Vice presidents are notorious for serving as an administration's chief attack dog, and time and again Dick Cheney has been unleashed to accuse anyone who is opposed to the Bush administration of aiding the terrorists. But this time he has gone too far.
The comments he made on the result of the Connecticut Democratic primary - that it might encourage "the al-Qaida types" who want to "break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task" - are an attack not just on Democrats, but on democracy itself.
What happened in Connecticut is in fact a model for democracies everywhere. The people of the state heard a vigorous debate between two competing visions of how to protect this country. Young citizens became deeply involved, and turnout was high. The primary reminded us of the miracle of our democracy, in which the nation is ruled by its people - not by any entrenched set of leaders. There are few better messages we could send the world in these troubled times.
Cheney's comments about the election were ugly and frightening. They show once again that he and his party will stop at nothing to wrap Republicans in the flag and to insinuate that anyone who votes against them is giving aid and comfort to the terrorists. It's obvious that this administration lacks basic respect for our fundamental freedoms.
Cheney and his crowd are all for free and open elections - as long as they turn out their way. They are all for free speech - provided it supports the administration. They are all for the rule of law - as long as the law does not prevent them from doing whatever they want to do. When elections, speeches or laws are inconvenient, he does not hesitate to declare that they are helping the terrorists. I can think of no graver offense against our democracy.
Ned Lamont's victory in Connecticut scares Cheney for one simple reason: It demonstrates that a free and independent people can and do hold public officials accountable for their words and deeds.
If the terrorists are indeed paying any attention to the Connecticut primary results, they must be worried.
The people of Connecticut spoke out loud and clear in favor of change. Ned Lamont will stand strong for the people of Connecticut, and put tough and smart foreign policies ahead of the politics of fear and more "stay the course" failures. Republicans will stop at nothing to make sure that the November elections are not a referendum on their misguided policy in Iraq or on the way they have run our country for the past six years. Unfortunately, this time the facts are getting in their way.
The American people are ready to change an administration that let Osama bin Laden escape. They are ready to change a Congress that let precious years go by without demanding the implementation of the recommendations of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission to keep us safe.
They are ready to change a policy on Iraq that has drained our resources, weakened our security, stretched our troops and recruited new terrorists.
The November election will teach Dick Cheney and others of his ilk that they cannot use fear to cling to power. As Will Rogers said, "It's no disgrace not to be able to run a country nowadays, but it is a disgrace to keep on trying when you know you can't."
Edward M. Kennedy is a U.S. senator from Massachusetts.