John Jay Hooker, who has run for nearly every office as a Democrat in Tennessee and never once won, recites a simple, elegant truism. "There are two kinds of people in politics: those that run and those who don't. And the difference between 'em is that those who run, run and those who don't, don't." It sounds silly, but it's the essence of America. Standing in the ballroom tonight here in Meriden, Connecticut as Ned Lamont reflected and enhanced the energy that the crowd gave to him and to itself, John Jay was never more right.
When I first met Ned Lamont in February, he had zero name recognition in Connecticut. The public polls showed Lieberman would trounce an unnamed opponent with over 70% of the vote. Fifteen percent said they'd vote for Ned, but that really meant that 15% would vote for anyone but Lieberman. In the face of such odds, most of us would say, "it's not time. Joe's the incumbent. I don't agree with him, but I can't beat him. Besides, we have to keep our MINORITY in the Senate. We can't afford a fight."
Fortunately, Ned Lamont did not know much about such grim conventional wisdom, the same grey, overbearing clouds that depress not just would be candidates, but most voters. Just as candidates are unwilling to give it a go, voters increasingly think that their votes don't matter. The incumbents with their institutional backers and back scratching friends always win. And increasingly, the voters lose.
But Ned Lamont did not believe that story. And neither did his campaign manager, a very scrappy, experienced Connecticut grassroots organizer named Tom Swan. Ned had many choices, including selecting a D.C. insider to run his race. True to his instincts that the status quo can't sustain a nation built on revolution and entrepreneurship, Ned selected Tom because Tom belongs to his state and vice versa. Tom single handedly pushed through a clean money bill in Connecticut. Tom is the best of campaign consultants because he cares about his state and his candidate, not about his cut from the media buy. What a delightful breath of fresh air compared with the stultifying insider mentality that dominates - and for years has decimated - the Democratic Party.
In May, when we at Brave New Films delivered the DVD that introduced Ned to the Democratic convention and to voters in Connecticut, the tide had begun to turn, but ever so slowly. Bucking the odds, Ned won 35% of the Democratic convention vote, thereby landing comfortably on the ballot, well above the 15% he needed. For anyone who understands how state parties work, this was more than an omen. State parties are usually well controlled by their Chair and a few other insiders. The party apparatus is an incumbency protection machine. They rarely give the nod to anything or anyone outside of the club. Parties exist to control the electorate, not vice versa.
By late July, when the polls started to show that Lieberman sagged as he had been doing for years, the national media began to focus on this race, determined that it's a fight between the new, left anti-war nut jobs and the rest of the Democratic Party. That'd be a fairly easy conclusion to draw, since seemingly every Democrat (in name) in the country paraded through Connecticut as if Joe Lieberman were their long lost brother. Lost he was. Someday, someone will explain how Barbara Boxer suddenly decided that Joe Lieberman had become her east coast clone, especially since our very own Maxine Waters virtually moved to Connecticut to help assure that Ned won.
Tonight, the political world quaked. An outsider with a team of outsiders proved that by saying "I'll run" and by standing up for character and pluck, for being willing to say no to the president who will go down in history (although painfully slowly) as the most destructive ever, won. He won without the consultant class fluffing him and supping at the trough. He won without conventional wisdom at his back. He won without Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, Barbara Boxer, Barack Obama or anyone else anointing. He won without asking permission of the establishment. He won without looking at the polls and without living in focus groups. He won the way Americans have stopped imagining people can win. He won by trying, by saying I will and then saying we did.
Joe Lieberman has every right to run as independent. Those are the rules. And we as donors and grassroots leaders and patriots have every right to say to any and all Democrats, "you will support the nominee. If you do not, do not ever again ask for a dime for the DSCC or the DCCC or the DNC or for yourself. We cannot give money to institutions that carry the name Democrat but act as oligarchs."
This race is not just about Connecticut. It is about every Democrat this year standing up and demanding change, demanding leadership. This race is not just about the war, it is about believing again in an America that "can do."
Nancy Reagan had it half right. To the club of the elite, just say no. To the Democrats who are truly democrats, proudly and defiantly say yes.