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Friday, 18 August 2006 03:30

Joe Lieberman and the Coming Split in the Democratic Party

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by Steven Jonas, MD, MPH

In a series of columns on ThePoliticalJunkies.net last fall (see for example "The Future of the Democratic Party, III: First Thoughts on Dealing with the DLC," October 20, 2005), I speculated that there would be a forthcoming organizational split in the Democratic Party. The reasons? Seemingly irreconcilable differences over such matters as the future of Constitutional Democracy in the United States, the War on Iraq, unilateral vs. multi-lateral foreign policy, the future of "globalization" which in effect means the continued unfettered export of US capital, separation of church and state and freedom of belief in matters of religion, equality before the law for all identity groups within our society. It seemed to me then, and it surely does now, that the Democratic Party is headed towards the kind of break-up that overtook the Whig Party in the 1850s over the issue of the expansion of slavery in the Territories.

At that time I thought that it would be we progressives who would eventually have to make the move, separating ourselves, who clearly represent the view of a majority of Democratic voters, from the right-wing, collaborationist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) leadership. With the defeat of Joe Lieberman and his immediate declaration as an independent candidate for the US Senate, it is now becoming apparent that the DLC, for whom Lieberman stands as an ultimate bellwether, has begun that splitting process.

How could that be so? On election eve, Lieberman made a strong speech on the subject of Democratic unity, on the importance of Democrats sticking together, on the necessity of making Bush and the Republicans the target, not ourselves. A fine speech. Indeed. It has quickly become apparent that he held that position only on the assumption that he would win the primary. Ned Lamont had already committed himself to supporting the winner even though Lieberman did not. Now the favorite Democrat of Dick Cheney, George Bush and Sean Hannity is attacking Lamont and those Democrats who voted for him in terms only slightly less vitriolic than those used by the "Vice" (ho, ho, ho) President. While "mainstream" Democrats have so far lined up behind Lamont, I have not seen anything from the DLC doing so. As of August 17, there is nothing at all that I can find on their website about the election or its aftermath. A search on the site does reveal a pre-election article on the then upcoming primary entitled "DLC | New Dem Dispatch | June 2, 2006, The Return of Liberal Fundamentalism."

Given the alacrity with which Lieberman started his independent campaign and given the non-response of the DLC, a week later, to the outcome, whether only covertly or not, it is quite obvious that the DLC is backing Lieberman. In my view this is but the first step towards a DLC-lead split in our Party. The question then becomes why? The seemingly poll-driven DLC (driven by polls they conduct and results they interpret while ignoring the many polls that do not support their position) says that it is all about winning elections. Well, my friends, it ain't. It's all about policy; the policy of the DLC and its principal backers in the corporate sector. (For much more detail on this see David Sirota's book "Hostile Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government--and How We Take It Back" featured right here on BuzzFlash.) And just what policies might those be that the corporate backers of the DLC like so much?

They really are "Georgite-lite." The DLC and their corporate backers are concerned about too much trashing of the Constitution, they really are concerned about too much unilateralism in foreign policy, they really are concerned about mounting debt, national and private. BUT, they will put up with those aspects of Georgitism because they like so much so many of its other policies, like:

- The War on Iraq which continues to fuel the military-industrial complex and may well lead to an independent Kurdistan under US control, with all that oil.

- An administration that will make sure that there is no national health insurance program, ever. (Look for Lieberman to get major contributions from the insurance industry centered in his home state and the pharmaceutical industry centered in New Jersey, not too far away.) Many Democrats, even some "centrists," are once again talking up national health insurance of some sort.

- They like their tax-cuts-for-the-wealthy which would surely be rescinded, at least in part, if a Democratic Party true to its name (which a DLC-lead one is clearly not) took power.

- They want to continue with the "small government" approach to national governing and avoid even the slightest return to the New Deal approach, which happens to based on the precepts of the Preamble to the Constitution. It was, again, Clinton who pronounced that "the era of big government was over," as he was, for example, leading the charge to end welfare as we had known it from the time of the New Deal.

- They want to continue with the "small government" approach to national governing and avoid even the slightest return to the New Deal approach, which happens to based on the precepts of the Preamble to the Constitution. It was, again, Clinton who pronounced that "the era of big government was over," as he was, for example, leading the charge to end welfare as we had known from the time of the New Deal.

- They want to continue with their version of the "free market," which for them does not mean free competition but freedom from any kind of government regulation.

- While some DLCers, like Hillary Clinton, talk about alternative fuels, that side does not talk about energy supplies. There is a big difference. The last President to champion a Federally-supported alternative energy program? None other than Jimmy Carter. One of the very first things Reagan did when he entered office was to shut it down completely. And Clinton noticeably did not start it up again. The extractive industries don't like such programs. Progressive Democrats would, or at least should, be out in front on them.

And so on and so forth. The corporate-funded, collaborationist, DLC-led wing of the Democratic Party is indeed "Georgite-lite." No wonder The Decider plants a smooch on the cheek of the DLC's numero uno elected official. And Lieberman, with massive Republican support, will go all out against liberal and progressive Democrats. There will not be an official split yet, but whether he wins or loses, in my view there will surely be one before the next Presidential election. Our side needs to begin planning now on how to deal with it.

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Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) a weekly Contributing Author for The Political Junkies (www.thepoliticaljunkies.net) and a Columnist for BuzzFlash.