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Lieberdem Speaks

I probably shouldn’t be so obsessed with the Lieberman-Lamont race, but I can’t help it.

This seems to be the week when the Republican right (Kondracke, Chris Caldwell) has decided to make Joe Lieberman’s cause their own. Which is fine, but their opinion about who should be the Democratic nominee in a state they don’t live in is about as relevant as my opinion about who should be the next president of France. (Anyone interested in my strongly-held opinion on the latter question, the answer is here.)

But at the same time, the actual Democrats supporting Lieberman seemed to have figured out what contributors to TPMCafe and others have been saying for months: Lieberman got himself into this situation, and every day he makes it worse. The other day, while looking for some of those "savage, internet-based attacks" that Kondracke laments, I came across the blog "Lieberdem," devoted mostly to savage, internet-based attacks on Mr. Lamont and those they call "Nedheads." Lieberdem has two contributors, one being Dan Gerstein, who I recall vaguely from years ago when he, Lieberman, and Bill Bennett were trying to stamp out the threat to America’s families posed by "Melrose Place." (And especially, of course, the show’s single, chaste gay character.) While Gerstein’s contributions to the blog read like a dark-side imitation of David Sirota, his counterpart, Matt Smith, seems a little more grounded. Here’s Smith on Friday:

Joe Lieberman’s campaign has looked as if it has been in a constant state of panic ever since Lamont’s campaign started to look serious. ...Even Lieberman himself has acted like he never saw this coming. Many political observers have noticed it, and so have I.

Ned Lamont has every right to run against Joe Lieberman in the primary, and Democratic voters have every right to support him...

Lieberman simply never saw this coming, and still hasn’t gotten over the initial shock of Lamont’s entry into the race. The initial surprise is somewhat understandable. He’s a three-term Senator with a strong record on nearly all progressive causes who has not faced a serious electoral challenge at home in 18 years. Lieberman realized that most Democrats in his state disagreed with him on the Iraq War, but it probably was hard for Lieberman to imagine that any single issue could fuel a serious intraparty challenge to him.

His campaign staff also seems like they never expected to have to run a real campaign. So at first they seemed to ignore Lamont’s challenge, probably expecting it to fade fast. It didn’t, and Lieberman’s campaign came to realize that Lamont’s challenge was serious. And what they did next is mind-boggling: Instead of reminding the voters of Lieberman’s strong history on progressive causes, their campaign increasingly focused on disqualifying Lamont.

I can’t think of a polite word to describe that strategy. I agree with the general rule that if the incumbent’s campaign can make the election about the challenger, that the incumbent will almost certainly win. But that simply was never going to happen and will never happen in this race. Lieberman is one of the most prominent politicians in the state’s - and indeed in the nation’s - recent history. By contrast, Lamont has no record, and virtually no one had ever heard Ned Lamont’s name before this year. Ned Lamont is a vehicle for opposition to Lieberman; the campaign will never be about him...

The vast majority of voters voting for Lamont were doing so not because they supported Lamont, but because they were against Lieberman. Consequently, any campaign strategy that was designed to damage Lamont in the eyes of voters has always been and will always be doomed to failure. As the Hotline On Call blog asked this weekend "Are negative ads what really what Lieberman needs right now? Aren’t voters looking for a reason to come back to Lieberman?"

They are, and they have plenty of reasons to. Joe Lieberman is hardly out of the mainstream of the Democratic party - one need only look at his voting record to see this - and Lieberman’s long history of fighting for progressive causes cannot seriously be questioned. Iraq is admittedly a big thorn in Lieberman’s side, but less than a quarter of all voters and just 33% of Democrats said Iraq was the top issue for them in this election.

Lieberman clearly can improve if his campaign just reminds voters of how strong he is on the traditional progressive issues of education, the environment, civil rights, choice, worker’s rights, and virtually every other progressive cause that you can think of. Those same Quinnipiac polls still show that a majority of Democrats think he deserves to be re-elected, and the loyalty of his supporters runs deep.

The Quinnipiac polls show, as they always have, that Lieberman would easily dispatch of Lamont in the general election. However, it really should not come to that, and it’s never too late to break bad habits. There are plenty of reasons for Democrats to vote for Lieberman. He and the members of his campaign need to remind voters of what they are, or else be willing to accept a good share of the responsibility if Lieberman loses on August 8.

All very true. Lieberman’s not the first politician, Senators especially, to lose touch with his voters. Senators have a tendency to think that the people who voted for them six years earlier are some kind of loyal base, forgetting that six years is a long time; people move in, move out, turn 18, etc.; and that all those people did six years ago was a 10-second act of expressing a preference for you over your opponent. (Lieberman’s opponent from six years ago is now serving a 37-year prison term for pedophilia, so it wasn’t much of a choice.) It’s one reason Senate races tend to be more competitive, and more often surprising, than House races. Sometimes it catches a Senator totally by surprise right before the election, as in Rudy Boschwitz’s 1990 loss to Paul Wellstone. But Lieberman has had plenty of warning, plenty of opportunity to reestablish his connection with voters. And the first step would have been to acknowledge, as Smith does, that "Lamont has every right to run," and then make his own case.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on July 23, 2006 | Permalink


Um the latest polls show that in a three-way, Lamont and Lieberman are in a dead heat. If Lamont wins, its going to be really hard for Lieberman to win. Where is he going to get his support? From the NRSCC? Shumer's earlier equivocations aside, these poll numbers show that if Lamont gets the win, the DSCC is going to support him.

