‘Go, Joe, Go’ Is the Cry Of Democrats

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

HARTFORD, Conn. — “Go, Joe, Go!” is the cry. Only this time it isn’t coming from supporters of Senator Lieberman. This time it’s coming from national Democrats who want Mr. Lieberman to leave the stage. First there was James Carville, then Senator Kerry of Massachusetts and Senator Clinton of New York. Senators Reid of Nevada and Schumer of New York circulated a statement echoing the call.

When many of these big Democrats look at Mr. Lieberman and his intention of running as an “Independent-Democrat,” they say to themselves, it is always about Joe. They think this because it is always about them and now Mr. Lieberman’s campaign is making things difficult for them.

But the big shots only show half of the story. Behind every political name who warns Mr. Lieberman from running outside of the party line, there are legions of operatives and staffers. One reason that large-scale independent campaigns are difficult in this country is that they require a political infrastructure outside of the normal party base. Both parties have a crew of field operatives, press agents, fund-raisers, and consultants who man political campaigns and public offices. Shortly after Senator Jeffords of Vermont abandoned the Republican Party and became an independent, for example, he lost aide Joe Karpinski. “I am a longtime conservative and wouldn’t feel comfortable organizing with the Democrats,” Mr. Karpinski was quoted as saying in the Advocate of Baton Rouge.

During his concession speech Tuesday night, Senator Lieberman declared that he would always stand up for what’s right no matter the consequences. That’s an honorable position. But it’s a lot different coming from the mouth of a 64-year-old senator with a federal pension and ample speaking and writing opportunities post-Senate than, let’s say, a 30-year-old staffer with little experience.

Sure there will be alumni of his organization, true believers, and others with financial security looking for an adventure, but this group is a small one.

For Mr. Lieberman to succeed as an independent, he will have to convince such a group to join an effort to be loyal exclusively to him, no matter the risk. Signing on to work for the candidate challenging his party’s elected nominee is a starkly different prospect from working for the junior Democratic senator from Connecticut. Given the level of acrimony in the current climate – exemplified byTuesday’s Lanny Davis op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, “Liberal McCarthyism” — it’s not out of the question to speculate on such staffers falling victim to at least some form of blacklisting should they sign on with Mr. Lieberman. That’s even with Mr. Lieberman promising to vote with the Democratic caucus.

The CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council, Al From, said Mr. Lieberman would likely be able to staff up his campaign should he run as an independent. “I’m sure there will be plenty of people who would want to do this campaign,” Mr. From said. Mr. From’s DLC colleague, Marshall Wittmann, said Mr. Lieberman would likely garner a bi-partisan group of “independent-minded” staffers and consultants. (Mr. Wittmann knows about third party runs as he is a DLC senior fellow and the pen behind the Bull Moose Blog, http://bullmooseblogger.blogspot.com.)

Last night, Mr. Lieberman announced that his campaign will be headed by two loyal, longtime aides as his campaign manager and communications director, Sherry Brown and Dan Gerstein, respectively. Some New Yorkers may know Mr. Gerstein from his work for the New York gubernatorial campaign of Thomas Suozzi, but the significance here is the signals that current and former staffers will likely make up the backbone of an independent campaign staff.

Mr. Lieberman had 44 individuals on his Senate staff as of March 31, 2006. I’d expect at least some of these staffers to go on “vacation” during key moments in the Fall campaign.

As hard as it is to run as an independent, it’s not impossible. Lowell Weicker, who as a Republican lost his Senate seat to Mr. Lieberman, was elected governor of Connecticut as an independent in 1990.

The way the Democratic leadership is acting you’d think no successful Democrat ever ran for office after losing a primary run. Nobody likes to talk about it, but Congressman J. Joseph Moakley of South Boston, the ranking Democratic member of the House Rules Committee when he died in 2001, was elected to the House as an independent.

Mr. Moakley, a pro-life lunchpail Democrat, became the darling of Massachusetts liberals when he opted to run as an independent against the incumbent Louise Day Hicks, a vocal opponent of school busing in the city. He rejoined the party when the new year began.

Democratic and progressive activists will likely counter that that example doesn’t count. Moakley, after all, opposed a person who was anathema to what they believed — not a candidate who supports a war which they revile.

That’s true. But the hypocritical dynamic here is the elevation of a construct of party discipline, that is, the idea that a party’s nominee should be sacrosanct, is coming from the very same strand of liberals whom abhorred their party’s nominees in 2000 – Vice President Gore and Mr. Lieberman – and either didn’t show up on election day or backed the Green Party candidacy of Ralph Nader in 2000.

How many of the 2.74% of American voters who backed Mr. Nader in 2000 – perhaps swinging the closest election in American history – now say it’s wrong for Mr. Lieberman to run as an independent?

In fact, filmmaker Michael Moore, an ardent supporter of Mr. Lamont, campaigned with Mr. Nader during the 2000 campaign. (Mr. Lieberman’s running as an independent was not among the complaints of Mr. Moore in his open letter yesterday, in which he vowed to “actively work to defeat each and every one of you who does not support an immediate end to this war.”)

Independent or third-party runs have been considered in the name of generating a more civil political culture, but have ultimately been rejected in recent years by other officials who fell out of step with the party leadership.

Where once there was talk of Senator McCain of Arizona running for president on a Theodore Roosevelt-style “Bull Moose” line — close in some ways to a possible Lieberman trajectory — Mr. McCain has tacked closer to President Bush and conventional Republicans. The obstacles of running for president in this fashion are great.

Given the difficulty of running as an independent, Mr. Lieberman’s best chance now lies in embracing his independent status.

Mr. Wittmann suggests that independent candidacies can still flourish in Senate elections, unlike presidential contests. So maybe it is now Mr. Lieberman, not Mr. McCain, who can most emulate the ardent progressive and muscular internationalist, Theodore Roosevelt.

The New York Sun

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