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Why Ned Lamont is a Democrat

BY Sam Seder

Joe Lieberman is a Republican. He may call himself a Democrat–he can call himself anything he wants–but really he’s a Republican. And, in fact, he’s actually sometimes worse than those who admit to being Republicans. Bill Frist and Karl Rove only wish they had the power to undermine the Democrats the way Lieberman can.

When Democrats came out against the Dubai port deal and Joe Lieberman, in his best Droopy Dog voice, said “Hey, the President deserves the benefit of the doubt,” the chatterheads in the mainstream press had all the fodder they needed to say “well, some Democrats are for it! So obviously, there’s no partisan difference here, folks.”

According to Joe Lieberman, we need to stay the course in Iraq, the Bankruptcy Bill was a good thing, and gosh-darn it, our Commander in Chief needs us now more than ever.

Thankfully, we have a choice–and a great one at that. Ned Lamont is running against Joe Lieberman in Connecticut’s Democratic primary. He’s progressive, smart, and a wildly successful businessman. And that’s not all–he’s also a Democrat. Which is a nice option to have in a Democratic primary.

Lamont announced his campaign on Monday, March 13th, but dropped by “The Randi Rhodes Show” a few days before that when I guest-hosted to give us a little preview of the big news:

Let me start off with asking you “Why are you a Democrat?”

I’m a Democrat because we believe that power starts with the people. We build from the ground level up, we don’t trickle down,we don’t start at the top. And I think that’s been our basis since Jacksonian democracy. We believe in opportunity for everybody regardless of race, gender, ethnicity. That’s been part of our credo since the beginning of the Democratic Party. And I think that Sen. Lieberman and George Bush have sort of lost their moorings in terms of what’s been important for Democrats and what’s been important for this country over the last five years. That’s why I’m in this race.

How do you see that Sen. Lieberman has fallen short for your state, and frankly, for the country?

Well, the first thing that got me into this challenge was the war in Iraq. I think it was a terrible foreign policy blunder for this country. I think that George Bush had to rush to war and we didn’t ask the tough questions getting in, and Sen. Lieberman cheered on the president every step of the way. We have a go-it-alone strategy, a sense that we don’t need allies, we don’t have to listen to the rest of the world. That’s contrary to the American tradition and it’s really not in our self-interest.

What do you make of Sen. Lieberman’s continual cheerleading for this war?

We’ve been consistently wrong on the war in Iraq. [They said] we would be greeted as liberators, they thought it would be easy, we turned the corner, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel…it’s been consistently wrong. On his last trip back, the senator said, “Boy, I saw everybody on cell phones, and they are watching DirectTV, this is a happy neighborhood and we have rounded the bend.” He couldn’t be more wrong then, and he’s still wrong. We’ve got 135,000 troops standing in the middle of a civil war, we’re making the situation worse and it’s time to start thinking about our exit strategy.

Now, tell me about your perspective on what needs to happen in this country regarding health care.

First of all, it’s unconscionable that we have 46-47 million people uninsured; we’ve got 15 million-plus who are underinsured. To me, health care is a basic right for all Americans. We’re going to decide as a country that there is a minimum health care benefit that everybody is qualified for. From my point of view, it will be a requirement that you be insured, it will be a requirement that your employer provide a basic level of health insurance, and if you are not employed then you’ll be insured via the federal government or on your own.

What about education in this country? I know that Sen. Lieberman is for a voucher plan. What is your perspective?

One of the things I’ve enjoyed doing over the last couple of years is teaching a course up at an inner city high school in Bridgeport, Connecticut on how to start your own business. We get successful entrepreneurs, mentors, folks from the community involved in the school and it gives kids something to dream about, something to inspire them, something to believe that they can learn again.

I get a couple of messages out of that. One, I believe in a strong community public school system. Anything that distracts from that is a step in the wrong direction and does a disservice to our kids. And two, we’ve got to get the community involved in our schools. We need more parents, we need more coaches, we need more drama students, more drama instructors to help these kids, get them back into the classroom, to get them to believe that they can do it. We really are not doing that right now for our kids, and we really cannot afford to leave them behind

With the revelations of George Bush spying on Americans without warrants, and particularly the latest revelations coming from Alberto Gonzalez that this program may actually be bigger than he testified to in front of the Judiciary Committee, what is your perspective on what’s happening to our civil liberties in this country?