Posted by: Rob W | Jul 24, 2006 11:34:39 AM

I was going to point out the same thing, but Rob beat me to it. Rasmussen's latest poll (as hilighted on Kos - reported by Political Wire) has Lamont up by 10 in the primary and in a tie in the main election, but it seems most "mainstream" commentators havent bothered to comment about this - as if they refuse to believe it, or need another poll from a different source to confirm it.

Posted by: Scott Tribe | Jul 24, 2006 7:41:53 PM

Joseph Lieberman will defeat Ned Lamont. The Israeli conflict with Hezbollah changes everything. Too many voters subconsciously perceive Lamont as a utopian Democrat who prefers living in la-la Land. A left-wing Democrat is doomed when the central issue becomes the preserving the safety of loved ones.

Posted by: David Thomson | Jul 27, 2006 8:21:18 PM

“I probably shouldn’t be so obsessed with the Lieberman-Lamont race, but I can’t help it.”

On the contrary, you should be very “obsessed” with this political race. It is a logical response on your part. The Lieberman-Lamont race could be the straw that broke the camel’s back forevermore dooming the Democratic Party as a viable national force.

Posted by: David Thomson | Jul 29, 2006 10:31:46 AM

I agree with your sentiments, but I would note that it is not just right-wing Republicans like Kondracke, Caldwell, and Brooks who have missed the story in the Lieberman-Lamont race, all the established "mainstream" media have trouble understanding what is really happening in the nutmeg state and what it is about.

As a general rule, the media have portrayed this election as being a bunch of left-wing anti-war activists supported by nefarious out-of-state “bloggers” who, by their very use of the Internet as a means of communication and organizing, are presumed to be involved in underhanded shady activities of some kind. Framed this way, Connecticut’s Democratic primary mirrors the standard story line for Lebanon, Iraq, and numerous other foreign crisis. A militant, fundamentalist, extremist sect sets out to bring down the moderate, legitimate, peace loving government with the covert aid of brutal rogue regimes and shadowy world networks of armed nutcases.

It seems almost gratuitous to point out the many ways this frame does not fit the facts on the ground in Connecticut, but I will impose on you for the two points most obvious to anyone who has actually talked to potential primary voters and new Lamont supporters.

Firstly, while the Lamont challenge would never have gotten off the ground without the war, it is not all about Iraq and would not be possible against any Democrat other than Lieberman. Hillary Clinton has annoyed and enraged key elements of the Democratic base in neighboring (and more liberal) New York on the same issue, but how often do you hear about Jonathan Tasini, her anti-war primary challenger? Separation of church and state, school vouchers, CEO compensation, taxes, Clinton’s private behavior, Dean’s fitness for office, Terri Shiavo’s right to die; Lieberman has made a career of elevating his public prominence by strategically rebuking the values and attitudes of his party’s base. Is it so surprising that many of them have run out of patience with him? The war is just the catalyst for a reaction waiting to happen.

Secondly, the “blogosphere” has not been driving the Lamont campaign. Some of them cheer it on and a few may have helped raise his profile or bring support, but the amount of out of state money has been fairly insignificant (compare it with, for instance, the Dean campaign) and the on-the-ground organizing is being done by Lamont’s campaign (headed by Tom Swann, an experienced Connecticut politico renowned for his grassroots prowess) not by MeetUp.com. In short, it is a grassroots campaign, not a “netroots” campaign and Lieberman’s refusal to believe this is a key reason he has been slow to react.

It is very unclear right now what will happen next week. Lieberman has Bill Clinton’s endorsement, a huge funding advantage, and the Lebanon situation (which has dampened news coverage of Iraq and potentially scrambled the issues foremost in the minds of many voters as they make their final decisions) going for him, as well as a quite supportive media (the New York Times, surprisingly, excepted) and top Democratic operatives like Tom Lindenfeld have arrived to reorganize the GOTV machinery. Lamont has anti-war sentiment, a rush of African-American support (Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are both expected this week. When this is paired with the Lebanon development it makes Jewish voters the most interesting sub-group to watch next Tuesday.), the New York Times endorsement, and momentum which is now being reinforced by the kind of tide that comes when people start think you can actually pull it off. But in a very real sense it almost doesn’t matter if Lieberman survives or not. He has already lost. For a three-term incumbent and former VP nominee who is lionized by the national press, holds a massive fundraising advantage, and has the solid support of the entire Democratic establishment nationally and in Connecticut to end up in this situation is a spanking that Lieberman and other Democratic leaders forget at their peril.

Posted by: Tilden'76 | Aug 1, 2006 12:49:35 PM


Excellent analysis.

All the way.

