"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Co-Evolution Quadrennial

The "buzz" over Joseph Lieberman and his decision to run as an independent against Ned Lamont, who defeated him in the Democratic primary for United States Senator from Connecticut, has been an amusing and misleading thing. The "netroots" -- Deaniac, DailyKos, and HuffingtonPost types -- who backed anti-war Lamont are furious that Lieberman, a well known and popular incumbent, should be outpolling their preferred candidate. Conservatives have been chortling over the debacle, which, if it plays out as it now appears destined to do, will preserve a reliably pro-Iraqi Freedom / Bush Doctrine senatorial vote while sticking a thumb in the eye of the most irritating sorts on the liberal Left. Other Democratic figures of note have been cautious in their statements on the matter, with few exceptions. Lieberman has considerable support from both sides of the aisle; if he succeeds in retaining his seat, it is not inconceivable that he could exact a price from those who backed Lamont against him during the primary campaign.

What's missing from this painting in primary colors is a candid assessment of the senator himself, of his motives, and of the three-sided war within the Democratic Party for whose outcome this contest is a straw in the wind.

Lieberman is no conservative. His voting record has received a 90% approval rating from the socialist Americans for Democratic Action; only two sitting senators stand higher in their esteem. He's on record as having stated that a legislated cap on corporate profits would be a desirable thing. Needless to say for a Democrat of national profile, he's publicly pro-abortion and a defender of the government-school educracy.

But it wasn't always that way.

Before his selection as Al Gore's running mate in 2000, Lieberman was vocally anti-abortion; he also advocated school choice, including some form of vouchers. He flipped on these things for the 2000 presidential contest, and strove to downplay his earlier stances. When observers questioned how he could square these new positions with his Orthodox Judaism, of which so much had been made at the time of his nomination, he demurred, saying that he wasn't Orthodox, just "observant."

Joseph Lieberman, whatever else he might be or claim to be, is a politician. That is, he's animated primarily by the desire for the power, prestige, and perquisites of high office.

A politician will always feel an urge to trim his sails to the prevailing winds. The democratic mechanism gives trimmers a powerful advantage over those who refuse to "evolve" in the quest for public acclaim. Also, the Democratic Party's embrace of special-interest coalition politics has made the allegiance of certain groups, particularly the National Education Association and the NARAL / NOW pro-abortion coalition, something they cannot afford to risk. The dynamics of the situation would torment any man who aspires to high office, no matter how strong his convictions.

The best plausible outcome of the Connecticut Senatorial race for the country would be for Lieberman to retain his seat, but not because the incumbent's convictions or character are orders of magnitude more wholesome than Lamont's or those of GOP challenger Alan Schlesinger. If Lieberman should win and Democrats should have to decide how or whether to make peace with him, the fault lines that divide the Kennedy/Kerry faction, the Dean/"netroots" faction, and the Clinton/McAuliffe "pragmatic" faction will become vivid. For Lieberman, despite his vice-presidential run, belongs to none of them. Each will bid for his cooperation in its bid to control the party for the 2008 presidential run. As a former candidate for national office whose profile is now higher, both in recognition and in popular esteem, than his former running mate, his endorsement will be of great value during the 2008 primary season.

Everyone in this morality play is "evolving" as we speak: individual candidates, regional political alliances, and national factions vying for party hegemony. Each is a survival influence and constraint on all the others, which must decide in their various ways when to groom one another and when to bare their teeth. What rough beast, deeming 2008 its hour, will slouch toward Washington to be born remains to be seen.

11 comments:

Akaky said...

