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Chuck Schumer: Ambition Trumps Loyalty to Democratic Voters

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For progressives, there comes a point in time when reactive rage morphs into diamond hard, condensed will.  From the Hartford Courant:

But Schumer turned cautious when talking about Connecticut, where Lieberman has led Lamont in post-primary polls.

"I can’t predict who’s going to win," Schumer said.

Asked if he would discourage Democrats from giving money to Lieberman, or from campaigning for the three-term incumbent, Schumer said, "We are supporting Ned Lamont. I’ll be meeting with Ned Lamont to discuss what he needs," a meeting scheduled to occur in Washington next week.

But what if Democrats want to give to Lieberman?

Schumer gave the same answer: "We are supporting Ned Lamont."

Washington political analyst Jennifer Duffy explained why: "You can’t afford to alienate Lieberman. Democrats are walking a very fine line."

Duffy, who was at the briefing, called Schumer’s comments "a non-answer," explaining, "It just serves to demonstrate how tricky this race is for Democrats."

And again:

 Lamont campaign manager Tom Swan thought Schumer would go further in signaling a desire to distance the party from Lieberman.

"I’m surprised Sen. Schumer didn’t make stronger comments," Swan said, "considering Lieberman’s campaign has so clearly mimicked [White House political guru] Karl Rove’s playbook, undermining Democrats in Connecticut and across the country."

Recall that Schumer is singularly focused on winning control of the Senate.  This New York Metro puff piece by our old friend (ahem) Ryan Lizza includes this little gem (emphasis added):

He is, famously, the Senate’s greatest fund-raiser and greatest TV hound, important qualifications for his new job. Schumer thought about running for governor this year but instead leveraged the threat of leaving the Senate to secure a spot on the powerful Finance Committee, which writes the nation’s tax laws and, not insignificant, is a perch that puts him in constant contact with the political donor class. “That was my dream,” he says. “I always wanted to be on the Finance Committee.”

Thus we have Chuck describing how he will punk the party to gain personal access to power and money through the "donor class."  Cognitive Diss has a bit more review of Schumer’s choices, priorities and values.

Let’s recap some undisputed facts for the record:  1)  Ned Lamont is the voter-chosen nominee of the Democratic Party of the state of Connecticut; 2) Joe Lieberman, primary loser, refuses to respect the will of the Democratic voters of Connecticut and has formed his own vanity party, Connecticut for Lieberman; 3) the Hartford Courant column rather accurately reflects, through a Schumer surrogate, Schumer’s strategic calculations; 4)  those calculations emphasize the DSCC’s consistent overriding goal of taking back the Senate, but do not reflect any principled loyalty to Democratic Party voters; 5) we in the netroots have been quite happy to praise Schumer’s good actions , including his (eventual) support for net neutrality; 6) Joe Lieberman is campaigning alongside Republicans and accepting institutional Republican support, including help from consultants and endorsements from national figures in the Republican Party; 7) political analysts and pollsters agree that Joe’s only path to victory requires him to maximize turnout among GOP voters in Connecticut; 8) bringing GOP voters to the polls hurts other Democrats running for office in Connecticut, including three key House candidates relied upon to help take back the House in November, 9) Fox News has just today quoted Lieberman as saying, when asked if his candidacy would negatively affect other Democratic campaigns in the state, "Well, I guess I should say that they should have thought of that during the primary, but here we are."  There could not be a clearer "Fuck you!" to Democrats than that.

The case against Lieberman as not only a traitor to the Democratic Party, but as an active agent of the Republican Party, is overwhelming.  The only counterargument is his promise to caucus with the Democratic Party should he win reelection under the Connecticut for Lieberman Party banner.  Chuck Schumer appears to give credence to that promise, but there are serious reasons to question his judgment in this matter:  1)  the Hartford Courant article mentions the dangling threat that the Lieberman campaign is holding against the DC Democrats to caucus with the Republicans if he is not treated well during the campaign; 2)  Tony Blankley, editor of the Moonie Washington Times and well known Republican mouthpiece, has also laundered this speculation on Hardball, signalling a probable deal already in place or, at the very least, already offered; 3) the Lieberman campaign’s consistent pattern has been to lie whenever necessary to propel Joe’s candidacy, and some reports suggest Lieberman previously promised both Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer that he would not run as an independent candidate if he were to be supported by the DC Democrats in the primary; 4) in order to believe Lieberman’s promise to caucus with the Democrats, one must not only trust his word, one must believe that all of the national institutional Republican support for Lieberman’s candidacy, including the decision by the NRSC not to support the state’s Republican nominee, Alan Schlessinger, has been given to Lieberman freely and without cost, as part of no quid pro quo agreement, even though Karl Rove is on the record as having telephoned Lieberman right after Lieberman’s loss in the primary; 5) in order to believe Lieberman’s promise, one must also believe that he would support Democratic control of the Senate in spite of the fact that his voting base, and the foundation for his hypothetical win, is Republican.

