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The Attempted Purge of Joe Lieberman

By Barry Casselman

The left wing of the Democratic Party is now adopting the strategy of purging the party of some of its moderate and centrist elected officials who don't agree with their version of the party line.

This radical wing, with cheerleading by the Internet-based hard left groups, apparently is determined to eliminate any diversity of opinion in the party. All across the nation, Democrats who do not share certain views about abortion, social security reform, the war in Iraq, and other issues are to be given the boot. Motivating this radical faction is not only ideology, but an uncontrollable hatred of the president on the United States and his vision of America.

The most notable of these purges is the current attempt to defeat Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut in the Democratic primary two months from now.

I had some hope that this would not be a trend when Pennsylvania Democrats united behind pro-life moderate Bob Casey Jr. to be their candidate against Republican incumbent Rick Santorum. This was a signal, I thought, that some Democrats at least were determined to govern again, and would allow there to be a range of opinion within their party.

Pennsylvania Democrats had seen in 2004 that moderate GOP Senator Arlen Specter was challenged from his far right and was in danger of being defeated for renomination. Conservatives Santorum and President Bush came to his aid and enabled him to win a narrow victory. Other moderate Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, and John Warner of Virginia often take much heat from their colleagues who are more conservative, yet without them, the GOP does not have a majority.

But Pennsylvania seems to be a very rare exception.

To be fair, I will note that some Republicans in Rhode Island are trying to purge liberal GOP senator Lincoln Chaffee from office this year. I would find this equally self-defeating except that Chaffee has hinted that he might, like Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords, not vote for his party's leadership, in which case there would be no reason for Republicans to support him.. But I want to make clear that these type of tactics by either the left or right are equally wrong.

After Lieberman is purged, it is only a matter of time before these radical left-wing groups go after Democratic centrist Senators Tom Carper of Delaware, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Diane Feinstein of California, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, and Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Furthermore, every time Senators Hillary Clinton of New York and Joe Biden of Delaware, both serious presidential contenders for 2008, attempt to articulate a moderate and thoughtful position on major issues, they receive a barrage of attacks and threats from this purist, left-wing faction of their own party.

America, whether the left and right wants to admit it or not, is always governed from the political center. In many states the political center, be it more Republican or Democratic, is so strong that only moderate or centrist candidates can win major office there. A national political party, if it wishes to be a majority party and to govern, must respect and accomodate this. This difference of opinion does produce internal conflicts and occasionally sharp or bitter disagreements, but this is a nation of almost 300 million persons, each of whom is entitled to his or her own opinion on the issues of the day, and the only way to govern successfully in such a representative democracy is by compromise, civility and good faith resolve.

Today, a great many Americans, including some Republicans, are unhappy with public policy and public issues. The president is distinctly unpopular, and a growing dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq is evident.

But the last thing any political party wants to do in this uneasy and critical time is to fundamentally weaken itself by purging those who belong to it, yet hold diverse views.

The spectacle of trying to purge Joe Lieberman, one of the most respected members of the Congress in either party, after a lifetime of extraordinary public service to his state and his nation, is ludicrous. An oustanding attorney general of Connecticut, three-term senator, Democratic candidate for vice president of the United States (who won a majority of the popular vote), and long-time conscience of his party, Lieberman should be the LAST person the Democrats should try to purge.

The good news is that the voters of Connecticut are not likely to listen to a bunch of outsiders and throw out one of the most distinguished public servants in the history of the state. Yes, probably more Connecticut Democrats now disagree with Senator Lieberman on the issue of the war in Iraq than agree with him, but his position has always been consistent and principled. There are even those who say, popular or not, that Lieberman's position on Iraq is the right position.

When I heard Mr. Lieberman speak only a few months ago, he was not uncritical of the mistakes made there, but he did maintain his support for our foreign policy and our troops in harm's way. His call for bipartisanship in foreign policy is being treated as a terrible sin by the far left faction of the Democratic party. I think it is among his best moments as a senator. Lieberman's critics attack him, but they dare not challenge his integrity, his moral purpose, or his political conscience.

Lieberman has also been attacked because he thinks we need to reform Social Security. That perennial media ostrich, Paul Krugman, recently echoed this and other criticisms of Mr. Lieberman in the New York Times, contending that the Connecticut senator is an alarmist on Social Security. It is propagandist Krugman, however, about whom his readers should be alarmed since his head is buried in so much Long Island sand. We need to do something soon on Social Security and all public and private pension funds.

Meanwhile, "grassroots organizers" are being encouraged to come into Connecticut during the next two months to defeat Senator Lieberman in the Democratic primary. I suspect that the voters of Connecticut won't be impressed with this political thuggery, and rightly will consider it an intrusion on their right to make up their own minds.

As for the choice they make, I'm betting that a lifetime of brilliant and brave public service will trump the empty slogans and the smears against a distinguished American.

Barry Casselman writes about national politics for Preludium News Service.

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