Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Lamont, McGovern, and McCarthy

Today is the day in Connecticut. We'll see if Lieberman is able to pull off a last minute comeback or if the Lamont insurgency pays off. There have been two editorials recently from the pro-Lieberman side in the Wall Street Journal (how ironic is that?). One is from Martin Peretz, editor in chief of The New Republic, and the other by Lanny Davis, former special counsel for Bill Clinton.

Peretz' piece compares the Lamont campaign with that of a previous "peace candidate", George McGovern, who was famously trounced by Nixon in the presidential election of 1972, and more obliquely, through McGovern, to Henry Wallace, who served as FDR's vice president before being dropped from the ticket and replaced with Truman and who ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 1948.

I'm not so sure the comparison with Wallace is fitting because the political climate was different in 1948. For one thing, the Democratic party then had not only split on the liberal side, but there also was a conservative, reactionary offshoot in the form of Strom Thurmond's "Dixiecrats" who opposed Truman's liberal domestic reforms, not the least of which were efforts to end segregation and Jim Crow laws in the south. Wallace and the Progressive party (who Peretz claims was formed by Stalinist agents in the US), also favored more sweeping social reforms than Truman along with a more conciliatory approach to the USSR. While it's true that both Lamont and Wallace can be considered dovish in foreign affairs, other important political considerations were on the table in 1948 that make for a weak analogy.

The McGovern analogy is more appropriate because both McGovern and Lamont can accurately be called "one issue" candidates. Yes, I know McGovern was for a more robust welfare state than Nixon, but let's face it; the big issue of the day was Vietnam, and Nixon was pretty liberal himself with his domestic agenda. McGovern wanted unilateral withdrawal, much as Lamont is calling for now in Iraq. On other foreign affairs issues it appears Lamont is simply issuing platitudes and empty rhetoric such as this bit dealing with Iran pointed out by Peretz:
"We should work diplomatically and aggressively to give them reasons why they don't need to build a bomb, to give them incentives. We have to engage in very aggressive diplomacy. I'd like to bring in allies when we can. I'd like to use carrots as well as sticks to see if we can change the nature of the debate."
Geeze. That sure is reassuring. And how about his domestic agenda? What does he offer for Connecticut other than the lame campaign promise that he won't spend as much time in Washington as Lieberman(!)?

The Lanny Davis piece is more directly related to the blogosphere and the "netroots" Lamont advocacy. He gives examples of comments from lefty blogs such as Daily Kos and Huffington Post, which he describes with this rather dramatic comparison:
This kind of scary hatred, my dad used to tell me, comes only from the right wing--in his day from people such as the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy, with his tirades against "communists and their fellow travelers." The word "McCarthyism" became a red flag for liberals, signifying the far right's fascistic tactics of labeling anyone a "communist" or "socialist" who favored an active federal government to help the middle class and the poor, and to level the playing field.
The quotes provided by Davis, as well as things I've heard from his boosters around the blogosphere seem to imply he is right about the tactics of the Lamont brigades. It's a bit strange to hear someone like Lieberman, who until now has been considered a liberal/progressive Senator, being called a neocon and Bush shill. Not only that, but the words "reasonable" and "sensible" are regularly being tossed out as epithets and centrist Democrats who worry the party make be moving too far left and express such opinions on lefty blogs are called concern trolls.

Of course it's still too early to tell what the Connecticut race means for national politics; as of this writing nobody even knows who will win. Some have suggested that it means very little because Connecticut is already such a blue state that it can't legitimately be characterized as a microcosm of the national stage. However, I can't help but feeling that a Lamont win will energize the progressive netroots for the upcoming elections in November, and depending how well their candidates do then, we may end up in 2008 with a McGovern redux.

Update: Ace of Spades also has a post commenting on the Lanny Davis piece. Responding to Davis:
Welcome to the party, Pal. And I don't mean that in a nasty way. I just mean, well, yeah, you are finally getting a taste of what so many others have been seeing and documenting for so long.