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8.10.06

In Defense Of Lieberman Again

I'm no fan of Joe Lieberman. He tends to do the right thing when the cameras are off (his environmental record, for example, is quite good, and he recently introduced a bill to provide domestic partner benefits), but his desire to present himself as a centrist through allying with the GOP gets prioritized on anything high-profile. I'm glad Ned Lamont got in the race, since Lieberman's support for . But I remain baffled by the people who seem to feel that Lieberman's worst crime is to stay in the race after the Democratic Party turned him down.

For example, olvlzl proposes making candidates sign a pledge to drop out of the race if they lose the primary. He explains the underlying premises as follows:

We have to reclaim the Democratic nomination as the property of enrolled Democrats, we have to reclaim all political offices as the property of the voters at large. We might lend them to people but that doesn’t make them their property. Joe Lieberman doesn’t have ownership rights over the Senate seat he’s been borrowing, no matter how much he might think so.


I agree with those premises. But I don't see how they're addressed by limiting candidacy to people endorsed by the Democratic Party*. Despite Lieberman's whining, he is in fact abiding by them. Since he is running as an independent, and not using any of the Party's resources, I don't see how he's violating the principle that the Democratic nomination belongs to the Democratic Party. And since he can only win the seat by getting the people of Connecticut to vote for him, the principle that offices belong to the voters seems pretty secure.

I have two hypotheses as to what the real principle at issue is. First, it may be whether ballot access is the property of the two major parties. I don't think it is. The ballot should be the property of the voters (expressed through petitions), not of the parties, or the NRA, or the AFL-CIO, or any other interest group that picks a candidate it likes and devotes resources to helping them win.

Or perhaps what's at issue is whether the votes of everyone left-of-center, or at least of registered Democrats, belong to the Democratic Party. They're free to support whoever they like in the primary, but once the Party's candidate is chosen, you're bound to support him or her. The funny thing is, this kind of entitlement to your own wing's votes is a highway straight to median-voter politics of just the kind that Lieberman is excoriated for practicing. After all, if you already own your side's votes, why not swing to the center to pick up independents? I'm no fan of Lieberman, but were I a CT Democrat I'd be tempted to vote for him to show that my vote belongs to me, not to olvlzl or Howard Dean.

Then again, my befuddlement at the demand to toe the party line is why I never have been, and never will be, a registered Democrat.

* olvlzl's post technically leaves open the idea that it would be legitimate for someone to run as an independent if they never tried to get the Party's nomination. But the same sort of "how dare you run against the Party's candidate" anger is directed at such candidates -- witness the concerted efforts to keep Green Party candidates and Ralph Nader off the ballot. Such efforts are fine as nakedly partisan tactics, since Green candidates do marginally hurt Democrats, but don't dress it up in the language of principle.

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