Primary elections are not the only way to choose the standard-bearer of political parties. In fact, for a good deal of American history, nominees were chosen by party “regulars,” often in conventions or even more closed processes. Until very recently, the standard-bearers of parties in Britain were chosen by MPs. There are very good arguments for alternatives to primaries–they allow for greater deliberation, more careful trade-offs between party factions, greater strategic choice of nominees and, on the whole, more centrist candidates.
But primaries are what we have. There is a basic ethical principle in party primaries, which is that party factions agree to fight it out in the primary, mobilize their supporters, air their differences, etc. But then they consent to the choices made in the primary, support whoever wins, and wait until the next time to fight out their intra-party differences. If they feel their differences are genuinely fundamental, they have two choices: a) switch their allegiance to the other party or; b) leave the party en masse and create a new party that seeks to be more than a single-election entity. These are honorable choices.
It pains me to say it, but Lieberman has chosen neither of these honorable options. He has violated a basic, fundamental element of what it means to be a good partisan, by running a personalistic independent campaign after having contested a vigorous, and highly mobilized primary. Despite the fact that I was a part of the losing party faction in CT (yes, I live in CT, not far from where Lieberman lives), I owe it to the party to support Lamont in the general election.
Am I obligated to walk the streets for Lamont, telling my fellow citizens what a great guy he is? No. But I am obligated to consent to the choice my party has made. And I’m obligated to let whoever asks know that I believe Lieberman’s decision is dishonorable, and that he has ceased to be a Democrat. If he wins, the Democrats in the Senate should strip him of his seniority and his privilege to caucus with the party, unless doing so is shown to be imprudent for the party’s interests in controlling the Senate.
New Democrats should show that they can be good losers. The party faction represented by Lamont had some legitimate grievances against Lieberman, and even those of us who have serious differences with them should recognize this as being the case–Lieberman was far from an unsullied representative of our faction. We should also put down our weapons against one another and fight out the real battle, which is against the Republicans. There will be time for our own, less-important, party squabbles later. So I regret some of the tone of the posting below, which was wholly acceptable before last Tuesday, but is ungenerous today.