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Thanks to Pritchett Cartoons

By David Podvin

The disenfranchised rank and file of the Democratic Party can learn a valuable lesson from right wing radio talk show hosts who were angry with Congressional Republicans for ignoring constituent concerns. During the fall campaign, John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou of Clear Channel Communications affiliate KFI/AM 640 in Los Angeles organized a successful effort to intimidate the GOP hierarchy by conducting what they termed a “Political Human Sacrifice”.

Kobylt and Chiampou announced that they would select a Republican member of Congress to be targeted for defeat based on the issue of illegal immigration. After much deliberation involving names ranging from Dana Rohrbacher to Mary Bono, the chosen victim was House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, who according to the hosts had the worst (most sympathetic) immigration voting record of any Republican in Washington. Daily on-air attacks and public rallies against Dreier soon followed, and as a result the congressman – who was running against an unfunded Democrat in a safe Republican district – saw his share of the vote drop from sixty four percent in 2002 to fifty three percent this year.

Although Dreier survived the conservative effort to unseat him, the uprising caused panic in the GOP. The party filed a lawsuit against the hosts, claiming that their broadcasts condemning the congressman constituted illegal corporate campaign contributions to his opponent. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger quickly announced a get-tough attitude towards illegal immigrants, and Dreier pledged a newfound resolve to keep undocumented workers out of the country.

So did every one of the other GOP congressmen who had been considered as a possible target by the hosts. In fact, the impact of the anti-Dreier effort has been so profound that House Republicans are now delaying passage of the intelligence reform bill until the law includes tougher anti-immigration measures, a requirement they had not demanded in previous terrorism-related legislation.

The political human sacrifice had its intended impact. Republican voters who felt they were being ignored found an effective way to gain the attention of the national GOP with the targeting of a well-known member of Congress. By demonstrating the willingness to lose a seat in the House, right wingers finally forced their party to become responsive. As it turned out, conservatives communicated their discontent and the seat remained Republican.

GOP voters may have sincerely believed that they were being ignored, but only a liberal Democrat can truly understand what it is like to be taken for granted. Over the decades, Democratic politicians nationwide have assiduously neglected the needs of their most loyal supporters. This has been especially true in the United States Senate, where Democratic principles have consistently been sacrificed at the altar of “comity”. Whether it was the failure of Senate Democrats to support the Congressional Black Caucus challenge of the 2000 presidential election or their rubberstamping of the failed Bush foreign policy, Democratic office holders have prioritized ingratiating themselves to Republicans at the expense of behaving honorably.

Some strategists believe the weakness of the Democrats will disappear as public outrage at increasingly irresponsible GOP policies creates a backlash that returns a revitalized Democratic Party to majority status. This is wishful thinking because the sequence is inverted. The Democratic Party must first be revitalized, or the GOP will retain power no matter how badly it mismanages the country. During George W. Bush’s first term, America was terrorized and lost two million jobs, but in the subsequent election the Republicans won yet again because their Democratic opponents were too gutless to confront them forcefully. In the absence of a new dynamic, the unacceptable status quo remains intact.

Democratic voters have been reluctant to punish their wayward representatives because most party members fear that doing so would further empower malicious conservatives. This was a rational concept in the past, but the GOP now controls everything there is to control, and it will continue to rule until the Democrats in Congress are motivated to fight. Therefore, Democratic partisans must finally discard the argument that demanding resolve from their tremulous leaders merely helps the Republicans.

The meek may someday inherit the earth, but they will never gain control of the American government, so Congressional Democrats need to be battle hardened with a little tough love from their supporters. Given that Democratic voters currently lack any meaningful representation, it is necessary to conduct a purge, or at least to make it clear that a purge will be forthcoming unless things change for the better. The threat of such retribution will become viable only after a prominent Democratic official is made to experience the wrath of the betrayed.

The logical target for such vigilance is Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut… a more deserving political human sacrifice you will never find. It is not that Lieberman is the worst human being in the Democratic Party, or that he has the worst record, or even that he is the soul mate of William Bennett. The relevant factor is that with Zell Miller and John Breaux having goose stepped off into the sunset, Lieberman is now the prominent Democrat who most consistently gives aid and comfort to the Republican enemy. That consideration – rather than ideology or personality – is the criterion for being heaved into a volcano as a deterrent to others who possess similar accommodationist tendencies.

Lieberman is the paradigm of a Democrat who always embraces capitulation as the first option. He has long believed in reciprocating deference for contempt. It was Lieberman who appeared on Meet The Press during the Florida recount and eagerly agreed with Tim Russert that illegally cast ballots for Bush should be counted. The masochistic senator did so even as the Bush campaign was accusing him of being an unpatriotic cheater.

Lieberman has spent the last four years offering only token resistance to the radical Republican agenda. The senator has become a popular foil for right wingers because he derives perverse pleasure from lauding reactionaries while disparaging liberals. He has functioned as an invaluable apologist for Bush, invariably providing the former Texas governor with the benefit of the doubt, even when there has been no doubt. Each Bush lie has been excused by Lieberman, each act of corruption has been tolerated. George W. Bush recently won another term in large part because Lieberman and the other Democratic squishies gave him a free pass on his brazenly unethical professional misconduct.

Following the 2004 election, when Congressional Republicans began changing longstanding procedural rules in order to disempower the Democrats, Lieberman responded by announcing that he intends to become less “obstructionist”. His degrading attempts at appeasing implacable conservative foes are extremely destructive to the interests of Democrats nationwide. Joseph Lieberman is profoundly unfit to represent the hopes and aspirations of those Americans who prefer not to be chamber pots for the right wing.

In 2000, the senator received sixty four percent of the vote in heavily Democratic Connecticut, which is the same level of support that Dreier garnered prior to the human sacrifice campaign. It is highly unlikely that the well-entrenched Lieberman can be defeated by Republicans in 2006; in the extremely improbable event that were to occur, the loss should be viewed as the acceptable cost of reclaiming the soul of the Democratic party.  However, much more likely than a Lieberman defeat would be a repetition of the Dreier phenomenon in which the incumbent would be re-elected by a much smaller margin, thereby alerting the party establishment that it must respect its constituency.

Shorter term, if liberal activists can soon begin organizing a viable primary challenge to Lieberman, the very fact that he was being targeted in a serious way would quickly gain the attention of the senator’s colleagues. Once they realize that the poor saps who have been supporting them are fed up to the point of singing the executioner’s song, weak kneed Democratic legislators will experience a group epiphany accompanied by an infusion of the fighting spirit that is needed to combat the GOP legislative program.

Absent that change, Bush will succeed in destroying the best of this country by constantly pitting American against American, by incrementally decimating the Constitution, by relentlessly redistributing wealth upwards, and by irreparably destroying the environment. The future of the United States as a free society is dependent on the opposition party combating the right wing jihad, but the combat will not begin until there is a catalyst that alters the attitude of the Congressional Democrats.

Nothing is more catalytic than fear. Democrats across America will receive the stalwart representation they so desperately need only when Democratic politicians are made to fear their own voters more than they fear the Republicans. The first step in this process is for the grass roots to generate a little “Joementum” by sacrificing the politician who has always been so willing to betray the interests of the Democratic rank and file.

More David Podvin

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Last changed: December 13, 2009