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Fear and Roving in Connecticut

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The Republican response to the Ned Lamont primary victory in Connecticut was a textbook example of the Karl Rove-Newt Gingrich politics of fear and smear. With Fearmonger-in-Chief Vice President Cheney claiming that the Lamont victory would embolden "al Qaeda types" and Republicans charging that liberal "McGovernites" had taken over the Democratic Party, they not only succeeded in distorting the meaning of the Lamont victory but also demonstrated how afraid they are of a strong anti-war candidate.

The Republican response relies on three key fallacies, with the first being that the Iraq War and the war on terror are one and the same. Vice President Cheney's "al Qaeda" smear demonstrates how the administration promotes this fallacy in order to stifle opposition to the Iraq War. The effectiveness of this strategy, however, is diminishing as was evident when Cheney's claim was repudiated by the Bush administration's first Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge who stressed that "I don't think most Americans see it that way." In fact neither do the experts, as a recent Foreign Policy survey of national security experts across the political spectrum revealed that not only did 87 percent believe that the Iraq War was hurting our efforts in the war on terror but 84 percent believed that we were losing this war.

That is why Democratic critics of the Iraq quagmire believe that the United States should focus on the war that Osama bin Laden brought to our shores, not the one the neocons brought to the White House. Lamont's victory scares the Bush administration because a forceful anti-war candidate can make this case and in the process both expose the administration's Achilles heel - its failure in both wars - and energize the Democratic base for the midterm elections.

The second fallacy is that the Connecticut election was primarily a battle between the right and left. The Republicans promote this misconception in order to tar Lamont, who is a moderate and former Republican, as a McGovern liberal. While there is no doubt that the Lamont campaign excited and received considerable support from the liberal wing of the party, at its core this campaign was less about left versus right, than about whether Democrats would stand up and fight. As Lamont said early in his debate with Senator Lieberman, "if you won't challenge President Bush on his failed agenda, I will." This is what was principally driving the race and it was the central focus of the New York Times' endorsement of Lamont which stressed

[a]t this moment, with a Republican president intent on drastically expanding his powers with the support of the Republican House and Senate, it is critical that the minority party serve as a responsible, but vigorous, watchdog. . . . [T]his is no time for a man with Mr. Lieberman's ability to . . . become [the Republicans] enabler, and embrace a role as the president's defender.

The third fallacy is that Lamont is as a McGovernite extremist because of his anti-war position. With 60 percent of Americans opposing the war and 57 percent wanting a timetable for withdrawal, opposition to the war is hardly a radical position. This may be why polls show voters now favor Democrats when asked which party they trust to handle the Iraq War.

In all fairness, today's Democrats do share some resemblance to the McGovern era as they embrace the provisions of the 1972 party platform calling for an equitable tax burden, working with allies in foreign affairs, greater fiscal restraint, access to basic medical care for all Americans, environmental leadership and fighting discrimination. This similarity, however, reveals how radical the Republicans have become since these positions are from the Republican Party platform and are the antithesis of today's Republicans.

Piercing through these fallacies reveals that the Republicans have good reason to be afraid of Ned Lamont. Connecticut Democrats have energized the Democratic base by embracing a candidate offering a more forceful opposition to the Bush administration and whose views are consistent with mainstream America. Republicans must radicalize Lamont because his anti-war stance and national support makes him a threat to their Achilles heel - their catastrophic failure in both the war on terror and the Iraq War. Republicans know that if voters get a real picture of what is going on, they will be saying "Democrats, now more than ever" on Election Day.