Sunday, July 23, 2006

Joe Lieberman--Man Out of Time
Yes, yes. Every other blog in the world has chimed in on the Connecticut Senate race, and as I'm nothing if not derivative, so too now shall I.

First off, I've supported Ned Lamont's candidacy since he announced, and I'm pretty sure I sent him some money. I hope he wins, and after the most recent round of polls, I'm starting to think he might. Like many (most?) Democrats, I deplore Lieberman for his kowtowing to Republicans, his screwed-up priorities and weird value system (this is a guy who deems rappers and videogame companies more harmful to society than corporate criminals who defraud millions), and for his sanctimony. It bugs the hell out of me that he's fought Lamont so much harder than he did the Bush/Cheney ticket in 2000.

It's not really the war. I think he's tragically, delusionally wrong on the war, but as many others have noted--and as the press, belatedly, seems to be starting to grasp--there are plenty of other Democrats who were equally wrong, many of whom haven't "come clean" (as Kerry, Edwards and others have; whether or not it's sincere, or just more political posturing, I really can't say) and few if any of them are facing intra-party challenges as ferocious as what Lieberman is up against.

What it really is, as witnessed by this item, is that Joe Lieberman is the favorite Democrat of people who hate Democrats. And with good reason: his appearances on Fox News, his repeated defenses of the president, his votes on so many issues of importance to progressives.

But two things give me slight pause. The first is that I don't think Lieberman himself understands why he's engendered so much scorn and anger. Maybe it's willful myopia; maybe it's a really, really low level of emotional intelligence. But I truly doubt he understands that praise from Sean Hannity and his vicious ilk indicates nothing except that these frothing partisans think that he helps their side--which is, for them, the only consideration.

In his own mind, perhaps Lieberman thinks it's still 1989, when he first took his seat in the Senate. At that time, the Republican leader in the upper house was Bob Dole, who showed the occasional sharp elbow but was essentially a postwar consensus politician, more or less okay with the welfare state, a believer in public service, and generally more focused on good policymaking than zero-sum mortal partisan combat. The president was George H. W. Bush, a quintessential Establishment pol with whom Lieberman probably felt very comfortable; both had Connecticut antecedents, both went to Yale, both were good on civil rights in the early days, and so on. It was, in short, a much less polarized time, and Lieberman--who'd won election in large part by running to the right of incumbent Republican Lowell Weicker--probably felt very comfortable.

But after 2000, when his milquetoast debate performance with Cheney represented a blown opportunity and he was at the core of the Democrats' losing the street fight (for that's essentially what it was, conducted by guys in $2,000 suits maybe, but still an exercise in will) in Florida, he should have wised up. He didn't, and that's why so many feel so strongly about beating him within the party this year.

The second reason I have slightly mixed feelings, though, is that the world Lieberman sees, or claims to see--where country takes precedence over party, where solutions form around consensus, and where community mores deserve public defense--is one that appeals to me. Right now on Daily Kos, there's a story that in effect blasts Lieberman's 1998 speech on the floor of the Senate criticizing Bill Clinton's extramarital gigity. The Kossites make the point, which I agree with, that Lieberman's showing greater outrage for Clinton's violation against his marriage than for George W. Bush's serial transgressions against the Constitution is deserving of scorn. But they also suggest that Lieberman should have kept his mouth shut about Clinton in the first place--and there, I disagree. In fact, the speech was the first time I clearly remember even hearing of Lieberman, and I wrote his office an e-mail commending his remarks.

Thing is, the dKos people are also right that in doing this, Lieberman gave aid and comfort to the would-be putschists on the Right. He arguably helped extend the Lewinsky idiocy longer than it might have gone on otherwise. And the country suffered as a result--though the speech probably did get him that spot on Al Gore's ticket not quite two years later.

Maybe the reason the anti-Lieberman movement has upset so many in the pundit class is that its supporters are holding up a mirror to Washington, and what they're seeing is very ugly. Lieberman's self-image is as a statesman floating above partisan politics, and a few outlets--most notably Bull Moose, which has really become the Daily Lieberman; before the Israel-Hezbollah conflict heated up, he was writing about this race close to every single day, repeating the same anti-netroots crap over and over--share this view. Others, the active Republicans ranging in intensity from David Brooks to Sean Hannity, seem most interested in defending their useful idiot by parrotting the Lieberman/Wittman view. After all, when Democrats yearn for bipartisanship, and Republicans view bipartisanship as date rape, there isn't much question who's gonna get screwed.

But most attentive Democrats, and evidently a growing number of Connecticut primary voters, also seem to get this. In the polarized politics largely created by the Rove Republicans, bipartisanship as a guiding principle is, well, quaint--and dangerous. When you're grasping for an olive branch and the other side is reaching for a revolver, it's a thin line between statesman and quisling.

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