Watershed Moment?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A page one story in the Sunday Washington Post raises the specter of a watershed moment for the Democratic Party. As I said before, the Lieberman/Lamont race in Connecticut is emblematic of the fundamental problem in the Party. Put simply it is about whether or not they continue to be the Republican Lite party. Lieberman is so much the embodiment of an opposition party in the thrall of Republican domination that the most right leaning of Republican activists are currently batting for his team and suggesting, as many Democratic voters have, that he simply switch parties. As The Nation explains, Tom DeLay, Bill Kristol, and Ann Coulter, have all come out swinging for Lieberman, so he's got that goin' for him.

The Post describes the collision of entrenched power and righteous anger.

The passion and energy fueling the antiwar challenge to Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman in Connecticut's Senate primary signal a power shift inside the Democratic Party that could reshape the politics of national security and dramatically alter the battle for the party's 2008 presidential nomination, according to strategists in both political parties.

A victory by businessman Ned Lamont on Tuesday would confirm the growing strength of the grass-roots and Internet activists who first emerged in Howard Dean's presidential campaign. Driven by intense anger at President Bush and fierce opposition to the Iraq war, they are on the brink of claiming their most significant political triumph, one that will reverberate far beyond the borders here if Lieberman loses.

As Chris Dodd, of all people, points out, this is more than simply opposition to an unpopular war. It's appeasement of Bush Administration radicalism that is driving a good part of the backlash from the netroots and beyond.

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) said it is a mistake to contend, as the Republicans are doing, that the Democrats have been captured by left-wing, antiwar activists, saying the Connecticut race most of all reflects discontent with Bush rather than an ideological awakening. "This is really about Bush," he said. "It's deeper than an antiwar thing."

The Democratic Party continues, at its peril, to underestimate how divisive a figure Bush is and how much resistance there is to the man and his policies. The disconnect between the party powerful and the people is growing and the Lieberman/Lamont showdown should be serving as a wake up call.

Arguing for the continuation of Republican Lite policies is, unsurprisingly, DLC operative Will Marshall.

"Candidates know they cannot appease [antiwar] activists if they are going to run winning national campaigns," said Will Marshall, president of the centrist Progressive Policy Institute. "It will intensify the tension inside the Democratic coalition as we head into two critical elections."

Let's rewind for a moment to reflect on who Will Marshall is and what he stands for. Marshall is quoted at some length in the Matt Taibbi column I referenced the other day, on "Why the Democrats are still doomed."

Marshall is the president of the DLC's Progressive Policy Institute and owns the distinction of being the first public figure to use the term "body count" in a positive sense with regard to the Iraq war ("Coalition forces still face daily attacks but the body count tilts massively in their favor"). He wasted no time in giving me the party line: "What we're seeing is an ideological purge," he said cheerily. "It's national effort by the left to get rid of somebody they've decided to demonize . . . we have concerns about narrow dogmatism. . ."

We went back and forth for a while. I noted that his conception of "narrow dogmatists" included the readers of Daily Kos, a website with something like 440,000 visitors a day; I also noted that recent Gallup polls showed that fully 91 percent of Democrats supported a withdrawal of some kind from Iraq.

"So these hundreds of thousands of Democrats who are against the war are narrow dogmatists," I said, "and. . . how many people are there in your office? Ten? Twenty? Thirty?"

"Well, it'd probably be in the thirty zone," sighed Marshall.

I asked Marshall if there was a publicly available list of donors to the DLC.

"Uh, I don't know," he said. "I'd have to refer you to the press office for that. They can help you there . . ." (Note: a DLC spokeswoman would later tell me the DLC has a policy of "no public disclosure," although she did say the group is funded in half by corporate donations, in half by individuals).

"So let me get this straight," I said. "We have thirty corporate-funded spokesmen telling hundreds of thousands of actual voters that they're narrow dogmatists?" [emphasis added]

He paused and sighed, clearly exasperated. "Look," he said. "Everybody in politics draws money from the same basic sources. It's the same pool of companies and wealthy individuals . . ."

"Okay," I said. "So basically in this dispute over Lieberman, we have people on one side, and companies on the other? Would it be correct to say that?" I asked.

"Well, I guess if you live in a cartoon world you could say that," he said.

That's the DLC in a nutshell, and sadly, because of the corporate money they bring in, it is also the voice of the Democratic Party establishment. When Lieberman and Lamont face off in the upcoming primary, Connecticut voters will have an opportunity to speak directly to the smug visage of a party that shows contempt daily for the voting public. As the Post points out, it's a message that may reverberate.