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.