Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman and his west coast counterpart, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, are becoming bad news for progressive-leaning Democrats. With a slim majority in the Senate, Democrats had already been governing "by the skin of Joe Lieberman's teeth," as Senate candidate Al Franken recently said in a fundraising letter. But now, Feinstein seems to be ideologically aligning with Lieberman to force through Republican initiatives that the American people clearly rejected when changing the party power in Congress.
First, Senator Feinstein cast the deciding committee vote in moving forward the nomination of anti-gay judge Leslie Southwick to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Then, she helped to ensure confirmation of Attorney General nominee Michael "Don't Know Nothin' 'Bout no Waterboardin'" Mukasey to head the federal government's top law enforcement agency. And now Feinstein has signaled she will again jump ship and join Republicans in granting immunity to telecommunications companies that helped the Bush administration spy on American citizens.
All of this begs the question of "what next?" when it comes to Feinstein and Lieberman's run to the right. It also underscores the need for a larger Democratic majority in Congress to help balance out rogue party members who align with Republicans on the wrong side of important issues. And it might also be enough to make you wonder, as Wonkette did on Friday, whether "next time Dianne Feinstein runs for something, maybe vote for someone else."
Now, I understand the importance of keep Feinstein's seat in Democratic hands. We know, for purposes of control of Congress, that party identiifcation is important, even if it is an identity not always in alignment with the party itself, or the party's constituents. It is, after all, because of conservative Democrats that the party now holds the majority in the House . . . most of the Dems' gains were in Republican leaning districts, where they won by running right of center candidates.
But how much are we willing to sacrifice principles and good votes in order to see a Democrat - any Democrat - hold onto a seat? It's a question that has the potential to create a significant fracture between the party and it's progressive-leaning base of traditional supporters.
The first such fracture happened in Lieberman's race for re-election. A majority of Connecticut Democrats, fed up with the Senator's hawkish views on issues like the war in Iraq, refused him the party's nomination, and Lieberman was forced to run as an Independent. That, in turn, fractured both the Republican and Democratic bases, and gave him enough votes to defeat the Democratic nominee. In turn, Lieberman agreed to caucus with the Democrats, ensuring their very fragile majoirty. And that, in turn, gave him great influence in the Democratic party .... whose voters had already rejected his agenda.
Now, the Democrats depend on Lieberman to hold onto their 1-vote majority in the Senate. Lieberman, however, has ran so far to the right that he's now being rumored as a Vice Presidential candidate for the GOP in 2008. (It seems likely that a Democratic challenger to Feinstein would have an easier in time in the more progressive state of California, where she'd likely flop if she attempted to run as an Independent herself.)
As a result, Feinstein-Liberman is increasingly meaning bad news for Democrats and Democratic voters.
All of this, however, also argues for an increased focus on electing a few more Democrats in the next election. By turning over solidly Republican seats to candidates like Franken, Jeanne Shaheen and Mark Warner, we can get a more comfortable cushion. Their election could mean dwindling influence for Senators like Feinstein and Lieberman and a more secure voting bloc for Democrats in the Senate.
Both Lieberman and Feinstein are considered safe votes on LGBT issues in Congress, but the confirmation of federal judges and attorney general nominees impacts our community, too. (And don't forget that some of the surveillance Feinstein now wants immunity for also targeted us as well.)
If we want to make real progress on issues like these, we need to work to mitigate the influence of the Feinstein-Liberman wing of the Senate and give more seats in 2008 to Democratic candidates who will dare to stand up and vote the right way.