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'Democrat' Isn't A Dirty Word

By Denis Horgan, The Hartford Courant, 15 January 2003

I hope we didn't mortify Joe Lieberman too much by calling him a Democrat in our headlines. A Different Democrat, we trumpeted.

Democrat isn't a word Lieberman uses much about himself. It was only at the end of his declaration for the presidency Monday that he mentioned any Democratic connections at all, and that was in passing, distancing himself as different.

In fact, his new presidential web page doesn't mention even once that he is a Democrat or that his successful office holding has been as a Democrat or that he is pursuing the Democratic nomination for the presidency.

Democrats? Who needs 'em? Actually, there are a few other Democratic guys cluttering the way, pursuing the same nomination - assuming that it is the Democratic nomination that Lieberman is seeking after all.

(Even the harshest Republicans have to tip their hats to the Democrats' gigantic jobs program: More people are finding work on presidential exploratory committees than are being taken on by the steel industry. What a great job! Explore for a while and boldly announce that Candidate X is a peach for the White House. Has any exploration come up with the result: Sorry, you are a flop and loser. Stick to your day job? Of course not.)

In his welcome announcement, Lieberman seven times talked about rising above partisan politics as if partisan interests were only something to be overcome. There are people for whom partisan politics is a measure of philosophy, values and direction. The androgynous New Democrats may look on the old Democrats with contempt, but it would ring truer if they had the record of accomplishment—or heart—of the old.

There are people who are proud of the Democratic tradition. They do not see the benefit of being different from Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, the domestic Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter. Rather than running away from it, there are people who turn to that tradition for strength and direction when considering the poor, the disenfranchised, the working stiffs.

People in a jam know that taking care of businesses and the wealthy with tax cuts galore will never trickle down to them; they know that in class warfare—the whine of the week from the GOP and a compliant media—the upper class always kicks the stuffing out of the lower classes, unless someone steps in to help. There is not such a shortage of Republicans that Democrats have to act like them.

There are people who would expect Democratic leaders to have a thought for the poor, those invisible souls unmentioned in the recent announcements. Poverty is not a bad thing only because the middle class might land there, as Lieberman accurately notes is happening. It is a bad thing in itself and, mostly, because poor people are already there in such terrible abundance. Who will care about them when political leaders won't even dignify their existence with a mention?

Who will fight the wars that Lieberman so boldly demands? Video game violence and cinematic violence are bad things, as he says, but battlefield violence is much, much worse. It is real. It is not a game. It is not a movie. War hurts actual people, although never presidents or senators. The mad Bush/Lieberman war talk finds us nearly alone, when a year ago the world was united with us in our pain and our determination to seek justice.

When someone down at the lower levels of the economic totem pole needs help, who is there to turn to? Do you turn to the stock-option rich CEOs and their co-conspirators in the boardrooms who buy and sell their politicians wholesale? Of course not. In trouble, looking for a little more of the minimum wage, the working guy has looked to the unions, to the Democrats. Seeking fairness, women and minorities have counted upon the Democrats for help and, sadly, counted upon the Republicans to oppose them. What did the Trent Lott business show but that the need for resolve remains?

The Democratic tradition may not be for everyone but, usually, it has been pretty good for those who need help and cannot fight alone.

Joe Lieberman has done well as a Democrat, and people have done well with him as a Democrat. It has been a good mix and it is puzzling that he doesn't claim it as a true and enduring virtue.