What would a Lieberman loss mean for enviros?
Lieberman will run in the general as a third-party candidate. Conventional wisdom before the primary was that Lieberman could easily win a three-way race. Then as Lamont gained, CW shifted a bit, saying if Lieberman got creamed he would be abandoned. But Lieberman didn’t get creamed, he lost narrowly. So no one knows what will happen. If Lieberman can persuade a few high-profile Dems to keep supporting him, it could work. But if they all publicly abandon him, he could flame out badly.
I won’t get too much into What It All Means. There’s been reams of commentary about this race — more than it warrants, probably, and most of it, especially from the Beltway media establishment, insipid. You can find plenty with a simple search. For a sober and insightful take, check out Mark Schmitt’s posts on the subject.
One thing Schmitt says — echoed in this NYT commentary by Noam Scheiber — is that Dem candidates can no longer get by on "checklist liberalism," the careful cultivation of the disparate interest groups that make up the left (at least those that happen to concentrate in a given candidate’s state). Lieberman said:
I have the support of most of the key inner constituencies, advocacy groups within the Democratic Party: the AFL-CIO, the League of Conservation Voters, Defenders of Wildlife, Human Rights Campaign, NARAL, Planned Parenthood PAC.
It was true, but it wasn’t enough. Instead, new-school Dems are looking for partisan fighters, people who want to build a party, a movement, to fight back against the encroaching tide of a radicalized right. Lieberman may have voted the right way on most domestic issues, but he took pot shots at liberals, and supported Republican talking points, too many times. He didn’t care about the movement; he cared about the greater glory of Joe Lieberman.
Now, I think the calculus for, say, labor and abortion rights groups really has changed. They should abandon the pretense of bipartisanship. Even if there’s the occasional Republican moderate on their side, the fact is that a Republican majority ineluctably damages their cause. They should be working to build a progressive movement, even if that means throwing their weight (and money) behind other causes and occasionally sacrificing one (say, a Lieberman, or a Chafee) for the team.
I tried to argue here that the same may not be true for environmentalism. There are real signs that bipartisan consensus is building around a few key green issues, particularly alternative energy. No party is consistently where I think they should be on the issue, but both are talking it up and competing to offer solutions. And outside Washington, movement is building around global warming, too (see, e.g., Schwarzenegger and Pataki).
But then again, there’s this:
Continued Republican House and Senate majorities would likely mean more of the same on climate. House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said he would oppose global warming mandates if Republicans control the 110th Congress. "I think the information is not adequate yet for us to do anything meaningful," he said.
So, which is the better move for the environmental movement? Retaining its quasi-independent status as a siloed interest group that occasionally makes endorsements across parties? Or casting its lot fully with a reinvigorated progressive movement and dedicating itself to helping that movement win back power?
A Lieberman loss in November would make the question more important and more difficult than ever for enviros.