I can’t believe that conservatives and liberals aren’t standing up hand-in-hand and saying that no president is above the law. George Bush is saying “I can wiretap any time I want to, I can be dismissive of our laws of the land that tell me how to do that, and what judicial restraints there ought to be, and I’m gonna do it and just trust me.” After all the history with this administration, the theory that we would just trust somebody with that type of intrusion into our private lives is beyond me. I think that is [a place] where liberals and conservatives ought to stand up and be heard.

And are you troubled by Sen. Lieberman’s support for federal intervention with the Schiavo case?

That was really one of the issues that got my blood boiling early on. I mean, we have a federal government that keeps intruding into our private lives in ways that we never had anticipated. Maybe it started with stem cell research, and then, as you point out, the Terry Schiavo case. Tom DeLay [said] the federal government was going to intervene in what was [one of] the most tragic decisions that families have to make. Sen. Lieberman supported that DeLay intervention; I think it was wrong.

What is your perspective on what we need to be doing in terms of our energy situation?

9/11 was a terrible tragedy, but also it was a new start for this country, and we missed an opportunity to get serious about energy independence, energy conservation and global warming–they’re all tied together. Instead, Bush passed the energy bill. It was a terrible piece of legislation loaded with tax giveaways to the oil producers and the nuclear lobby. This bad piece of legislation was overwhelmingly opposed by the environmentalists out there and supported by Sen. Lieberman.

First and foremost, we ought to be looking at conservation, we ought to have tax incentives for conservation and we ought to make that a national priority. Secondly, we ought to have tax incentives for renewables. That’s how we’re going to free ourselves from, as Tom Friedman said, paying for both sides of the war on terror with our addiction to foreign oil.

Now, I’ve got to tell you, the bankruptcy bill was a bill that just struck me as being really unconscionable. One of the things that bothered me about Sen. Lieberman’s vote on the bankruptcy bill was that he knew that the only way to stop this thing was to vote against cloture, but he voted for cloture. What does it say about Sen. Lieberman that he basically allowed it to happen from a procedural standpoint?

That sounds a little familiar in terms of the Judge Alito nomination as well. Somebody said about our senator on the Democratic side of the aisle that we can always count on his vote whenever we don’t really need it

Most people that file for bankruptcy do not do it because they are overspending on their credit cards, they do it because they are inflicted with sudden health care expenses that they didn’t anticipate, and they are underinsured and can’t deal with it. We ought to help people through that tragic time in their lives, not penalize them. On the flip side, I look at how the corporations in this country are abusing bankruptcy and using it to walk away from their pensions, to walk away from their obligations to the working people out there. If you want bankruptcy reform, that’s where I’d start.

Now, let’s talk a little about that Alito vote, because the National Organization for Women came out and rebuked Sen. Lieberman for doing the exact same thing that he did on the bankruptcy bill. He’s one the members of the “Gang of 14” who really gave cover to Democrats in states where they would have trouble justifying that vote against a filibuster. Tell me your perspective on Alito and Sen. Lieberman’s vote in that situation.

Look, if Ned Lamont was a U.S. Senator from Connecticut, I would have led the charge against the Alito nomination. You really learn how much our country has swung to the right when you see that, moving from Sandra Day O’Connor–who was obviously nominated by that liberal Ronald Reagan–all the way over to Judge Alito. Alito has had a long agenda and part of his agenda is to outlaw a woman’s right to choose and to overturn Roe v. Wade.

If you don’t think it’s important, you don’t think these basic rights we have are at risk, look at that bill that just came out of South Dakota, which will outlaw a woman’s right to choose even in the case of rape and incest. That bill’s headed right to the Supreme Court in the next 18 months or so, and it’s going to be a close call–and it won’t be a close call if Judge Stevens isn’t there with us. So, I would’ve opposed Alito, I would’ve supported the filibuster, I would’ve kept that debate going. It’s too crucial to what’s going on.

We get a lot of phone calls saying that Democrats need to stand up more to this administration, that they have a duty to act as an opposition party because we need as many checks and balances as we can get with a government that seems to be basically out of control. How do you think Sen. Lieberman does for the Democrats, in terms of helping them provide a check and balance on an executive and a Republican party that basically has just become drunk with power?

I think he undercuts our message. I think he sometime goes out of his way to stick it to the Democrats when we’re trying to speak clearly about the war, when we’re trying to speak clearly on bankruptcy and Sam Alito and other issues that we’ve already referenced. He’s always right there as George Bush’s favorite Democrat and it makes it tougher for the Democrats to be a constructive opposition.

Sam Seder is a writer, actor, director, and co-host, with Janeane Garofalo, of Air America Radio's "The Majority Report." He is also co-author of the upcoming HarperCollins book F.U.B.A.R.: America's Right-Wing Nightmare.

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