political capital wanes, I think cash will follow. The point I'm making is that the netroots needs to win some of the battles it enters to remain viable and credible. I worry that a loss in the Lamont vs. Lieberman race may damage the movement.

That leads me to #3 where we seem to be the furthest apart. I'll try to explain my understanding of a continuum in order to clarify my position. History has seen swings to the left and to the right but at any specific point in time one has to look at the existing continuum. A bell curve has always been a bell curve...only where it starts and ends ever changes. In other words, the middle always remains the largest distribution but where that may be in relation to where it may have been 20 years ago or where it may be twenty years from now can be quite different.

Suppose the continuum is a line from A to Z...the curve can appear anywhere along that line and it can also be condensed in a narrow area or it may span a wide area of the line but the statistical construct remains valid. In that regard, elections tend to give statistical confirmation as to where the continuum is and where the center is located. In that regard I haven't bought into any false left / right perceptions although I understand your concerns about the likes of Fox and others who set out to misconstrue the continuum. I don't use the terms left or right pejoratively...they are for me simply ways to discuss the statistical model.

Nonetheless, the results of recent elections must be viewed as instructive to a degree regardless of who is attempting to benefit from their asserted interpretations. Your example about Nixon merely tells us the curve has shifted. I dislike that as much as any progressive Democrat but I can't ignore the fact that it has changed.

Wherever the curve sits on the continuum, there are roughly an equal amount of individuals on the right end and the left end...they may be further apart or closer together but their numbers would remain similar. The struggle remains a calculation to determine how to get a 51% majority and that will always require finding a way to win a majority of the people who make up the center...or as we know in politics, that can be skewed to need less or more of the middle dependent upon turnout...since the construct doesn't require everyone to "take the survey".

I'm inclined to think we are in a time when the curve has been flattened by the distance between the opposite endpoints. That greater distance makes the attempt to put together a majority of 51% more difficult because there is less cohesion in the middle because they are further stretched along the political spectrum. At the same time, the further apart the endpoints, the more disparate and passionate are those near the endpoints...it is an expected reaction to the clear contrast. This tends to cause a degree of "swing" momentum as the opposite ends push and pull harder creating more instability in the "pendulum".

As much as it frustrates me, the recent election results have to indicate some degree of miscalculation on the part of Democrats. Many will argue that apathy is the problem. There is truth in that argument but it is more complicated than that. I see the middle as the force to create equilibrium. If they feel the pendulum has swung too far left or right, they turn out to make known their displeasure with the shift that they have observed in order to move the curve and subsequently the whole continuum.

Your comment that "we represent the majority opinion of Americans" is a dangerous oversimplification. I am hopeful we can craft a majority but to simply state that we do is to ignore the fact that the entire electorate is distributed along a diverse continuum...and we will have to craft a coalition consisting of a number of voters who are not all like minded in order to win. The same is true for our opponents.

As to #4, polls, they can't be ignored, but they needn't be glorified. They are simply a snapshot of a moment in time that is only accurate at that very moment. What they can instruct us about is the distance we need to move the sentiment of the voters. Regardless, they are still a part of the statistical model that must be an element of our equation.

I can't comment to the particulars of the poll you reference although I've never seen a poll that says...or "C) Democrat Ned who". You're entitled to your opinions but I see that argument as hyperbole. You are right that polls in June will be more meaningful...and the vote in August will be the poll that is decisive. If you or I knew the outcome, we wouldn't need to have the vote. I respect your right to your opinion and I gladly consider any and all arguments that can impact my opinion and I will always endeavor to do so with as little bias as possible.

Lastly, with regards to number 5, it is the argument you make that is the most subjective. I understand your sentiment but sadly, don't you think every Democrat thinks they want to take back "their Party"? The trouble with the notion is that Party's are merely a collection of people who share enough similar beliefs to remain connected...which tends to mean nobody is fully satisfied...but that's what a coalition is all about. There will, within a Party, also be a bell curve that has to be reckoned with. How that curve is defined and where it sits in relation to the larger curve and continuum will directly impact the possibility of victory.

My sole purpose is to bring focus to all the considerations necessary to construct a winning equation that has to be made up of a coalition large enough to decide (win) the upcoming elections. I think we need to assemble all the means of transportation that we can reasonably allow to be a part of our armada...I don't care if that includes ducks and donkeys so long as we can ride the beast to victory.

Thanks again for you comments and I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts.

Daniel

Thought Theater at Blogged

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