Thursday, August 10, 2006

Financial Times Editorial - Democrats' big chance

Financial Times Editorial - Democrats' big chance
Published: August 10 2006 03:00 | Last updated: August 10 2006 03:00
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

In a political upset loaded with possibilities for November's mid-term elections in the US, Joseph Lieberman, the three-term Democratic senator for Connecticut, was unseated on Tuesday night by an antiwar insurgency inside his own party. The Democrats are in spectacular disarray - not least over Iraq. But the Bush White House and Republican-controlled Congress are now widely seen as incompetent and indolent, enough for the Democrats (just possibly) to win big in November.

Mr Lieberman's fate cannot be over-generalised. Although he was punished in the Democratic primary for his strident support for the war, it is also true he was seen locally as aloof and over-attached to his national ambitions since his vice-presidential candidacy six years ago alongside Al Gore.

He claimed to have fallen victim to "the old politics of partisan polarisation". But that rather ignores the "with us or against us" nature of American politics in the era of culture wars. The senator's bipartisan support for the foreign policy of president George W. Bush was gradually undermined by the wilful manipulation of security issues and Iraq for partisan gain by the White House and its supporters.

Three months ago Mr Lieberman looked likely to defeat easily his challenger, Ned Lamont, a businessman and political novice. Since then, however, the perception has grown that US forces in Iraq are being sucked into a civil war they can no longer referee.

The danger for the Republicans is that this perception extends well beyond the Democrats. Indeed, it is often most forcefully articulated from within its own ranks by figures such as senator Chuck Hagel, the decorated Vietnam veteran.

But recent polls show that Democrats are more motivated and energised than their opponents. One this week, for The Washington Post and ABC News, positions the Democrats almost exactly where the Republicans were in mid-1994 - the last time both housesof Congress changed hands - reveal-ing deep hostility towards present incumbents.

In the wake of the Lieberman defeat, the Democrats will have to withstand a predictable onslaught from Bush strategists such as Karl Rove, who will paint a lurid picture of a radical left-turn by patrician Yankees who will "cut and run" from the fight in Iraq.

Although fuelled by Iraq, the Lamont victory was built not so much around the left as old money and new media. Nonetheless, as so many leading Democrats waffle and weave around most of the big issues from Iraq to the Bush tax cuts, not even their supporters are sure what the party stands for.

The Democrats now have the chance to rectify that. They must persuade Americans they can strengthen the economy in ways that share its benefits more broadly, and that they are competent to take charge of security and rebuild US standing in the world.


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