The Democratic Party leaders in Washington continue to stumble about looking for a coherent message. But the message from the grassroots is getting louder and clearer: Democratic voters want to fight the 2006 Congressional elections as a progressive party that promises the country a course correction–out of the quagmire that is Iraq, out of the swamp of corruption and incompetence that is Republican Washington and, as described elsewhere in this issue, toward a renewed and real politics of the common good.
Signs of such sentiments are coming from all corners of the country, especially Connecticut, where antiwar progressive Ned Lamont is mounting a strong primary challenge to Senator Joe Lieberman, George W. Bush’s favorite Democrat. When Democratic town committees across Connecticut began early this year to object to Lieberman’s pro-Administration stands, the Senator and his supporters dismissed it as little more than reflexive venting by left-wingers with no place else to go. Then Lamont won twice the number of votes he needed at the state Democratic convention to secure a place on the August 8 primary ballot, and shortly thereafter received endorsements from the activist groups Democracy for America and MoveOn.org. Suddenly, observed Hartford Courant columnist Kevin Rennie, “The political world outside Connecticut has woken to the news that Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman faces a serious challenger.” As usual, the last ones to get the word were party strategists and political pundits in Washington.”The Beltway bloviators don’t believe that parties at home would dump a Washington favorite like Lieberman,” Rennie explained.
The Lamont challenge is not an isolated incident; it’s part of a national phenomenon. At a time when a new CBS News poll finds that eight out of ten Democrats now believe the United States should have stayed out of Iraq and more than three out of five Democrats want US troops home as soon as possible, antiwar candidates who entered primaries as underdogs are doing better than anyone expected they would, and sometimes winning. Consider the June 6 results from Montana, where war critic Jon Tester upset all predictions to win a landslide victory in the US Senate primary over the Democratic Leadership Council’s pick for a seat the Democrats hope to win in November; or from Iowa’s First Congressional District, where union-backed lawyer Bruce Braley, attacked by his opponent for being too aggressive in opposing the war, prevailed in the primary for a critical open seat.
In New York, where Senator Hillary Clinton’s re-election race is shaping up as a test run for an expected 2008 presidential campaign, the Senator found at her own state convention that she could not dictate policy regarding the war. The convention passed a resolution labeling the decision to go to war an “error” and urging a “safe and orderly withdrawal of US forces”–positions promoted by labor activist Jonathan Tasini, who plans to challenge Clinton if he can gather the 15,000 signatures needed to force a September primary.
Even if challenges to entrenched incumbents fall short–as was the case with California’s Marcy Winograd, who lost after a fierce primary battle against veteran House member Jane Harman in an LA district–they are forcing the Democratic strategists to recognize the depth of the antiwar sentiment, as are the victories of candidates like Tester and Braley. Senator Russ Feingold made that point when he told the New Hampshire Democratic convention recently, “Some say ‘We’ve got it made…let’s not rock the boat.’ But I believe that’s exactly how we lost in 2002 and 2004.”
This is a time for conviction, not caution.