A few more thoughts


A few more thoughts on the Lieberman-Lamont fracas, in no particular order.

One thing that strikes me is the sheer intensity of views on this race. We’ve heard a good deal already about the intensity of opposition to Lieberman. But his supporters, or what you might call the anti-anti-Lieberman crowd are really no less intense or in some cases almost unhinged about it. There is this sense that a Lieberman defeat on August 8th would be some sort of apocalyptic event, with Lieberman cast as some martyr, to what I’m really not sure.

Mort Kondracke’s column, which I noted below, seems like the quintessence of this sort of attitude, though the volume is turned, well, all the way up to eleven in other quarters. Listen to the opening line of Mort’s column: “This is no exaggeration: The soul of the Democratic Party — and possibly the future of civility in American politics — is on the line in the Aug. 8 Senate primary in Connecticut.”

That’s really heavy billing, isn’t it?

Following up on that, I think the Lieberman skeptics are really on to something when they point out that in the Kondrackes and others there is this sense that for a well-liked-in-the-beltway senior pol like Lieberman to face a primary challenge is somehow a genuine threat to the foundations of the system. You’d think he was a life peer, if not an hereditary noble, suddenly yanked out of the House of Lords and forced to run for his seat like they do in the Commons.

Finally, and this is just an observation, I think people really are going to write about this race after it’s over. But I’m not sure it’ll be for the reasons people think. The blogs have been important. They’ve generated money and press coverage, which are both key. But as I’ve said repeatedly, and tons of other people have too, Lieberman’s in trouble with Connecticut primary voters. Usually in big elections you’ll have particular races which come completely out of the blue, at least to the established voices, ones that show something big which, in retrospect, was clearly latent in the politics of a state or district, but couldn’t become visible without some spark to bring it to the fore.

Clearly, one person who’s been totally caught off guard by this is Joe Lieberman. And that tells me he’s fallen seriously out of touch with his constituents. Now, ‘Out of touch’ is a phrase that is often tossed around in some characterological or poetic sense. It is perhaps the cliche of contemporary politics. But I mean it in a more concrete sense. Most successful pols, especially those who have to run in competitive or even semi-competitive elections keep a good read on the pulse of their constituents — through a mix of retail politicking, political machines, polling, whatever.

To use just one example next door to Connecticut, look at Hillary Clinton. She’s been working that state for six years. I have no doubt that she and her inner circle have every county and even decent sized town mapped out in ten different ways — with pork, cultivating community leaders, keeping an eye on sources of opposition. The particulars aren’t the issue. And you could say the same thing about pols all over the country. My point is that I really doubt much of anything would catch that team seriously by surprise in New York state.

One might say that Lieberman has stuck to his views on Iraq notwithstanding the political perils or the unpopularity of the position in his party. And that’s certainly true in the sense that he had to know he wasn’t winning any points with the broad mass of Dems on this issue. But I don’t think he really understood the peril at home. Because if he had, he would have been more prepared for this. And he wasn’t.

This impession has been added to in my mind by chats with various folks from the Lieberman world. I think most of Lieberman’s advisors, supporters, hangers-on and former employees have watched these last seven or eight weeks with a mix of mortification, surprise and disbelief, as they’ve seen his campaign make one mistake after another. Going back to that issue of his being out of touch you really get this sense that Lieberman and his team were totally out of the habit of fighting a serious election. To me, it all goes back to the bizarre “bear cub” ad.

I remember at the time after commenting that it had to be one of the silliest ads ever. And some wrote in saying, well, it may look silly but the Lieberman camp is planting the seed of doubt about Lamont that he’s not his own man. Or it’s a Rovian example of attacking your opposition on their strength. But, really, it was just stupid — dumb and incoherent, making three or four contradictory claims at once. It showed a man and a team that were really rusty, caught unawares of what was rumbling beneath them.