I have been there and done that. One of the early targets of the Swift Boat attack-style campaigns was Lloyd Bentsen when Phil Gramm ran against him with the "soft on communism" attack. I remember Bentsen late one night, pounding his fist on his desk, saying: "I am going to destroy him". In that election, he did.
Connecticut presents an extraordinary moment for Ned Lamont to change the course of our national politics and set Democrats on a new trajectory to national leadership.
Make no mistake: it has begun. Within weeks the Karl Rove-induced campaign of Senator Karl Lieberman will accuse Ned of being related to Don Corleone, sympathetic to Joseph Stalin (that one has already begun), and leaflets will appear suggesting that Ned is a flag burning transvestite.
Make no mistake: as a relative newcomer, Ned Lamont is vulnerable to a saturation slander campaign. It is no coincidence that within hours Dick Cheney and Karl Lieberman made the preposterous attack on Lamont based on the recent terror bust. But understand, folks, these guys are good at this. When Lieberman demeans himself aligning with Cheney with such a transparently bogus attack, he does it for a reason: it has worked before, largely because Democrats were weak and naive and did not know what they were up against or how to respond.
If Ned Lamont handles this well, by Veterans Day 2006, Senator-elect Lamont will be on the short list for Vice-President in 2008. Here is how: it is High Noon, and the good voters of Connecticut can fire the political shot heard around the world and run the Swift Boat style of smears right out of town.
Ned Lamont should challenge Karl Lieberman to thirty national security debates, face to face, man to man, head to head, issue by issue and truth by truth before veterans groups all over Connecticut.
He should announce this challenge surrounded by John Kerry, Max Cleland, John Murtha and any other American heroes who were similarly attacked and by a fleet of patriotic Democratic heroes from Bob Kerrey and Wes Clark to John Glenn and Stan Turner.
He should announce that on his first day in the Senate he will introduce new omnibus legislation that will authorize billions of dollars to do what President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Senator Lieberman have failed to do: provide dramatic upgrades in veterans health care, immediately meet any short term needs of our troops for armor, bandages, helmets and anything else with an emergency appropriations for whatever is needed to get the job done: and provide dramatic new aid for homeless veteran heroes and education and job training grants for troops returning from combat.
He will announce that he would pay for it, through a one time excess profits tax on mega-wealthy oil companies, contracting firms and others who have made bloated profits from this war.
He should challenge the good Senator to return every dollar of campaign contributions from donors and lobbyists who have been been the greatest financial beneficiaries of the war, because especially those who shout the loudest about World War III, should not make the greatest private profits from the sacrifice of our troops, then turn around and recycle those profits to politicians who seek to profit politically as they do financially.
Thirty debates, man to man, issue by issue, truth by truth.
Ned Lamont should say: from my first day in the Senate, I will fight to protect our country, to defend our homeland, to support our troops and to honor our vets. I will fight for this, from the very first day. I will for fight for this, for my entire term. I will fight for this, harder, truer and with more passion and commitment than you have ever shown on matters.
Look him in the eye, and say: Where were you, Senator, as the guy who wanted this war in Iraq for a decade, when our troops did not get enough armor, when wounded were asked to sometimes pay for their wounds, when 70% our casualties were preventable? Oh, sure, some of these matters you whispered in ears, or made a nice little insert in the Congressional Record, others you just ignored. But where was the fight, where was the passion, where was the commitment?
Where were you, Senator, when from 1995 there was concern about liquid bombs on airplanes, and yet nobody in Washington did a thing? Now it is your big political issue to promote fear, but where were you in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005 when you could have made the difference, but had more important things to do?
Why didn't you fight like hell, Senator, to get our troops the armor, once this war had begun, since you wanted this war so badly, well before George Bush was even elected, you should have been first in line, and fighting the hardest, to get our troops everything they need. Where were you?
Was the problem, Senator, that you did not care enough to fight, or that you simply had no influence?
Where were you, in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 to protect our ports from our enemies, and to protect our subways and transit from the terrorists? These vulnerabilities continue to this day, to this hour. Where were you then? Where are you now? Why haven't you been fighting for this, day after day, week after week, since September 11?
Senator, its not to enough to enter high toned words into the Congressional Record, or grand comments in your newsletters, or make these issues when you return to Connecticut seeking our votes. This is about making this a fight, for our troops, for our vets, to close gaps in our domestic security, every day of every year. Its not enough to talk about it, dance around it, or use it for your reelection. Where was the passion, the commitment, the diligence, the follow through?
Why don't you tell your supporters, Senator, to stop insulting voters by calling my ancestors communist, and start fighting every day, the way I will fight every day from the moment I walk on the Senate Floor, for the things that matter?
And Senator, with all due respect, you have a very different view of bipartisanship, than I. When the only president in American history who uses war to attack the patriotism of war heroes from the Loyal Opposition, you should have been strong, and clear, and honest in attacking this divisive and demeaning style of politics, Where were you?
In my bipartisanship, Senator, we respect each other, we honor each others patriotism, we debate our differences with dignity, and we never, never, never slander war heroes because they are political opponents in either party and we always, always, always stand for honor and truth and respect in our democracy. That is my bipartisanship, Senator, and it would be a better world if you would stand with me, for that, rather than parroting those same demeaning lines of attack.
In my bipartisanship Senator, when our troops need armor we work together to get it. In my bipartisan when our airports need screeners and our ports need protection and our subways and rails need defense we work together to do it. In my bipartisanship Senator, we know that what the terrorists fear the most is a united country that stands together, and what the terrorists like the most is a divided country with leaders who cannot even agree to protect our ports and our rails and provide adequate support for our troops and vets.
30 debates. Head to head. High Noon. Man to Man. Face to Face. In a great debate that lays out the issues, That stands up for the troops. That protects the Homeland. That supports the vets. That respects the people and takes the issue to them honestly and directly and lets the accountabiblity of our democracy work the way it should.
If Senator Lieberman accepts, the people will decide, and the truth will out, and Ned Lamont will win that debate, hands down, again.
If Senator Lieberman refuses to accept the challenge, the voters of Connecticut will know who is brave, and who is not, and why.