On Giving Up

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.

Author: Steven M. Teles

Steven Teles is a Visiting Fellow at the Yale Center for the Study of American Politics. He is the author of Whose Welfare? AFDC and Elite Politics (University Press of Kansas), and co-editor of Ethnicity, Social Mobility and Public Policy (Cambridge). He is currently completing a book on the evolution of the conservative legal movement, co-editing a book on conservatism and American Political Development, and beginning a project on integrating political analysis into policy analysis. He has also written journal articles and book chapters on international free market think tanks, normative issues in policy analysis, pensions and affirmative action policy in Britain, US-China policy and federalism. He has taught at Brandeis, Boston University, Holy Cross, and Hamilton colleges, and been a research fellow at Harvard, Princeton and the University of London.

15 thoughts on “On Giving Up”

  1. "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."
    Now, there is something we can agree on!

  2. I still think my advice on the other thread is good: Give Lamont the level of support you'd give any Democratic candidate for Senate. Then, if you can't stomach giving him your active support, go work for one of your state's candidates for the House. My understanding is that there are at least three quite competitive races in Connecticut, potential pickups for the Democratic Party. If you aren't in one of those districts, doing general get out the vote work for the party is also a fine activity.

  3. If the Democrats pick up the House and Lieberman is the difference between controlling the Senate or not, a case could still be made for telling him to hit the road, as control of one house can prevent the worst of the radical GOP program.

  4. Actually, the Democrats should give him about a week to come to his senses and drop the campaign.
    If he fails to, they should [i]immediately[/i] strip him of his seniority and privaleges as a Democrat.
    He refuses to abide by the results of the party primary, and has left the party over it. [i]He is no longer a Democrat[/i], by his own word and actions. (Filing as "CT for Lieberman" made it official). 18 years of service grants him a week or two to reflect.
    After that, he should get the boot.

  5. It pains me to say it…
    Why? Why on earth should this be a painful pronouncement? This should be a happy, joyful revelation, a weight lifted from your shoulders, no more fardels to bear. No longer saddled with a pompous scold who hasn't done an 'honorable' thing since I started paying attention to politics, you should rejoice that the Democratic party as a whole can finally revel in newfound freedom.

  6. I didn't read anything by you personally on the subject, but there was a rather different reaction to Jeffords who ran as a Republican in the general election only to jump months later.
    At least Lieberman is letting the voters of his state make an explicit choice rather than snowing them during the election.

  7. Yes, but Jeffords wasn't expecting any love from the GOP after he declared as an independent. He became a de-facto Democrat, in the same way the Lieberman is now a de-facto Republican.

  8. There are a couple parallels with Jeffords, but he didn't claim to be an "independent Republican" and still try to caucus with them or anything. And I think any change in his voting record came from not being pressured by the R leadership anymore. I think you'd have a hard time arguing that Lieberman's statements over the past couple years have been restrained by the Dem leadership at all.
    If Lieberman does manage to win, which I find unlikely but hardly impossible, that's going to be a really hard choice from Reid and others what to do. Anything that would cause him to caucus with the Republicans would make it that much harder to win back the Senate now or in the future, and Lord knows that's a hard enough task already. Another reason to hope Lamont wins. I'm probably less thrilled with Lamont than 99% of the liberal blogosphere, but Lieberman just has to go after his deranged post-primary statements, and I can focus my personal resources elsewhere.

  9. Previously, Steven said he despises Lamont with every shred of his being. That's a pretty powerful and unvarnished sentiment. The only politicians I feel the same way about are George Bush and Dick Cheney. How does one arrive at this sort of opinion about Lamont? Such a loaded remark demands elaboration.

  10. I think you've made the right choice for the right reasons and concur with your gracious suggestion that the tone of the earlier post was was, perhaps, a tad over the top.
    From my comfortable remove in MD, I'm not going to mistake Ned for the second coming. For one thing, I'm not convinced there has been a first coming but, beyond that, I confess to a preference for candidates who have paid some electoral dues before running for the US Senate (especially when the campaign is largely self-funded).
    That said, Lieberman's capitulation on fundamental issues like torture and constitutional protections was simply unacceptable.
    Lamont was the 2×4 at hand when we needed to hit Lieberman upside the head. Time will tell whether he can also be used effectively to shore up our democracy.

  11. Part of my own personal non-enthrallment with Lamont comes from the experience with Mark Dayton here in Minnesota. Millionaire liberal funds a lot of his campaign, votes the right on most things, but man oh man am I sick of him. And he managed to get listed as one of the worst 5 senators by Time. So glad he decided to let someone else have a chance in the '06 race.
    I do expect Lamont to fair better than that in the Senate, though.

  12. Of course, is Lieberman ends up holding the balance of power as to which party controls the Senate — which is a very real possibility — it would be, er, unwise of the Dems to strip him of his powers. It would also be unwise for them to announce in advance that they will do so if he wins. It's a pretty safe bet tht he knows all that.
    I will repeat that the sensible (and responsible) thing for Lamont to do is make it clear that opposing the war in Iraq is NOT the same thing as opposing the GWOT, and indeed that the first is seriously harming the second. Lest we forget, 2/3 of Connecticans oppose the war in Iraq (or at least did before the new terror plot) — Lamont's opposition to it is his STRONG point in the general election if he uses it properly, regardless of what the empty Talking Heads all currently say.

  13. Lieberman is still a Democrat, just not a very good one. What bothers me about Lieberman is not his position on the issues. It's that his version of bipartisanship too often seems to mean working against his fellow Democrats, whether it is by echoing misleading Republican talking points or by running against the Democratic nominee. If the Democratic party were a sports team, it would have 63 million players on its roster. Someone who scores as many own goals as Lieberman shouldn't expect to get unlimited playing time.

  14. Kenneth:
    "Someone who scores as many own goals as Lieberman shouldn't expect to get unlimited playing time."
    Exactly. The trouble with Liebermann isn't ideological so much as it is tactical. He's just a lousy team player. He'd rather make sanctimonious generalizations about the Democratic party than hammer out a compromise that the Republicans would actually follow through on.
    Other Democratic Senators have made major efforts at bipartisanship with the Republicans during Bush's first term (think Kennedy on "No Child Allowed to Learn" or "Medicare, part D for Disaster") and they always got doublecrossed. All the other Democrats in Congress have figured out that the Bush team (and its obedient servants who run Congress like a mafia family) simply can't be trusted to keep a bargain.
    Liebermann just hasn't noticed how completely he has become a lawn ornament for the other party.

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