- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2006

Thanks to the left-wing bloggers and the radical haters in the Democratic Party, Sen. Joe Lieberman’s political career has been revived, and his impressive but languishing service in the Senate has been reinvigorated.

This is true regardless of the outcome of the Connecticut Democratic primary. If he loses that primary, as the polls and the national media say he will, perhaps even by a sizable margin, then he will be able to re-create himself as perhaps no other national figure could. First, he would then contest the general election as an independent. Nothing is certain, but he is likely to win that contest. It would be in the interest of Connecticut’s moderate Democrats, independents and most Republicans to vote for him.

In the worst case scenario, Mr. Lieberman could lose the November election. In that case, he becomes a profile in courage — as John F. Kennedy wrote about the bravest senators in history, and a martyr to Democratic Party extremism. He would replace Arthur Vandenberg as the modern symbol of American foreign policy bipartisanship, one of the nation’s greatest political traditions. He would no longer be the footnote in political history as the first Jewish nominee for vice president; he would be remembered as well for something more important, a rare figure of guts and honesty in the history of the Senate. For a man at his age, this is not a small outcome.

More likely, Mr. Lieberman will be re-elected to the Senate as an independent. Although many of his colleagues, as well as former President Clinton, support him and have campaigned for him in the primary, most have indicated they will not support him if he loses the primary. This would result in Mr. Lieberman being a genuine independent in the Senate, beholden to no party and no set of ideas but his own.

The new Senate, by all accounts, is likely to be close to a tie. As a man free to go where his conscience leads him, Mr. Lieberman would often be pivotal vote. The new Sen. Lieberman would be able to speak out as he had not before. Remember, this man ran seriously for president in 2004. He did not come close to winning, but he is not without big ideas and goals.

The newest chemistry for an independent Sen. Lieberman would be his instant leadership nationwide of the political center. He was chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, an intellectually important but politically weak organization. His new role would be of another political order. Independent and centrist parties, already just beginning to spring up here and there in the country, would have someone to rally behind and speak for them. The chemistry of the 2008 election could be profoundly altered. I suspect it would not help the Democrats.

I don’t always agree with Sen. Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Democratic Senate campaign, but I do think he gets it in this race. He has been careful not to play his hand before the primary. His New York colleague, Sen. Hillary Clinton, has played hers. She supports Mr. Lieberman in the primary, but the winner of the primary after that. I suggest that Senate Democrats should reconsider this strategy very, very carefully. If they think a rich dilettante with no real political experience is certain to replace Mr. Lieberman, then their present course makes sense. If the entire Democratic Senate supports his opponent, and Mr. Lieberman returns, that is another question. Does anyone think that under that circumstance Sen. Lieberman would have the same relationships as he had before? A dogmatic worship of the Democratic primary result in Connecticut could thus have ominous consequences in the term of 2007-09 and beyond. It would send a message to the country that the radical left had hijacked the Democratic Party.

It would make it very difficult for Sens. Clinton, Biden, Bayh, et al, to continue their candidacies for president in 2008 without appearing to be puppets and sycophants.

Democratic senators, as I believe Mr Schumer is already doing, should think this through with great care.

Knowing that primary voters tend to be the angriest activists, I do not think it is likely that Mr. Lieberman will win the primary. If he does, much of the above is moot, and the Democrats could proceed to the business of trying to take control of the senate this November.

The extremists would have lost another battle, and the way to 2008 would remain still bright and hopeful. That is not the way, however, these struggles usually go.The Democratic Party, before it can resume its stewardship of the country, will probably have to go through many difficult trials and tests.

The primary in Connecticut and its aftermath, however, may reveal more about its destiny than any other event in the political seasons ahead.

Barry Casselman writes about national politics for Preludium News Service.


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