It depends on how you look at the race. In terms of electing a Republican, conservatives would want to root for Lamont. Lieberman has announced his intention to run as an Independent candidate should he lose to Lamont in the August 8 primary election. A three-way race could split the state’s liberal voters and give Republican candidate Alan Schlesinger a slim chance to win the seat. Polls show Lieberman beating both Lamont and Schlesinger, but Schlesinger has only recently started to campaign statewide with a series of radio spots that focus on cutting taxes and spending and securing the borders. It’s a long shot, but a Lamont victory in the primary would give Connecticut conservatives their only chance to send a Republican to the Senate.
There’s another reason why conservatives should be pulling for Lamont. Although Lieberman can be counted on to support the president’s foreign policy of bringing the fight to the enemy, he is also one of the Senate’s most powerful and effective liberals. In 2004 the American Conservative Union gave his voting record a zero (he has a lifetime rating of 17). Despite his moderate positions on some issues, he is an absolute menace on others, especially the environment. He is a staunch proponent of onerous CO2 emissions restrictions, and his adamant opposition to allowing oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve remains a big part of why it remains an untapped resource. He is a highly skilled political operator and a formidable opponent.
Ned Lamont, on the other hand, is a political novice who would have trouble making a bargain with Herb Kohl, much less John McCain. His tired brand of economic and foreign-policy liberalism puts him decidedly out of his party’s mainstream, and his biggest constituency is a group of left-wing bloggers who have given him crucial support in this race. Conservatives should welcome such a weak and compromised addition to an already fractured Democratic caucus.
But what about the reasons for conservatives to root for Joe Lieberman? For starters, he is a visionary on foreign policy who shares President Bush’s commitment to winning in Iraq. He was one of the first senators to sign on to the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, and according to the Almanac of American Politics he warned the administration in 2002 of a “theological iron curtain” of regimes in the Middle East whose political and economic oppression was not only immoral but also dangerous, as such countries seem to breed anti-U.S. terrorists. As other commentators have noted, he’s the last of a dying species: the liberal internationalist hawk.
This internationalist streak also shows up in his support for expanding international trade. In a debate between the two candidates last week, Lieberman reiterated his support for increasing America’s export opportunities overseas. He has managed to advocate an aggressive free-trade agenda and still win the endorsement of the AFL-CIO — no small feat.
Lamont, on the other hand, sounded like an isolationist liberal on both economic and foreign policy. He argued that our “best hope for success” in Iraq is to withdraw our troops as soon as possible — regardless of the consequences — and said his inspiration on Iraq is Rep. John Murtha. On trade, he said that we need to require tougher labor and environmental standards for other countries before we trade with them — an insulting proposition for less-developed countries in dire need of foreign investment.
The cynical reason for conservatives to hope for a Lamont win — that he would make a bad senator — is the honest reason for conservatives to hope that he loses. A Senate seat is no small thing. We shouldn’t be rooting for the election of someone who, on the rare occasions when he articulates a clear position, declares that he would choose the most wrongheaded and least feasible options.
But perhaps the biggest reason conservatives should be pulling for Joe is that they should discountenance almost any candidate championed by the assortment of left-wing types backing Lamont. The forces that brought Howard Dean to national prominence should not get to pick anyone who can actually vote on important legislation — especially not if it means unseating a senator as decent as Joe Lieberman.
— Stephen Sprueill reports on the media for National Review Online’s media blog.