Don't be fooled by the apparent rift in the Democratic Party among its presidential contenders in general, or between Al Gore and Joe Lieberman in particular.
About a week ago, Senator Lieberman went on the record with reporters to criticize Al Gore for adopting a populist theme in their joint quest for the White House in 2000. Lieberman said he objected to Gore's "people versus the powerful" message.
At first blush, one might conclude that this is rank hypocrisy on the part of Lieberman, who, after all, happily waved the class warfare banner with Gore throughout their campaign. But listen carefully to what Lieberman is saying. He is not, as far as I can tell, contending that class warfare is morally or ideologically wrong or societally destructive, just that it's not the best strategy for Democrats to use to recapture the White House.
He's afraid that if Gore and other Democrats exploit Enron and the other corporate scandals, it could hurt the party's progress in shaking its antibusiness image, which would hurt it politically. And we should remember Lieberman's m.o. when the going gets tough. While he labored to present himself as a social conservative, he quickly abandoned his principles when given a shot at the vice presidency. Hollywood went from his primary target to his ardent ally.
Note also the timing of Lieberman's comments. He conveniently went public with his concern on the eve of the Democratic Leadership Council's (DLC) national convention. The DLC, you will recall, prides itself in having rescued Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party from their liberal extremism. Lieberman needs to have the DLC's support if he decides to run for president in 2004, though he says he won't if Gore does.
But here again, the DLC is not above compromising its purity toward centrism either. It paid mighty lip service to opposing Bill Clinton's lurch from the center once he took office, but stuck with him and now proudly claims him as its own.
Regardless, it won't matter much in the end. All the Democratic presidential hopefuls will pay homage to Al From and his naïve band of centrists in the DLC, groveling to his centrism when they believe it's expedient. But ultimately, Democrats are going to nominate and support a liberal, not a so-called moderate. That's where their power is, that's where their money is; that's where their heart is. Try as they might to fake a run up the middle, the allure of class (and race, gender, age, etc.) exploitation is too great a temptation for them to forego.
Just listen to all of the Democrat superstars -- with the surface exception of Lieberman -- jump on the Enron bandwagon in their effort to taint the GOP as the wholly owned subsidiary of evil big-corporate America.
Further proof that the Democrats' lifeblood emanates from the left can be seen in the latest polls showing that Gore is an odds-on favorite to reacquire his party's nomination, despite his unrepentant adherence to these strident populist themes.
From his point of view, why should he be repentant? He still labors under the misapprehension that he won the election because he labors under the further misapprehension that the little detail in the Constitution about electing presidents through the Electoral College is nonbonding.
And when I say unrepentant, I mean unrepentant. Gore has just written a stinging rebuke of his former running mate's heresy in the New York Times. In that piece Gore makes clear that he meant every divisive word he uttered during the 2000 campaign.
Indeed he now seems to have become so intoxicated on the fumes of his own hate speech against Republicans and corporate America that he may even believe what he's saying. That's even scarier than when he was faking it for political purposes. Before he had no conscience and no shame, now he has no sense.
Gore accuses the Bush administration of having "used its power in the wrong way. In 2000, I argued that the Bush-Cheney ticket was being bankrolled by 'a new generation of special interests, power brokers who would bend public policy to suit their purposes and profits.' … And now is the time for all Americans to stand up to the powerful on behalf of the people."
No matter what Joe Lieberman or the DLC say or do, class warfare is ingrained in the Democrat psyche. They simply cannot function without it. It will be their main weapon in the 2002 and 2004 elections and will remain so until they get some positive ideas -- and signs point to the fact that this will be no time soon.