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Fear & Loathing In the Senate Democratic Club

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Change does not come easy - it never does. And change never comes from Washington, D.C. - it is always forced on that city. But I must confess - for some reason (call me a naive idiot) I thought change among Democratic lawmakers in Congress would occur after Democratic primary voters spoke. Apparently, I was wrong. In a spate of stories today, we see that Democratic Senators yesterday tripped over themselves to applaud Sen. Joe Lieberman as he returned to Washington. The message wafted through the Senate club like the aroma of chicken cordon bleu wafts through a country club: Democratic senators are afraid that voters - actual voters - may get to have a say over who represents us in Congress. Though the stinging "how dare you" attacks against their own Democratic nominee, Ned Lamont, were not present yesterday - the "how dare you" feeling was clearly transmitted. It is fear and loathing inside the Senate Democratic club - fear of change, and loathing of democracy.

There was Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) telling the Hill Newspaper "I don't think there's any of us out there saying 'Goddamn, I hope Joe doesn't win." There was Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) demanding a "big hug" from Lieberman. There was Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO) fulminating to reporters about Lieberman being "very, very welcome in our caucus." Undoubtedly, Lieberman chief-of-staff-turned-Enron-lobbyist Michael Lewan was sitting in his K Street office smiling - after all, he was the guy Lieberman deployed to help him maintain Senate support after voters sent him down to a crushing defeat in August.

If you can get past the big middle finger these Democratic senators are clearly giving to primary voters of their own party, consider for a moment just how pathetically weak their behavior makes them look. Here you have Lieberman abandoning his party, then running onto national television berating Democrats, likening Democratic voters to terrorist sympathizers, and regurgitating Dick Cheney's talking points almost word-for-word. Here you have Lieberman endangering Democrats' chances of winning critical House races in Connecticut - and refusing to endorse down-ballot Democrats. Here you have Lieberman riding a massive wave of White House-directed Republican cash, benefiting from neoconservative/lobbyist-directed 527 ads, and happily accepting the formal endorsement of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the applause of racists like Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), who went on record begging Lieberman to formally join the Republican Party.

And yet, forget all that, said Democratic senators as they gave Lieberman a hero's welcome of ovations and hugs and essentially pretended that Lieberman's crushing Democratic primary defeat never happened. They're message as as clear as the light of day: They're willing to embrace anyone - ANYONE - even if that person is working hard to slice the Democratic Party's heart out, undermine the party's efforts to win elections, embolden the far right, and relegate Democrats to permanent minority status. They seem genetically incapable of seeing how this kind of behavior is exactly the reason the Democratic Party has lost election after election after election. They apparently do not understand that when you embrace and sing "for he's a jolly good fellow" to the people that are trying with all their might to destroy you, you scream to the public that you fear your own shadow, you have no self-confidence, and that you don't really believe in what you say you believe in. Whether it's Democrats embracing Lieberman, or embracing George W. Bush when he pushed the Iraq War - the same loud message comes through.

The question really is - what's next? How about a Senate Democratic luncheon celebrating Ken Mehlman? Better yet, how about a Democratic National Convention speaking slot for Don Rumsfeld? Maybe a Senate Democratic resolution asking Dick Cheney to accept official congratulations for his repeated lies about Iraq? What about Democratic senators using their campaign PACs to contribute to Republican candidates for Senate? Or, screw it - why not just a full on, white-gloved, black-tie gala at Union Station sponsored by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee celebrating the careers of Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich - the two GOP political gurus who relegated Senate Democrats to minority status?

Luckily, there are some Democratic senators like Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) who seem to understand why it is important to do everything they can to help Lamont become the next U.S. Senator from Connecticut. Unlike some others, they are sick of losing elections, tired of seeing Democrats be complicit in the Bush agenda, and appreciative of the fact that voters are actually asserting themselves against the Washington establishment.

Look, I get it - there are a lot of people in Washington who are deathly afraid of actual voters having a say in elections. You have the Senate club that doesn't want to be annoyed with that little thing called democracy. You have Lieberman-affiliated institutions like the corporate-funded Democratic Leadership Council that berate any effort to change things. These institutions are filled with grinning chickenhawks who as children were beaten up on the playground and who now take comfort in having a Senator pretend to be "tough" by sitting in a comfortable Washington office and pushing American soldiers to die in a war based on lies. You also have a Lieberman-loving national Republican Party apparatus that just loves the status quo, and a Lieberman-loyal K Street that doesn't want to see a reliable ally in the Senate be replaced with someone who actually might represent real people. It all adds up to a big army of money, power and insiderism all aiming to defeat Lamont.

But if polls are any indication, voters have had enough. Senators can try to sit in the U.S. Capitol and drown out the ever-growing din of voters angry about the war, corruption, and the economic persecution Congress has waged on the public, but no amount of ovation for Lieberman can stop change from coming on election day. Though this may upset folks inside the Beltway, the fact is, we do still live in a democracy. So go on, D.C. folks - live it up, because this is your last hurrah before your insulated world comes crashing down like a house of cards. Keep backslapping, keep pretending the bubble you live in can continue to be isolated from the rest of the country. It will only make the horrified election-day expression on your pale, pasty face look that much funnier to those of us working for change.

(DISCLOSURE: I have long been a volunteer supporter of Ned Lamont's candidacy and written extensively about the race. As of Labor Day, I am officially working with the Lamont for Senate campaign on research. The writing on this blog is my own, and not the official work I do for the Lamont campaign.)

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David Sirota is a full-time political journalist, best-selling author and nationally syndicated newspaper columnist living in Denver, Colorado. He blogs for Working Assets and the Denver Post's PoliticsWest website. He is a Senior Editor at In These Times magazine, which in 2006 received the Utne Independent Press Award for political coverage. His 2006 book, Hostile Takeover, was a New York Times bestseller, and is now out in paperback. He has been a guest on, among others, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC and NPR. His writing, which draws on his (more...)

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