At an August 2 news conference, consumer activist, two-time presidential candidate and pariah of the Democratic Party Ralph Nader tepidly endorsed Ned Lamont, Joe Lieberman's opponent in Connecticut's Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate.
Connecticut native Nader called the press conference, held six days before the Democratic primary, to rail against Lieberman. Unlike the majority of criticism against Lieberman, Nader's critique didn't hinge on Lieberman's support of the Bush administration's disastrous foreign policy. Instead, Nader focused on Lieberman's economic record, which should come as a surprise to absolutely no one who knows anything about Ralph Nader.
Evidently, Joe Lieberman's re-election bid was recently endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Citing a recent report from public interest group the center for Justice and Democracy, Nader characterized he U.S. Chamber of Commerce as a corrupt pro-corporate, anti-environment enabler of "the bloated, wasteful, military contracting budget." Using that endorsement as a starting point, Nader offered a stern rebuke of Lieberman's economic voting record, noting that the Senator had voted for the NAFTA, CAFTA and WTO trade agreements.
After his presentation, a television reporter noted that while Nader's entire presentation amounted to an attack on Lieberman, he hadn't made a single reference to Ned Lamont. Nader, who is often frustratingly evasive about endorsing other politicians, was uncharacteristically nearly forthcoming in his answer.
"I hope Ned Lamont wins the primary," Nader said, explaining that while he doesn't normally endorse people he doesn't know well, he hopes "Joe Lieberman is retired."
Despite his distaste for Lieberman, Nader said he wasn't going to do anything about it on August 8.
"I'm registered as an independent," Nader said. "I couldn't possibly stomach registering as a Democrat."
Nader seemed amused by the prospect of Lieberman losing the primary, and staying in the race as an independent.
"I welcome him to the third-party path," Nader said.
The press conference was held amid sweltering heat in the second floor of a church in downtown Hartford. I got there early and had my dork reporter notebook on display, but I guess my sloppy jeans and punctured polo shirt didn't broadcast "journalist" to Nader's staff. As a result I didn't get the text of the speech, which was printed in charming double spaced courier font and featured adorable anachronistic Underwood typewriter typos and corrections, until about halfway through the speech. By then my Red Bull buzz was fading, so I was glad I didn't have to take notes anymore.
The room was filled with the usual suspects for these sort of affairs; I left while a girl from a high school newspaper asked a question and after some Wavy Gravy-looking motherfucker complained about the media. And despite how TV and newspaper reporters were there to cover the event, the old defeated hippy had a point. The kind of corporate malfeasance Nader addressed isn't addressed by the media. It's too complicated, too threatening and does little to increase ad revenue or increase circulation or viewership.
Even if you blame him for Bush's first presidential nondefeat, I'd argue you're still obligated that Ralph Nader remains an unexpectedly compelling public figure. The man's presentation is as dry as ancient parchment, but watching him speak in person is strangely riveting. He obviously spends eight hours a day pouring over information the rest of America ignores. Lefty cartoonist Tom Tomorrow had a great take on Nader's vibe when he described him as "an alien who has just been plopped down on this planet and is confused by this planet that he's been dumped on and he's saying, 'This makes no sense; why don't you have safety features in your vehicular transport?' "
We'd probably still be dying in Corvairs if it weren't for the dude. Conversely, though, Al Gore could arguably be stentorian-in-chief if not for him, too. But it is noteworthy that a divisive figure like him would speak in favor of Ned Lamont, even if it was feint praise. Nader could have easily said there was little quantifiable difference between the candidates, as he did during the Bush/Gore race. Lieberman's attempt to paint Lamont as an anonymous rich guy plays into a potentially unhealthy misguided populist portrayal of a geeky, well-meaning guy who has gone on the record calling the Iraq war "poppycock."
Watching him half endorse Lamont, I came back to a clear truth that's become somewhat obscured by the campaign rhetoric: Lieberman's got to go. He's emblematic of the shittiest aspects of the Democrats. He's a moralizing pro-war killjoy who crowds out all the room in the public discourse that should be reserved for truth, justice and fun.
I have no doubt that Lamont will be grinded into hamburger by Washington within the first 60 days of his first term if he wins the Senate seat. But at least he'd be entering the butcher shop with the best of intentions.
In any event, I'm really looking forward for this election being over, and will be glad when the rest of the country goes back to ignoring Connecticut like usual.