Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Lieberman in the Pincers
Reports indicate that yesterday's three-candidate debate for the Senate seat now held by Joe Lieberman (???-CT) might have changed the dynamic of the race. The surprise winner, according to these reports, was none other than heretofore-overlooked Republican nominee Alan Schlesinger. After months in which he only made news for cheating at cards and getting kicked out of casinos, and consistently polling within the margin of error, Schlesinger busted out with passion, some policy specifics, and a series of stinging attacks on Lieberman. One less-than-neutral source hailed the debate as "a new GOP primary."

Thus, a race that many figured was over after Lamont failed to kill off Lieberman in August might now be back to Square One. Schlesinger's presumed irrelevance had left a vacuum to Holy Joe's right, but his pledges to caucus with the Democrats (always offered, though, with the caveat that he retain his precious seniority) and his long affiliation with the party allowed him to somewhat have his cake and eat it too: he appeared as the de facto Republican candidate--with considerable financial support from Republican donors, and tacit backing from the White House and RNC when they chose not to endorse Schlesinger--but could still semi-plausibly distance himself from those aspects of the Republican Party that would infuriate the solid moderate-to-liberal majority in the Nutmeg State. (For a darker, but very possibly valid, take on Lieberman's "understanding" with the Republicans, see here.) To put it briefly, if you were inclined to view Lieberman favorably, you could.

Now, not so much. With Schlesinger attacking his "liberalism" on immigration and other issues, and Lamont continuing to blast him on the Iraq debacle and his close ties to special interests, Lieberman can't present his bona fides as a representative of either major party. So he's now trying to present himself as a figure who "transcends" party politics while attempting to micro-pander: supporting John Bolton's confirmation to the UN (which he'd previously twice voted against) while stating that he'd like to see the Democrats win the House (a day after, stunningly, expressing no preference on the question) but only if they "change" to be less stridently partisan.

The message that elected officials should transcend partisanship is a worthwhile one and, in the abstract, probably very appealing to the current mood of the electorate. But I just don't see how a three-term incumbent, who was his own party's vice-presidential nominee, is well positioned to make it. Lieberman seems to be counting on voters to make the logical leap that his many small panders to constituencies on both sides somehow add up to a record of disinterested statesmanship--that many small acts of political cowardice, taken as a whole and viewed from a distance, will appear as political bravery. It might work. But without the resources of a party organization or, according to most reports, a solid ground operation in place, saddled with a bad position on the ballot, and open to charges of hypocrisy from all sides, it feels like a long shot.

I make no secret of the fact that I want Lieberman to go down like the sqealing hypocrite I believe him to be. That he might do so because of a permutation of Harry Truman's old adage that given the choice between a real Republican and a pretend Republican, the voters--in this case, CT Republican voters--will choose the real one, is just an enjoyable bit of irony.

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