Great first effort here, Fran, and congratulations again. As for the fury of the netroots, well, that was to be expected, wasnt it? Once an election campaign gets beyond the primary phase, then you have to let everyone vote, even icky Republicans, and that tends to mess up the good polling numbers you've enjoyed up to this point. I think what happened in Connecticut is that the Lamont people thought they could demonize Lieberman in the primary and then he would fall on his sword for the party afterwards, leaving Lamont to run against a no-name Republican. What is mindboggling, to say the least, is that these peoplea actually expect party loyalty from a man they've systematically and viciously smeared since the beginning of this election campaign, and it is disquieting to see their vile and childish temper tantrums now that it is clear that Lieberman will not simply roll over and play dead for them. These people may be Democrats, but they are not democrats; they do not want to govern, they want power, which is not exactly the same thing.

Hunter Baker said...

Glad to see you blogging here, Francois! Since I went into TRC retirement, Mr. Van Dyke has really done a great job restocking the shelves!

Doug said...

Fran,

I have discussed the Lieberman candidacy on my site. Lieberman was first elected senator over Lowell Weicker with support from Bill Buckley and National Review as well as conservatives in Connecticut. It was thought, at that time, that it would be better to have a principled liberal represent Connecticut in the Senate as opposed to an unprincipled liberal Republican. I believe that this was true then and hope that it will be continue to be true. The current fury of the "netroots" is a symptom of their fundamental misunderstanding of politics. Out on the "net" it is quite easy to exaggerate a single issue and demonise a politician for his or her stand on that issue. Such is not the case in the real world where issues and people are not so black and white. Their simplistic view of politics and reaction to SEnator Lieberman has exposed the shallowness of many of their positions and the limits of their power.

Matt Huisman said...

This was really a miscalculation by the Soros/Netroots crowd; they did not need to risk defeat here. The fact that they control virtually all the money under the new campaign finance reform structure combined with their internet prowess make them the mountain that Dem pols have to come to.

So it remains a mystery as to why they went after Lieberman – was one ‘out of line’ voice that important. Perhaps they were just idealists following their hearts. Or perhaps the lure of fulfilling their fantasies as kingmakers got the best of them. Either way, they've just provided Team Clinton with enough ammunition to re-marginalize the extreme Left.

James Elliott said...

The one thing most commentary on the Lieberman loss seems to - quite deliberately - gloss over is that Lieberman never would of lost if the majority of his constituents felt he had been doing his job - representing his constituents.

More details - including the completely neglected Republican version from Michigan - here, here, and here.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Actually, if and when Lieberman wins the general election, it will indeed prove he does represent his constituents.

Matt Huisman said...

Lieberman received 829,000 votes in 2000 (out of 1,300,000). Lamont beat him by 10,000 out of a total of 280,000 votes.

The math really isn't all that difficult, even the hard left should have been able to figure this one out. Lamont is toast.

James Elliott said...

And that's fine, as far as it goes. If the Republican voters feel like he's doing a fine job and want to support him, and enough Democratic voters do, then the process works.

But then, really, it's the process that all the critics are complaining about. Joe Lieberman took a job in which he had to abide by a certain process in which to keep it. His constituents - his shareholders, if you will - decided he'd stopped doing a good job and used that process to fire him. So, instead of honoring the democratic process, he abrogates it. Personally, I find that to be the act of an entrenched aristocrat and not a patriot.

And Matt, using six year old electoral numbers to make your argument borders on the dumb.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I disagree that an officeholder represents only his party.

In Lieberman's case especially: in his 2000 senate race, he won 86% of the Republican vote.

You could look it up. No, here, I'll save you the trouble.

The Democrats have every right to nominate whomever they want. And take the consequences.

Matt Huisman said...

Six year old data helps give you some perspective on the number of likely voters on both sides of the aisle. Primaries are not legitimate samples of the real voting population. Primaries are why Presidential candidates make visits to Bob Jones University and motivated freak-shows can become Congressmen.

So, instead of honoring the democratic process, he abrogates it.

Good grief.

Doug said...

James,

Might I ask when giving the electorate more choice is an abrogation of the democratic process? I believe that narrowing the field by only allowing those candidates "approved" by their parties in primary elections to run in the general election is an abrogation of the democratic process.