I'd only add that the stark contradiction between Lieberman's 1998 speech presuming to scold Bill Clinton on the eve of impeachment (in its timing, moralism, condescension, etc) and Lieberman's refusal to utter one word about Bush's abuse of power told the whole story, at least it did for me.

The inversion of Constitutional principle in either case, and the upside-down application of moral values vividly illustrate the Parable of Joe Lieberman.

America rejected a Scarlet Letter society 200+ years ago - yet Lieberman feigned offense and embraced the pretense that Clinton's lies about sex were a matter of state. But Bush's lies about the obscenity of war in Iraq don't prick Lieberman's conscience. Not only does Lieberman offer no constructive counsel, no dissent -- but he actually lies about the reality of that conflict. And it's not ONLY the obscenity of war that Mr. Moral Conscience has no problem with -- the real issue is the anti-Constitutional WAY we went to war. That breach of trust was also an obscenity; the lies about the evidence, about the situation at hand which didn't constitute a threat, damn well arise to the level of "high crimes & misdemeanors." Yet that amoral exploitation of our men & women & friends & neighbors in uniform doesn't bother Lieberman a bit. The reckless cost to national security, blood, treasure, stature? Not a problem.

Sen. Lieberman willingly capitulated his sworn duty to uphold the Constitution, eagerly facilitating usurpation of Power by the Executive Branch & by George Bush. There was no Declaration of War: a "Resolution" is by definition insufficient, and in substance defies the very meaning of the word, for it practices an IRResolution, in which Congress indecisively refuses to act. They refrain from accepting their birthright, refuse to uphold the Constitution, and dither on both destiny and any form of responsible leadership. That decision, to go to war, belongs to Congress, which has no right to give away its Constitutionally mandated Powers.

A plainer example: With the PMRC, Lieberman pandered to moral sensibilities to exploit the fears of scared parents -- at the expense of some of America's characterisic values. Why defend the free market or free expression when you can harvest votes and contributions by scapegoating the likes of Frank Zappa & Jello Biafra? What's a little censorship when you're only shutting up the artists with something to say, rather than your mainstream corporate Rambo/Arnold flick?

Thing is, exploiting moral values and throwing aside core American principles -- it had to be a conscious choice. There's nothing moral or principled about that.

Worth noting: Lieberman supported questionable accounting in the financial industry -- post-Enron. Silent on voting rights and attempts within the past month to attack the Voting Rights Act itself. Supported Bush's energy policy -- and quiet as a mouse on overall enivro issues. Takes contributions from Big Pharma and votes for 'em -- while Haddassah's a lobbyist for pharmaceutical corporations. Bankruptcy bill. And finally, any Lieberman complaints ab out the NewYorkTimes' endorsement of Lamont should invite this retort: New York City is "only a short car ride away." A reference to his statement that rape victims could receive treatment at the next hospital over.

Lieberman prefers the Scarlet Letter Society over a Good Samaritan Nation.

But that's not what this country's ever been about.

Framed this way, Connecticut’s Democratic primary mirrors the standard story line for Lebanon, Iraq, and numerous other foreign crisis. A militant, fundamentalist, extremist sect sets out to bring down the moderate, legitimate, peace loving government with the covert aid of brutal rogue regimes and shadowy world networks of armed nutcases.

Posted by: SombreroFallout | Aug 5, 2006 3:17:52 PM

Also note:

There is an intrinsic irresponsibility in the "Stay the Course" path adopted by Lieberman, Dem/DLC hawks, and Republicans. Colin Powell famously advised Bush that if he invaded Iraq and things went south, 'you broke it, you bought it.' The Pottery Barn Rule. But the Pottery Barn rule is a Lie.

Problem is, it ignores any Realpolitik strategy. It ignores the open incompetence in administering the occupation. If 'staying the course' were about responsibility, rational and effective governance would be clearly obvious. But neither "fixing things" nor Realpolitik involve alienating the Iraqi populace and then outraging them, the failure to win hearts and minds, the eagerness to repeat every mistake made in Vietnam -- right down to Tiger Force policies (see Toledo Blade 2004 Pulitzer) repeated in this week's testimony that soldiers were ordered to kill every male of fighting age (8-80) in specific cities/areas.

Why's the Pottery Barn rule a Lie? If you break a vase in some store -- you don't get to stay. You don't get to say 'I'll fix it' while ya keep on smashing all the vases you can find. And keep on, until whole inventories are gone, the employees are fighting, and the store splits apart. In the real world, you can not crow that it wasn't really a store in the first place.

Sovereignty means never being able to say it's your responsibity to put the country back together again. It dictates that "you break it" can never mean "you own it."

Sovereignty means that any judicious American leadership will fix its own broken country, and return to adhering to our Constitutional form of governance. The first job of any responsible or patriotic public official --Senator, Justice, or POTUS -- is to repair the gaping breach of trust with the American People, the rent in the fabric of governance, and the unaccountability before the law. Those 'mistakes' and transgressions must be answered for.

Posted by: SombreroFallout | Aug 5, 2006 3:52:37 PM