Monday, August 07, 2006

Lamont or Lieberman? I ask the question of whether a Lamont victory will be a good thing – for either the Democratic Party or the American body politic? I posted the question and the following discussion in the launch of my diary on the DailyKos site, because the Kos site is at the forefront of the liberal blogosphere that is being credited with advancing the Lamont campaign to the point of defeating the once immensely popular incumbent Senator Joe Lieberman. I'm a Democrat, and a blogger, but I'm not sure this is a good thing, either for the Party or the country.

Once upon a time – I mean the 1990s – American politics and policy was being driven largely by the overbearing, over-loud, obnoxious and reactionary right-wing talk-radio. The influence of these conservative radio hosts was outsized – far beyond what their audience numbers might have suggested or warranted. But their radical politics came to dominate the Republican Party in the 1990s and they have shaped the political agenda, as social conservatives have hijacked all three branches of government.

Now, in a biological system, like the human body, when a hostile virus, germ or cancer invades and takes up residence inside the organism, there is a defensive reaction within the body. The organism generates antibodies that do little more than attack the poisonous invader. If the antibodies are successful, the invader is defeated and the body is restored to healthy functioning.

One could argue that this is exactly what is happening in this country now. The radical right agenda is divisive, and horribly destructive to the progressive, liberal culture and society that Americans have been trying to build for over two hundred years. Fundamentalist fanatics are working feverishly to turn back the clock on at least one hundred years of progress in education and science, as well as the spread of tolerance and diversity.

To most thinking people, it is hard to believe that the teaching of evolution is once again being debated. Even more stunning is the success that conservative school board candidates have had in states such as Kansas, where their electoral success led to the inclusion of intelligent design into the school curriculum. The efforts to shut down potentially transformational promise of stem-cell research are equally jarring to those of us who expect scientific research to continue the incredible progress of the last century. On so many social issues, the right-wing agenda seems antithetical to the interests of a forward-thinking nation.

With the ascendancy of the Republican Party reaching its apex in the early years of the Twenty-First Century, controlling all three branches of government and slavishly promoting the radical right’s policy agenda, there had to be a reaction in the American body politic. Liberals have gone on the attack, on liberal versions of the talk-radio/book format. In this sense, Al Franken may not just be the anti-Rush Limbaugh, but a 'Bizarro World' reverse version. Not only does Franken push a progressive agenda, he has come to his position in reverse order. The conservative mouthpieces have typically established themselves as commentator-celebrities first, then followed their notoriety, with novels that push their agenda to the top of best-seller lists. Franken did the opposite, trading his comedian’s hat for best-selling political author, before stepping foot into talk-radio himself.

Still, whatever attention followed the novelty of liberal talk-radio, the truly significant response to the conservative media has been the explosion detonated by the rise of the liberal-blogging community. Two years ago, when meet-ups were more the rage, it was the Dean campaign that was credited with making the greatest and most effective use of the internet to grow grass-roots support. The implosion of the Dean campaign sowed doubts not only about the candidate himself, but also the mainstream appeal of liberal, internet-based organizations like Move On.

The high-water mark for liberal bloggers may come tomorrow, with the vote in Connecticut to choose the Democratic Party’s candidate for Senate. Oddly, multimillionaire cable exec Ned Lamont has become the darling of the liberal blog set. In fact, his popularity among bloggers like the great and powerful Kos himself, probably has little to with Lamont’s own narrative or policies, save one. He has challenged Lieberman on his support for the Iraq war, and he has gained the support of the liberal activist blogger set that has branded Lieberman as Republican in Democrat’s clothing.

The question, which I asked at the outset, is whether all this is a good thing – for either the Democratic Party or this country and its politics. If bloggers are the antibodies that will kill off the radical right virus, then we should smile and let them do their work. We may mourn the loss of good men like Joe Lieberman (and I have no doubt he is a good man), who are collateral casualties in this assault on the debilitating disease of radical conservatism. But we cannot afford the luxury of attacking the antibodies, lest we impede the body politic’s return to health.

And yet, isn’t it possible that the blogosphere is carrying a like infection that may prove equally destructive to our nation’s politics? If all we achieve is replacing reactionary right-wingers with reactionary left-wingers, have we really gained all that much in the bargain? Are the criticisms of Lieberman valid – that he has become an enabler of the right-wing agenda? If the criticisms are fair, then the body may need to be purged of his brand of non-partisan, centrist governance, before the body can fairly be said to have recovered.

Perhaps the question comes down to this: Is there room in the Democrats’ big tent for Lieberman’s social agenda and his activist foreign policy? No one on the left should dispute the need for Democrats to advance an agenda with broad appeal. Democrats are accused of not really standing for anything, and that lack of clarity is sometimes blamed for failures at the polls. On the other hand, others fault the Democrats for creating a perception of ideological rigidity that is outside the mainstream.

Do Democrats need to stand for one thing – and if so, is opposition to the Bush policies on Iraq the place to make that stand? Can Democrats have an agenda for this country that allows for centrists like Lieberman who believe that Islamic fundamentalism is the biggest challenge we face in this Century? Can we tolerate someone who drank the neo-cons’ foreign policy Kool-Aid – who believes the U.S. with its force of arms can create a radical transformation of Arab political culture to a new paradigm that is accepting of modernism, Zionism, secularism and all the other trappings of life beyond the world-view of fundamentalist Muslim clerics?

No doubt, pundits shall proclaim that the result in the Connecticut primary will give us the answers to those questions. I still want to know: If Ned Lamont wins, will that be a good thing?

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