Wednesday, August 09, 2006

 

Senator Lieberman (I, Conn)

Today’s big news from the USA is the ‘shock defeat’ of Joe Lieberman in the Senate Democratic primary in Connecticut by an unknown multi-millionaire, Ned Lamont. Yes, I know; America, the country where any underdog multi-millionaire can spend vast amounts of money to represent ordinary people, but the Lib Dem blogosphere can only look on in awe at the power of US bloggers, credited with starting up the ‘hopeless’ fight against the ‘safe’ three-term Senator from the heart of the party establishment for, it seems, both parties. He now intends to do the egotistical hat-trick and stand as an Independent.

Joe Lieberman ran for Vice-President in Al Gore’s 2000 campaign for the Presidency, and it’s difficult not to see this as a major source of his troubles today. First, he was widely seen as both arrogant and uncommitted by hedging his bets and running for Senate re-election in Connecticut six years ago at the same time as he was meant to be pushing Mr Gore for the White House; then he became President Bush’s closest Democratic ally, seen by many not just as selling out the Democratic Party but as making a personal betrayal after his part in the ‘losing’ side of an election widely regarded as stolen. As Mr Bush’s biggest Democratic supporter over the Iraq war, that issue’s been widely blamed for his sudden downfall.

Senator Clinton of New York is another ‘moderate’ Democrat who’s bolstered her national security credentials by being strongly pro-war and backed Senator Lieberman in the primary, but also made what could be two crucial moves in the last few weeks to show which way the wind is blowing. While urging voters to back Sen. Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primary, she announced well in advance of the result that she would then support whoever became the Democratic nominee – and she’s hired two well-known liberal bloggers to work on her campaign, presumably to reach back out to the Democratic base. I’ve not seen a statement from another potential Democratic Presidential runner who (unlike Hillary’s almost certain campaign) remains a big but will-he-won’t-he name, but given how Al’s become something of a liberal standard-bearer since 2000, I’d be surprised if he’ll back his old running-mate, either. So Mr Lieberman still might get back in on a split vote in November, but while he’s not exactly flavour of the month in Connecticut he’s going to be outright poison throughout the rest of the country. Will Democrats in the Senate allow him to retain all his senior positions there now he’s announced his ego comes before his party?

It may also not be lost on his former allies that Senator Lieberman’s ‘unbeatable’ lead in the polls gradually slipped away as he campaigned negatively against his Democratic opponent and claimed to be bipartisan, but that – as Mr Lamont went into a strong lead in the last few weeks – he’d just started to claw back support in the polls after suddenly going on the offensive instead against President Bush, belatedly listing all the issues on which he disagrees with the President. The primary campaign had seen constant TV replays of President Bush giving Sen. Lieberman a kiss after last year’s State of the Union speech, highlighting White House statements that Sen. Lieberman was its favourite Democrat.

It wasn’t just the war; on school vouchers, on confirming a conservative to the Supreme Court, on being the last Democratic senator to oppose President Bush’s Social Security privatisation scheme… On a host of issues, Senator Lieberman has sounded just like Mr Blair – telling his voters that any conservative thing he decides is unquestionable because it’s a matter of conscience, but that anyone who disagrees with him can only be doing so because they’re playing partisan politics, extremists and, by extension, evil. Connecticut Democrats seem finally to have decided that they’d like to vote for someone who agrees with their values rather than telling them off for having them. In a last-ditch attempt to recover support, Mr Lieberman last weekend did a u-turn of the sort many Labour voters are still praying for from Mr Blair and defended dissenters opposed to the war instead of (as previously) criticising them for standing up for their own consciences. Too little, too late, though. Ironically, if he’d not been so selfish and arrogant as to announce that he would run as an Independent should Democratic voters prove themselves unworthy by rejecting him, he’d probably have won.

