"Our Karl Rove is the blog you should be glad that Democratic strategists don't seem to listen to"
-- what they're saying on Republican blogs

Monday, July 17, 2006

Principles Trump Policy

Progressive Blogosphere,

The debate and discussion over Lamont and Lieberman in Connecticut has become increasingly controversial and concerning -- so much so that watching the televised debate became mandatory research for OKR. From an out-of-state perspective, two things became clear after watching the debate:

  • Lamont appears flimsy and whiney, whereas Lieberman appears to have shed his whiney persona and has gotten a lot better at debating since the 2000 campaign.
  • Lamont is running as an outsider and anti-Bush candidate, whereas Lieberman is running as a seasoned, moderate Senator who happens to have a very unpopular policy with regards to the Iraq War.

Bloggers and concerned Democrats who support Lamont, you are falling into a trap. You are supporting a candidate based on a policy instead of his principles. Lamont appears to be a gimmick candidate who is benefiting from a populist campaign focused on a politically-charged topic. Lieberman might not have a popular position in his continued support for the Iraq War, but the Democratic Party will be stronger when it supports candidates of principle and integrity -- even when they appear wrong-headed on specific issues.

How could Lieberman be principled, you might ask, when he supports such a horrible war policy and such a horrible President? He can be principled because while he continues to support the President in the Iraq War, he still believes -- rightly or wrongly -- that his position is the informed, mature, reasonable approach to seeing things through. If he were not principled, he might be seen careening and vacillating with the popular sentiments of the day, month or year. If he were not principled, he might be easily labeled as, say, a flip-flopper. If the man's a hawk (possibly due to an allegiance to Israel, among other things), then the principled thing for him to do is to be honest about his beliefs on the matter, no matter the popularity.

It's easy to see how Democrats might mistrust a politician who seems to be principled. After all, President Bush's ability to appear principled to the average voter was a significant factor in his ability to be almost elected and then re-almost elected. But, just because Bush turned out to be a politically savvy double-talker who merely appears to be principled doesn't mean that Democrats such as Lieberman -- who also appear principled -- should not to be trusted or supported. Conversely, it is arguable that any Democrat supporting the war today has quite a difficult position to manage politically. To contrast, what difficult political positions is Lamont taking?

Then there's Lamont's recent advert of Lieberman's face morphing into Bush. This solidifies Lamont's brand: he is the official "We Hate Bush" candidate. If being anti-Bush is all Democrats and progressive bloggers are looking for in a candidate, then the Democratic Party is but a hollow shell -- a literal shadow of the Republicans (in fact, Democrats are still recovering from being in this exact losing position when they nominated John Kerry in 2004).

So please take pause, step back, do some research on Lieberman's personal life and voting record, and think about his character. Try to look at how he conducts himself as a person and politician outside of the war issue. Think about it...don't Democrats ask moderate, pro-life Americans to step back from that singular issue -- abortion -- and vote on the broad stance on issues of a candidate? Didn't Democrats deride those "other voters" who voted Bush back into office based on a single issue - the war on terror? Or, in some communities, the single issue of gay marriage?

Think about how much you risk inadvertently becoming them as you yourselves get sucked into single-issue politics, and how this feeds a culture of polarization.

Look deep and critically examine exactly what you're supporting and why you're supporting it. Are you supporting a set of guiding principles that strengthen the Democratic Party and subsequent political influence, or are you supporting a set of populist policies that expire rapidly and leave the party constantly on the prowl for the next "anti-[fill in the blank]" campaign?

In the end, I'm afraid Democrats just don't wear "populism" well in today's climate. Populism is easy, cheap, and effective -- and has been the domain of conservatives in modern times. Today's Democrats are supposed to uphold progressive values, which are inherently more difficult to explain because they involve cognitive reasoning, systems thinking, and less usage of mankind's basic instinctive emotional reactions.

Yet, Lamont is running a populist campaign. If Democrats want to differentiate themselves from the failed, populist conservative policies of the past twelve years, now is not the time to support populist Republican clones.

If you follow this line of reasoning, then you just might see that Lieberman is not the Republican clone... Lamont is.