It Fell On Deaf Ears: my warning for the Lieberman 2006 campaign

This is such an interesting coda to the diary I wrote last night. In my read, it’s both sad and inspiring. For sure, Joe Lieberman didn’t deserve Stephen, who is a candidate for office right now Berkeley Heights Township Council – Rosi

I read Rosi’s article on the front page of Blue Jersey with great interest. It was wonderful to see how she and so many NJ-DFA members came up to Connecticut to support a progressive Democrat in Ned Lamont.

However, I have a confession to make: not only was I not among them, but at the time I was trying to help his opponent win renomination. It was a futile effort on my part, and one I now regret.

I wanted to help Joe Lieberman’s reelection campaign because I had liked the guy since the day Al Gore had introduced him as his running mate on August 9, 2000. That was, in fact, 11 years ago – the first day I really paid any attention to politics. As I was studying hard for my Bar-Mitzvah at the time, the thought of a Jewish Vice-President was deeply inspiring. So was the thought of a Bat-Mitzvah in the White House, courtesy of Lieberman’s 12-year old daughter.

I read his 1999 book “In Praise of Public Life”, and was hooked. It was thanks to Joe Lieberman that I became involved in politics. That I became “Mr. Liberal” on the blogosphere is not due to him, I should add. That came from looking at economic and moral issues and deciding where I stood on them – plus a great memoir/advocacy book by Paul Wellstone around that same time.

When he ran for President in 2003/4, I was deeply torn between the different candidates. I remember moving between Dean, Clark, Kerry and Lieberman at different points in the primary. Ultimately some kind words from a Lieberman campaign staffer led me to stay in touch with his team after he dropped out in February 2004. It was thanks to Mike Liddell that I attended the DNC Convention in July as a 16-year old Press Corps member, and had the most remarkable political experience of my life to date.

Like most of us here, I was opposed to the invasion of Iraq . In fact, I got harassed in High School by opposing it vocally in early 2003. I did so not because I was opposed to war in general or thought it was a giant lie; rather, I felt that the lack of an “exit plan” made the whole adventure risky. As the war became an occupation, and the occupation became a quagmire, my fears became reality. We were stuck there and, as I found out, we had no reason to be there to begin with.

It pained me to see Joe Lieberman support the war so vehemently. However, I remained convinced that his heart was in the right place, and that he remained a committed Democrat on all other issues that came up. Not even a close-up that resembled a kiss from President Bush could convince me otherwise.

When it became clear that Lieberman was going to face a primary challenge in 2006, I was asked by his staff to prepare a memorandum on engaging the Netroots and how to “win them over”, in their words. I knew that getting people at Daily Kos and MyDD to back Lieberman was next to impossible without the Senator backing down from his support for George W. Bush on foreign policy.

This, in part is what I wrote in February 2006:

Without some sort of concession from Senator Lieberman on foreign policy issues, it is clear to me that Democratic activists in the “blogosphere” will remain hostile to any campaign efforts to earn their support. The atmosphere of distrust is too toxic, and the level of anger too great, for support to be earned merely by trumpeting an otherwise-liberal record and pointing out the Senator’s commitment to our Party.

And at the end of the memo:

I must warn the campaign that the desire to defeat Senator Lieberman in the Democratic Primary is very great indeed. Should a credible challenge emerge, I expect a massive effort by progressives to do just that will be made. The campaign must take into account that personal popularity could easily be trumped by the demand for a less hawkish perspective in our foreign policy. To ignore this anger is to risk defeat.

The response I got (from a senior staffer who I will not name – they are still active today) broke my heart:

“Steve: this is exactly the kind of bullsh*t from The Left that Joe is working to get away from. If we were to follow every stance taken by The Left on Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel etc. then  Republicans will hammer us like Nixon/McGovern all over again. The public needs D[emocratic] hawks to keep the doves from sh***ing on our Party.We can’t be dirty hippies and win the War on Terror at the same time.”  

[Emphasis is mine]

For American families having their sons and daughters, husbands and wives coming home in body bags in a war created out of lies and deceit, wanting to “Bring Them Home” didn’t make them “dirty hippies”. For the great majority of Americans who knew that the War was wrong and who wanted to concentrate on Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, opposing it didn’t make them “dirty hippies”.

The staffer admitted as such when they wouldn’t justify why we were in Iraq, or why Joe Lieberman was so steadfastly for the war. Instead, I got a political lecture as to why “The Left” was ruining our Party’s chances of winning in November 2006. No political justification can exist for a legal and moral injustice.

I left the campaign team shortly thereafter. Just before the primary I made a half-hearted effort on DailyKos to make a case for Lieberman’s renomination. It was essentially a repeat of the concept of “He’s with us on everything else” that other Democrats were using to defend him.

Even then, I wanted the Joe Lieberman I had loved in 2000, who had inspired me in 2000 with “In Praise Of Public Life”, who had made me a Democrat and an activist. What I couldn’t admit was that Joe Lieberman was gone from the political scene. I am embarrassed that I even wrote the diary.

Today it is clear that, although he has on occasion done the right thing on progressive issues in the Senate, Joe Lieberman has politically moved to the right. He has certainly done so rhetorically. He is the one Senator I cannot watch when he appears on TV.

Rosi, Jeff, DFA, and above all Democrats in Connecticut – you were right about backing Ned Lamont to the hilt. Kudos to all of you for doing the right thing and going north to make a difference. In retrospect, I was wrong – not because I didn’t believe in what you stood for, but because I wanted the wrong guy to fight for the right side once more.  

Comments (4)

  1. Jeff Gardner

    Love it. Your honesty and self-awareness (not to mention your intelligence and progressive instincts) are why I’m so glad to see you running for public office, and so excited for your future.

    But, the saddest part of this diary for me is the acknowledgement that the unnamed senior staffer, whose political instincts were so incredibly wrong and whose attitude toward the left so awful, is still active today – I’m guessing in an even more influential role given the timeless tradition of failing upward. So it goes.

    Thanks for writing this. 🙂

  2. the pollster

    You did what you thought was right at the time.  You were methodical and thoughtful.  You didn’t enter this fight with a knee-jerk reaction.  

    I particularly like your advice to the Lieberman campaign–careful, measured, balanced–and the staffer’s response.  Enlightening.  And a confirmation that we were right to support Lamont in the primary and general.

    Dirty hippies, indeed.  I used to think that was a DKos-created nickname.  But now I see that the other side does see us as dirty f*ing hippies.  Good to know.


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