NY Times compared anti-war Democrats' treatment of Lieberman and Cantwell, ignored their differing stances on Iraq


A New York Times article contrasted anti-war Democrats' "pragmati[c]" decision to "spare" Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) -- despite her support of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq -- with the recent defeat of Sen. Joseph Lieberman in the Democratic Senate primary in Connecticut. But the Times overlooked key differences between the two races: Unlike Cantwell, Lieberman has attacked Democrats for criticizing the administration in its conduct of the war and opposed Democratic legislation calling for the United States to begin redeploying troops out of Iraq.

In a September 19 article on the Senate race in Washington state, New York Times reporter William Yardley asserted that a "cold dose of pragmatism" has led critics of the Iraq war to "[s]pare" Sen. Maria Cantwell in the Democratic primary, despite her support in 2003 for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Yardley contrasted this "practical" treatment of Cantwell with anti-war challenger Ned Lamont's recent defeat of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman in the Democratic Senate primary in Connecticut. But Yardley overlooked key differences in the two races: Unlike Cantwell, Lieberman has attacked Democrats for criticizing the administration in its conduct of the war. And although Yardley mentioned Cantwell's vote in support of Democratic legislation calling for the United States to begin redeploying troops out of Iraq, he did not note Lieberman's opposition.

In recent years, Lieberman has repeatedly declared his support for President Bush on the issue of the Iraq war. In late 2005, Lieberman famously rebuked Democratic critics of the war, saying, "We undermine the president's credibility at our nation's peril." And in the March 21, 2005, issue of The New Yorker, Lieberman was described as "unapologetic about his defense of Bush's Iraq policy" and was quoted as saying, "Bottom line, I think Bush has it right."

Further, Lieberman said in 2003 that he supported "establish[ing] some permanent bases in Iraq," which most Democrats oppose. In June 2006, he was one of only six Democratic senators to vote against an amendment proposed by Democratic Sens. Carl Levin (MI) and Jack Reed (DE) calling for the United States to begin redeploying troops out of Iraq by the end of the year. And he has continued to stand by his belief that "his vote to authorize the war in 2002 was correct," as an August 7 Times article noted.

Since the August 8 primary, Lieberman -- now an independent candidate -- has repeatedly attacked Democrats for "demoniz[ing]" Bush and accused them of putting national security at risk by advocating withdrawal from Iraq. For instance, shortly after his defeat, Lieberman claimed the withdrawal plan advocated by Lamont would "be taken as a tremendous victory by" the terrorists. More recently, Lieberman said on September 15: "It is wrong for some on the left who go beyond dissent and demonize the president and impugn the motives of all those who support him. ... Like it or not, we are in this war against terror, and we are in it together."

But in comparing the Democratic primary environments in Washington and Connecticut, Yardley's September 19 article included none of the above details regarding Lieberman's controversial policy positions and comments in the years since the war began. Rather, Yardley simply suggested that the presence of a "well-financed Republican challenger in November" is what distinguished anti-war Democrats' "pragmati[c]" support for Cantwell from their opposition to Lieberman. From the article, headlined "Critics of War Spare Senator in Close Race":

Even as Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington has faced frequent criticism for having voted for the war in Iraq, her re-election campaign appears to be benefiting from a cold dose of pragmatism among many of her fellow Democrats.

After looking east to Connecticut, where another supporter of the war, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, lost the Democratic primary last month, many Democrats here say attacking Ms. Cantwell in Tuesday's primary seems flat-out foolish because it could benefit the well-financed Republican challenger in November.


After all, unlike in Connecticut, the question here is not whether another Democrat will unseat Ms. Cantwell. Instead, the wild card is whether antiwar opponents will peel away enough support to leave her vulnerable to the Republican opponent, Mike McGavick, a former insurance executive who recently put $2 million of his own money into his campaign.

With a practical eye on that very different political reality, Ms. Cantwell and many of her antiwar critics have moved closer to each other, and the senator's lead over Mr. McGavick has increased to double digits in some polls.

If the primary in Connecticut proved the power of the war issue among Democrats, it has not necessarily been a template for other prominent races in which Democrats have been criticized for their war stance.

Yardley went on to report that another factor distinguishing the two races was the amount of resources at Lamont's disposal:

Mr. Lamont had voter demographics, liberal bloggers and a strong grass-roots operation on his side. And he had money, putting $4 million of his own into his campaign.

Here in Washington, the two most prominent antiwar candidates still running against Ms. Cantwell are polling in the low single digits and have little money. One, Aaron Dixon, is a former Black Panther who is running as the Green Party nominee in the general election in November on an antiwar platform. The other is Ms. [Hong] Tran, a lawyer for a nonprofit organization who said that if she lost she would vote for Ms. Cantwell.

Later in the article, Yardley provided key details regarding Cantwell's current position on the war. In the 23rd paragraph, he noted her August 15 statement regarding the 2002 vote: "If I knew then everything that I know today and the Republican leadership still brought it up for a vote, I would have voted no." In the 27th paragraph, he reported that Cantwell recently voted in favor of the Levin-Reed amendment, as well as Sen. Joseph Biden's (D-DE) amendment -- which she co-sponsored -- opposing the establishment of permanent U.S. bases in Iraq. But Yardley made no mention of Lieberman's position on any of these issues.

Posted In
Elections, National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
The New York Times
2006 Elections
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