Thursday, August 17, 2006

Lamont, Liberals, and the Midterm Election

In a lengthy interview on CNBC’s Kudlow & Company last night, Connecticut Democratic Senate candidate Ned Lamont presented himself as an affable, attractive man with a sense of humor. It was a pleasure to interview him. But his positions on key issues are very disappointing, and very much in sync with the liberal left of the Democratic Party.

Lamont opposes any expansion of electronic surveillance for the Homeland Security war against our terrorist enemies, and made it clear that he would come down on the ACLU side of civil liberties.

For example, the Greenwich entrepreneur opposes surveillance of libraries, even though would-be terrorists can find a lot of useful and damaging information there. Lamont does not want warrantless wiretapping, or searches, and he believes probable cause or criminal intent is a mainstay for warrants.

He is not opposed to telephone datamining, so as long as it focuses on call patterns, rather than call content. But he seems far, far away from our British cousins of MI5 or Scotland Yard, in their efforts for rapid surveillance in all areas.

Mr. Lamont wants a one-year deadline for troop withdrawal from Iraq. In my judgment, he does not appreciate the disastrous consequences such a decision would entail for a possible Iranian takeover of Iraq. Nor does he appear to grasp the added new momentum in favor of Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and all our other enemies in that dangerous part of the world. The consequences of such a move would be colossal. It would send exactly the wrong message to our radical Islamist enemies.

On domestic issues, Mr. Lamont would roll back the investor tax cuts. He would ignore their hugely positive impact on current U.S. economic growth, and the revival of risk-taking.

On a positive note, he leans against the over-regulation of Sarbanes-Oxley, especially on small companies. As the founder of Campus TeleVideo, he is sensitive to the SarBox problem, although he is not ready to move for total repeal. (I asked him about Section 404, as the key problem, but he wasn’t really familiar with that detail.)

In another area, Lamont unfortunately seems to be moving away from free trade and the free flow of investment. Though he appreciates the need for capital flows, he talked about an “unlevel playing field” among countries, and was critical of China. Sounds very much like a Smoot-Schumer-Hawley-Graham Democrat to me.

We didn’t get a chance to talk about tax-free savings accounts for retirement, education, health care and social security, but his op-ed piece in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal suggests that the Lamont approach is a big government approach, rather than an ownership or investor class approach.

Similarly, Mr. Lamont seems opposed to school choice and merit pay for education reform. On energy, he is on the record in opposition to ANWR and offshore drilling.

The interesting part about Lamont’s race with Independent/Democrat Joe Lieberman is that Senator Lieberman agrees with Lamont on virtually all domestic issues. This list includes higher taxes, opposition to offshore drilling and ANWR, and Bush style entitlement reform. Lieberman has also voted against a ban on partial birth abortions.

So, for the most part, with the exception of foreign policy and possibly earmarks (where Lamont may actually be to the right of Lieberman), Sen. Lieberman and the man who would like to unseat him are tried-and-true, big government, liberal Democrats.

Lieberman is much more sensible on the terror war and our war in Iraq. However he has taken to criticizing President Bush on the management of the war. I expect more of this from him.

Though, to be perfectly honest, there is much to criticize on the disappointing war management. A lot of hawks like myself, who want to win the war, are frustrated and dispirited by the explosion of sectarian violence that borders on civil war. Additionally, Republican management of war finances leaves much to be desired, including the need to immediately end no-bid contracts, plus the failure to develop an effective reconstruction plan in Iraq. This contributes to the frustration.

The latest Quinnipiac poll shows Lieberman taking a strong lead over Lamont, perhaps even double digits, while the Republican candidate remains utterly inconsequential. As far as the overall race for the U.S. Senate this fall, Connecticut is just not going to be that important. The fact is, you have two liberals on domestic policies, and one moderate on the war (who may be rapidly distancing himself from the President).

A recent Human Events survey of numerous polls around the country concludes that if the election were held tomorrow, the Senate tally would be 50-50. So, it’s going to be a close call. The GOP’s Rick Santorum is closing in fast on Democrat Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, but Rep Harold Ford (D) is making a great run in Tennessee’s Senate race against Bob Corker (R). However, it looks like Ford is the real pro-growth tax cutter in that race.

On the House side, I have to believe that national discontent from the left and the right over Iraq will lead to a Democratic victory. My sense is the electorate wants a more divided government, rather than Republican control in the executive and legislative branch.

But if the GOP gets out there, and makes a strong case for the tax cut led economic growth recovery, (which, incidentally, is a heck of a lot stronger than the “cult of the bear” would have us believe) they may do better. Also, if Republicans campaign hard on stronger surveillance measures for homeland security, including behavioral profiling in airports, they may also do better. After all, the Democratic sympathy for civil liberties is a bigtime loser. But if I were a Republican House Member, I would sure run scared right now, on a 24/7 basis.

Unquestionably, President Bush will veto any Democratic tax hikes, should they come about in a new Congress. Bush will put on his Grover Cleveland hat, and get downright veto-ornery on tax and spending increases (something regarding the latter, he should have done several years ago). But if the U.S. Congress moves markedly left on foreign policy, then America will be headed in exactly the wrong direction at exactly the wrong time.

We need a victory strategy in Iraq, not an immediate pullout. We need a revived Pentagon leadership; one with tough-minded, action-oriented generals to carry it out. We need a Congress committed to managing the war money on behalf of taxpayers, as well as the poor folk in Iraq who are still desperately seeking economic recovery.

In other words, the future of American foreign policy is a nervous one, very much still up for grabs.