Sunday, February 1, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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For Democrats, a last hope for centrist politics

Only one of the Democratic candidates for president represents the American center, which is where the Democratic Party needs to be if it is to be trusted with national power.

That candidate is Sen. Joe Lieberman. He is not doing well with the Democratic faithful, but in the opinion of this page, he would make the best candidate for a return to centrist politics.

He is experienced on foreign affairs, which Sen. John Edwards is not, and on domestic affairs, which Gen. Wesley Clark is not. He is calm, which Howard Dean is not. He waffles, but not as much as Sen. John Kerry.

Lieberman is a mainstream Democrat on favoring abortion rights and benefits for gay partners, affirmative action and civil liberties, and on opposing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This page agrees with him on all those things, as well as his realism in foreign policy. He voted for the war resolutions of 1991 and 2002.

He is also a fairly strong advocate of free trade, which best fits the economic interests of this region and, we believe, the United States. Lieberman supported free trade with Canada and Mexico, WTO membership for China and fast-track negotiating authority for further trade agreements. This year, these have become minority positions in his party.

Lieberman was one of the founders of the New Democrats, a group that calls for "progressive ideas, mainstream values and innovative, market-based policy solutions."

Bill Clinton, whom this page endorsed twice, was that sort of Democrat, and he carried this state.

Washington voters have elected such New Democrats as Sen. Maria Cantwell, Reps. Rick Larsen, Jay Inslee, Adam Smith and Brian Baird; Gov. Gary Locke and Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon.

The center is not where most of the presidential candidates are this year. Their favorite theme has been the evil rich. Edwards calls it the "Two Americas" — the 2 percent at the top, and the rest of us down here. Dean speaks of business as if the emblematic American company were Enron. Kerry, who seems to have redefined himself as a populist, calls for the end of "the economy of privilege," and says "our sons and daughters should never have to fight and die for Mideast oil."

Al Gore used some of the rhetoric of envy four years ago, and it sullied him. It was one of the reasons this page endorsed George W. Bush. Clinton did not speak that way, nor did Jimmy Carter. It is not the America we know.

All of these candidates have changed views on something — including Lieberman, who changed his views on affirmative action, school vouchers and Social Security in 2000, when he joined the national ticket with Gore. But of the candidates running now, Lieberman's positions are closest to those that would challenge Bush directly in the important political center of the nation.

We know Lieberman probably will not last the primary season, or the Washington party caucuses of Feb. 7, and this may be a last hurrah.

But before the bunting comes down on his campaign, we should pause and reflect on the ideals he brings to his party and how his centrist positions seem so distant from the other candidates.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company


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