Monday, August 14, 2006

Joe Lieberman: Fighting for Joe Lieberman! (click link!)

I realize with this column that I'm on the wrong side of this one with both my father-in-law and with my late father's second wife's third husband, but so it goes; I've been driving my wife crazy long enough with my columns that it's time other members of the family started feeling her pain. And maybe the grandfathers will reconsider now that Bush has refused to endorse the Republican in the race and instead "supports the democratic process in the state of Connecticut, and wishes them a successful election in November." To wildly paraphrase Jon Chait in today's LA Times, if you really believe that what Democrats really need to do is support more wars, is a guy who's in bed with Bush the way to do it? Probably not.

Before I wrote the column and was noodling around with the idea, a reporter from the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix called and asked for my opinion about Lieberman's loss. (Nobody is asking me to comment, as a college classmate of Ned Lamont, on his victory, however. Hence the lede.) My short summary, applicable to both Lieberman and McKinney, from my Jewish News quote:

"Voters like people who are independent, and if they like a politician they'll essentially allow the politician to hold views that are very different from their own on what seem to be very significant issues," said former congressman and former Arizona Democratic Party chairman Sam Coppersmith. "But there comes a point where a politician's independence ends and where self-absorption begins, in that voters can sense the difference between someone who's independent and someone who has lost touch with the voters and their concerns."

East Valley Tribune, Aug. 13, 2006

If history is written by the winners, why are only Joe Lieberman, and his elite pundit supporters, all over the airwaves explaining his loss?

Have you even heard Ned Lamont’s voice since he became the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate? Instead of Lieberman’s tendentious explanations of his defeat, isn’t anybody curious about Lamont’s explanation of his win?

For all Lieberman insists on mimicking GOP talking points -- was it Lieberman, or GOP chair Ken Mehlman, calling Democrats “the party of Ned Lamont and Maxine Waters”? -- Lieberman and Cynthia McKinney in Georgia were textbook examples of incumbents who lost touch with their constituents.

Voters do like politicians who demonstrate “independence,” and will support someone who doesn’t share their views on several issues, even major ones, if voters decide they like the guy. Being “independent” can get voters to like you more.

But too much incumbency and independence can fray a politician’s connection to the represented. Always being surrounded by staffers and supporters who agree 100 percent can change an incumbent’s residence to his or her own out-of-touch little world.

In extreme cases, a politician’s independence becomes a separate reality. In McKinney’s case, her constituents finally lost patience with her bizarre conspiracy theories and blaming her own failings on racism. In Lieberman’s case, his national political obsessions and beyond-Panglossian ignorance of reality in Iraq led voters to conclude he no longer represented Connecticut but instead the panelists on the Sunday morning talk shows. Being the favorite Democrat of people who never vote for a Democrat isn’t a winning primary strategy.

As for the “Bush hatred” meme, what if a prominent Republican -- call him “Maverick McCain” -- said Republicans who distrusted President Clinton must acknowledge that he’s commander-in-chief, and that “we undermine presidential credibility at our nation’s peril.” Just imagine the next GOP primary.

Lieberman ran what Mark Schmitt called a “checklist liberalism” campaign. He voted with the customary Democratic interest groups -- environmentalists, women, labor -- and got the customary endorsements. He thought those endorsements would make up for supporting the loathsome bankruptcy bill, or being the one Democrat that Republicans use to tar all other Democrats. “Punching the buttons” on drilling in ANWR, affirmative action, or abortion used to be enough back in 1996, or maybe 1986. But it didn’t work in 2006.

Lieberman seemed blind-sided by the change. His statewide organization had atrophied, and his efforts to emphasize his support of good old liberal causes, or what he did in the 1960’s, didn’t convince voters to ignore their current concerns. He tried to take the Iraq war “off the table” and do his best to “change the subject.” But just as Democrats running in 2002 couldn’t ignore the war on terror, so Democratic voters in Connecticut weren’t about to let Lieberman simply ignore their biggest concerns.

Republicans are welcome to talk about Lieberman’s independent bid as a key 2006 issue. But that assumes that any undecided voters know, or can be taught to care, who Joe Lieberman is. Or, more accurately, was.

Maybe predicting politics in November or in 2008 really is, as Joe Bob Briggs once called it after watching those Sunday morning talk shows, nothing more than making straight-line projections from the present. But, as Schmitt notes, in 2008 either something will have changed in Iraq to change the dynamic, or we will be in our sixth year of an inconclusive, bloody, and unnecessary war. Already, a majority of Americans consider the Iraq War a mistake. By 2008, Connecticut primary voters won’t be ahead of the curve; the curve will have caught and passed them.

Republicans may not want to campaign on a platform of “every incumbent deserves re-election.” Last Tuesday, three incumbent members of Congress went down to defeat in primaries -- and not that many states held primaries. The last non-redistricting year with so many incumbents defeated in primaries was 1994, and that general election was even less fun for incumbents. Break out those “change vs. more of the same” banners, kids, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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