The 2008 Democratic candidates are beholden to a “hyper-partisan, politically paranoid” liberal base that could endanger the final nominee’s chances of winning next year’s presidential election, Joe Lieberman, the former vice-presidential Democratic candidate, said on Thursday.

In his most outspoken attack on fellow Democrats since he was unsuccessfully challenged last year by Ned Lamont, a liberal Democrat, for his Senate seat in Connecticut, Mr Lieberman on Thursday said he may not vote for the Democratic presidential nominee next year.

He argued that George W. Bush and the Republican presidential candidates remained truer than the Democratic party to its tradition of a “moral, internationalist, liberal and hawkish” foreign policy that was established by Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John Kennedy.

“The Democratic party I grew up in was unafraid to make moral judgements about the world beyond our borders,” he said.

“[Today’s Democrats] are inclined to see international problems as a result of America’s engagement with the world and are viscerally opposed to the use of force – the polar opposite to the self-confident and idealistic nationalism of the party I grew up in.”

Speaking at a forum co-hosted by the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the Financial Times, Mr Lieberman, who is now an “independent Democrat”, dismissed speculation that he would consider becoming the running mate of John McCain, the Republican contender.

Although reviled by many in the Democratic Party’s base, particularly among the “netroots” of groups such as and Daily Kos, Mr Lieberman’s comments play directly into the increasingly testy exchange between Hillary Clinton, the party’s presidential frontrunner, and her principal rivals.

In September, Ms Clinton voted for a Senate resolution sponsored by Mr Lieberman that called for economic sanctions against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps for allegedly sponsoring terrorist groups that target US forces.

Ms Clinton has since been attacked by Barack Obama, her closest rival, who claims her vote implicitly authorised Mr Bush to use force against Iran – a move he seeks to link to Ms Clinton’s vote for the 2002 Senate resolution authorising force against Iraq. Mr Obama did not turn up for the vote.

Mr Lieberman, who would prefer Ms Clinton to become the Democratic nominee, although he did not spell that out yesterday, said the debate was symptomatic of the Democratic Party’s “flip-flop” away from a strong and moral foreign policy. He lambasted all of the candidates for similar stances on a rapid withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.

“Even as the evidence has mounted that General David Petraeus is succeeding in Iraq, Democrats have remained emotionally invested in the narrative of defeat,” he said.

“The Democrats’ guiding principle is distrust and disdain for Republicans in general and for Mr Bush in particular.”

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