From all of these things we can conclude that, if Chuck Schumer trusts Lieberman’s word to caucus with the Democrats, he is either a fool, a reckless gambler or a man compromised.  But even if we stipulate that Lieberman’s word is good, Schumer is refusing to take a principled stand in support of the choice of actual Democratic voters in order to hedge his bets, with the goal of gaining a Democratic Majority in the Senate.  In doing so, he is placing at risk downticket Democrats and control of the House of Representatives, which analysts agree is far more likely to swing to the Democrats than the Senate is.

An interesting side drama here is the conflict of interests between the DCCC headed by Rahm Emanuel and the DSCC headed by Schumer.  Right after Lamont’s primary win, Rahm Emanuel called Lieberman George Bush’s "love child," but has since changed his tune.  It apears that Rahm understood at first the implications of Lieberman’s independent run, but then someone got to him.  My guess would be that someone was Chuck Schumer.

Let me say that I do not begrudge Chuck Schumer his ambition.  Everyone in Washington DC is ambitious.  Ambition is what makes the town run.  But based on all of this, I do emphatically fault Schumer’s judgment in taking Lieberman at his word to caucus with Democrats, and even more fundamentally, I fault Schumer for his failure to take a stand in support of the clearly stated will of Connecticut’s Democrats not only to support Ned Lamont, but also to reject Joe Lieberman.  It is insufficient on its face to say "We are supporting Ned Lamont" when that support does not include a rejection of Joe Lieberman.  Failure to reject, openly, Joe Lieberman is a betrayal of Connecticut’s Democrats in favor of the accretion of personal or institutional power.

There are those who will argue, I’m sure, that is it inappropriate to call out Chuck Schumer so close to November, when there is so much on the line in the midterm elections.  To that I can only respond by repeating my view, shared it seems by very many progressives in the netroots and grassroots:  I am a progressive first and a Democrat second.  The Democratic Party is not, in my view, the property of the elected officials who serve it, but rather of the people who elect those officials.  A Democratic Senate majority that relies on Lieberman’s loyalty to the caucus to sustain majority status is neither a stable, reliable majority nor is it an instrument that can reliably uphold and represent progressive values.  So I will say this bluntly:  I would rather not gain back the Senate than rely on Joe Lieberman to sustain Democratic control of the Senate.

However, I don’t think there is really much risk of Leiberman being reelected if the Democratic Party insiders would take a principled, unified stand in support of the chosen nominee of the Connecticut Democratic Party voters.  I appreciate that Schumer may feel blackmailed by Lieberman, that Lieberman is holding a metaphorical gun to the head of the DC incumbents in the party, but that gun is probably loaded with blanks.  Connecticut is not Nebraska.  When the DC party servants unite with the grassroots of the party, the party is stronger and Lieberman is outgunned.  Given Lieberman’s uncanny ability to alienate voters the more he campaigns, and given Lamont’s remarkably broad appeal, Lieberman may very well implode anyway.  The Lamont campaign has proven itself to be nimble and formidable, with all the momentum in its favor.  The strategic downside risk of throwing Leiberman an anchor is not really so high, in my view.  It’s just not.

In the meantime, Schumer is auditioning to become the new bete noir of the grassroots and netroots.  Progressives will not forget this.  To Charles Schumer, I say, if you want to be the new Lieberman, once we dispense with the old one, you can have the job.  The choice is yours.

I see Schumer is meeting with Lamont’s people next week.  Let’s hope, for his sake and for the sake of the Democratic Party, he gets right on this by then.  If he does not, then I would expect long term institutional planning to reduce Schumer’s power will begin in earnest. It’s no longer sufficient to write angry, reactive critiques of Schumer’s choices and actions.  Possible actions against Schumer will no doubt include pressure and outreach to the donor class Schumer seems to hold most dear.  The Democratic Party is not the property of those elected to serve it or of the donors so interested in making friends on the Senate Finance Committee.  It belongs instead to the people.

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Pachacutec

Pachacutec

Pachacutec did not, as is commonly believed, die in 1471. To escape the tragic sight of his successors screwing up the Inca Empire he’d built, he fled east into the Amazon rain forest, where he began chewing lots of funky roots to get higher than Hunter Thompson ever dared. Oddly, these roots gave him not only a killer buzz, but also prolonged his life beyond what any other mortal has known, excluding Novakula. Whatever his doubts of the utility of living long enough to see old friends pop up in museums as mummies, or witness the bizarrely compelling spectacle of Katherine Harris, he’s learned a thing or two along the way. For one thing, he’s learned the importance of not letting morons run a country, having watched the Inca Empire suffer many civil wars requiring the eventual ruler to gain support from the priests and the national military. He now works during fleeting sober moments to build a vibrant progressive movement sufficiently strong and sustainable to drive a pointed stake through the heart of American “conservatism” forever. He enjoys a gay marriage, classic jazz and roots for the New York Mets.

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