The following is the full transcript of the Progressive‘s interview with Ned Lamont. An abbreviated version appeared in the print version of Issue 2.3 as “A Quickie with Ned Lamont.”
Ned Lamont is the Connecticut businessman who challenged incumbent Senator Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary of the 2006 midterm elections. Lamont, propelled by his progressive platform, anti-war sentiments, and an army of liberal bloggers, won the primary but lost the general election to the senator, who launched an independent bid under his newly formed Connecticut for Lieberman party. Lamont is now campaigning for Democratic presidential hopeful and Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd. (Lieberman recently endorsed Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona.) On December 8, Lamont visited Java Joes Coffehouse in Des Moines to discuss his support for Dodd. Afterward, he spoke with the Ames Progressive.
Gavin Aronsen: In many ways, you were the face of the progressive movement during the midterm 2006 elections. How does that influence your outlook on politics as the 2008 elections approach?
Ned Lamont: Well, I’m here in Iowa on a particularly cold Saturday morning just to stay involved. You run a race but you don’t give up on the issues at the end of a campaign. So I’ve stayed very involved, and my family’s stayed involved, which is great. My daughter, who is 16, is writing a column for the local newspaper on issues she cares about, and my other daughter, who is at college, has gotten very active in the political institute. So I’d say our whole family has been energized by the campaign.
I obviously came to Iowa for Dodd, and Dodd showed a lot of guts after that primary, supporting me. A lot of the establishment Democrats who are in Washington, D.C., just wanted nothing to do with this insurgent challenger from Connecticut. And we were pushing hard at the stuff we really cared about. I thought the Democratic Party was asleep on Iraq, I thought it didn’t ask the tough questions leading up to the war, and I thought two years into it, which is when I started my campaign, that was a time again to be asking those tough questions.
Be it health care, global warming, I thought it was time for the Democrats to be a lot stronger and bolder about challenging what the Bush administration is doing. That’s what our campaign was about and I hope that’s what Chris Dodd is trying to do.
GA: What elevates Chris Dodd above the other candidates in your mind?
NL: I think all of our candidates are pretty damn good on the issues. I like him because he connects with people, and I think he would be a very strong candidate because of the human qualities. He’s a genuine person. And I think he’d be a great president because he gets on with people in Washington, D.C., and knows how to roll the ball.
If there were a quiet, confidential election of U.S. senators down there – who’d they like to see [as their party’s presidential nominee] – I think the Democrats would vote for Chris Dodd. He gets things done.
But more importantly, probably, is the Constitution. He’s the one guy talking about the Constitution in a serious way. We never compromised the Constitution during World War II; we never did it during the Nuremberg Trials. We bent during McCarthyism, but we didn’t break, and right now there’s a sense that people are willing to break because of the fear of national security issues. Chris Dodd is somebody who is standing up.
GA: When Dick Cheney, after your primary victory against Joe Lieberman, tells you that your victory is going to essentially help the cause of al Qaeda, what does that say about our current political atmosphere?
NL: It says that the politics of fear is really effective. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have said it. It was outrageous. He said that within 24 hours [of my victory]. It’s his damn policies that have weakened this country. It’s his damn policies that have energized al Qaeda throughout the region and around the world. It’s his policies that have stretched our military thin and weakened our dollar, jetted up the price of oil, and that’s money that flows to [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad in Iran. Those are his policies.
We’re going to challenge that guy hard. I want the Democrats to push back hard. He’s the guy who’s weakened our country and energized the terrorists. Don’t take that lying down.
GA: What do you think of Dennis Kucinich’s impeachment bill [for Cheney] he introduced in the House?
NL: I want to win elections. I want a Democrat to win in November, and I just think that that’s a stretch. And I think that’s going to turn off some people we’ve got to turn on and make sure they vote for a Democrat.
It came up all during our campaign as well. Nobody’s more upset with what the Bush administration’s done to this country than I am, but we’re going to win at the ballot box.
GA: How do you rate Joe Lieberman’s performance after he was re-elected? Is Connecticut going to tire of his politics?
NL: Yeah, I think there’s a little buyer’s remorse right now. Look, he got elected and one of the things he said was, “Nobody wants to bring the troops home more than I do. I see significant troop reductions by the end of the year.” He muted the differences on the big issue in the campaign. And he gets re-elected, and the surge and the rest is history.
One of my disappointments with the campaign is that a lot of those who supported the status quo in Iraq said, “See, and even the people of Connecticut support the status quo – they endorsed Joe Lieberman.” That’s not what they were voting for in the campaign.
And then I thought the Iran war resolution was exactly the wrong way to go, with the Kyl-Lieberman plan. I think just in the last week with the fact that [Iran has] stopped its nuclear weapons program, it just shows how premature and trigger-happy this administration can be, and Joe was an enabler.
GA: With the January 3 caucuses looming, what do you think are the most important issues for the progressive voter?
NL: Look, I think our candidates are pretty darn good [on] global warming and the war and health care and the issues we care about. The reason I’m telling everybody to caucus with Dodd does start off because he’s the one guy talking about the Constitution and he’s passionate about it and he’ll fight for it. I don’t want the headline coming out of Iowa to be, “And Dodd didn’t get there, and that says something about civil liberties and habeas corpus.”
I think that should be a progressive cause. That said, I want progressives to keep holding the Democrats’ feet to the fire, keep getting to be strong. I think the American people are ahead of the politicians on a lot of these issues. Global warming and health care and Iraq, to name three. That’s why progressives have got to keep Bush [in check] – and who’s got a better opportunity than Iowa in the next 30 days? I mean, you could get 15 of your friends in [a caucus precinct] and all off a sudden somebody’s got 15 percent and he wouldn’t have otherwise had it.