Extremist elements of the party railed and rioted against the alleged moderation of their candidate. The result was an overthrow of the local party establishment and an exciting three-way election in which the extremists were ultimately defeated.
This is not about events in 2009 when liberal upstate New York Republican Dede Scozzafava was handed her party’s nomination and faced a conservative opponent in what has become an infamous congressional special election. It refers, rather, to the 2006 race in which the angry left tried to end Connecticut Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman’s career.
The episode is especially relevant now that Lieberman has changed the course of the congressional health care reform debate with his objections to a government-run insurer and expansion of the fiscally crippled Medicare program.
To appease Lieberman, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada stripped those elements out of the Democrats’ bill, leaving something the left no longer wants. The resulting outcry against Lieberman from supposed Democratic “thinkers” is as immature, nasty and shrill as anything town hall protesters dished out to their members of Congress this summer.
“He’s willing to directly cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in order to settle an old electoral score,” wrote Ezra Klein, the Washington Post’s domestic policy blogger. (He later removed the word “directly.”)
“I suspect that Lieberman is the beneficiary, or possibly the victim, of a cultural stereotype that Jews are smart and good with numbers,” wrote The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait.
The Daily Beast’s Lee Siegel called Lieberman’s worldview “ritually unclean,” adding that “some people — for example, the sick and the crippled — might say that it is really not Jewish at all.”
Think Progress’s Matthew Yglesias claimed Lieberman and other moderates “embrace sociopathic indifference to the human cost of their actions.”
It should not come as too great a surprise that liberals would flip out over Lieberman. In 2006, he fell from their graces because he had not followed the hypocritical path of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and dozens of other Senate Democrats, who voted for and supported the Iraq war, and then attempted to capitalize politically on its unpopularity. Lieberman owned the conflict he helped start. In 2006, he was rewarded with a well-funded primary challenge backed by the left’s highest-profile Internet activists.
Even then, Lieberman did not do as former Republican Arlen Specter did earlier this year — switching parties in order to save his Pennsylvania Senate seat. Lieberman sought re-election as a Democrat, and just barely lost the party’s nomination.
He then ran in the general election as an Independent, understanding that even liberal Connecticutians had no use for the intolerant left and their candidate, millionaire Ned Lamont. Lieberman trounced Lamont with a solid 10-point margin, despite the unusual circumstances.
Earlier this year, liberal journalists enjoyed an opportunity for earnest head-scratching over Specter’s defection from the Republican Party: Is there any room for moderates in the GOP? They revived this well-worn narrative after the Scozzafava incident in New York. But apparently, their myopic worldview prevents them from applying the same thinking to the party that eight or nine in 10 journalists historically support.
Despite the Lamont episode, Lieberman has seldom been a thorn in the Democratic leaders’ side the way he is now.
The moment Lieberman showed some independence by questioning just one bad provision in a 2,000-page health care bill packed with bad ideas, the left launched its personal attacks: Lieberman is now a murderer and a race-traitor, and his wife should even be “fired” from her volunteer job promoting a cure for breast cancer.
The question reporters should be asking: With this kind of petty, narrow-minded thinking among the progressive movement’s supposed thinkers, is there any room for moderates in the Democratic party?
Examiner columnist David Freddoso is online opinion editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.