It would help Senator Lieberman’s protestations of purity amid an unfair campaign if all accounts didn’t suggest he fought one of the most negative campaigns in Senate primary history, and all in an ill-tempered and arrogant way that suggested to all concerned that it was an outrage any critic should have the temerity to question his sinecure. His campaign’s final fling appeared to be to accuse Mr Lamont of hacking his website, despite admitting there was no actual evidence and all apparently as an excuse for the server simply going down because it was done on the cheap and got too busy. It’s still not all plain sailing for his opponent after his initial victory. For the moment, Iraq seems to be the only issue that people are listening to Ned Lamont over, though ironically he seems to be described – except in the overblown negative rhetoric of Sen. Lieberman – as a moderate on foreign policy, with his other views socially liberal and fiscally conservative. I’m sure he’ll be tested on more of them over the next three months.

So will the big story from this be ‘Democrats still split down the middle’ or ‘anyone close to President Bush and his war faces wipeout’? Each is obviously much worse for one party than the other, but I suspect both may be true. Republicans are, of course, already saying the Democrats are rejecting ‘moderates’ (confusing a plural with a singular there) and are all now extremists deliberately undermining national security. That’s what they’re saying. But what many Republican Congressmen and Senators are doing is running without mentioning the President or even the name of their party (like Tory councillors here ten years ago). The Republican Party is hugely unpopular, with President Bush’s approval ratings still bumping along below 40% and the entirely Republican-controlled Houses of Congress lucky to get 10% below that. There are even signs that the Republican coalition is fracturing, with fiscal conservatives angry at a big-government conservatism that throws money at pet projects while the deficit soars and everyone angry at the religious right, who are seen as the only people the President cares about. Those evangelical voters, meanwhile, think they’re getting lip service but not enough real meat in turning the country into a Christian theocracy. Tragic.

It may be that the only thing that can save the Republicans in November is the Democratic Party, which hasn’t had a message they can agree on since they were removed from the White House. President Bush has tried enormously hard to paint them as weak and split them on every issue around national security and, well, it’s worked. I find it very difficult not to see Senator Lieberman’s rejection of democracy as selfish, self-serving and deeply destructive to his party. A man who announces in his ‘concession’ speech that “For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot and will not let that result stand” has, at the least, an inflated sense of his own importance. He’s not Winston bloody Churchill. Coming to love Big Bush, he’s more Winston Smith. With President Bush spectacularly partisan on almost every issue – but especially the most important ones – it seems Democratic voters have become fed up with Democrats who claim to practise bipartisanship, seeing it as merely queuing up to help the enemy give their own party a good kicking to bolster their personal position. This perception will not have been diluted by Sen. Lieberman’s announcement well before the result that, whatever his voters decided, he was going to run anyway.

This was not a small group ambushing him while the state was on holiday. He may only have been defeated in the end by 52% to 48%, but virtually the Democratic establishment from President Clinton down turned out to campaign for him, and turnout hit 50% - twice what you’d expect for a primary. The fact is that despite what all the Democratic bigwigs told them, ordinary Democratic voters just didn’t believe he was enough of a Democrat. It takes astounding chutzpah that this morning this quintessential Washington insider is attacking outsider Ned Lamont as a partisan Washington politician. Richard and I have been watching Seasons Three to Five of The West Wing over the last few months, and in one of the best episodes, President Bartlet whups the Republican candidate for President in debate. Among his points is a blazing defence of partisan politics, because it gives people a choice. In another recent episode, a Democrat who always votes with the Republicans and holds his party to ransom for the privilege has his bluff called, and crosses the floor. No relation.

I imagine some British readers will be thinking of Merseyside at this stage, but a primary is really the opposite of entryism. The hard left managed to gain control of some Labour constituencies by flooding people in to take over the ruling cliques; in Connecticut, rather than opposition to the incumbent coming from a coup in the party establishment, there was a mass rebellion by ordinary voters asking the question ‘Is it worth it nominally to have a seat in Congress if someone nominally of your party never votes with you on the big issues and openly castigates every liberal idea?’ Even in the far looser party groupings of the States, there are limits to how much you can be the enemy’s best buddy. If you’re thinking of Merseyside, it’s not so much that Senator Lieberman’s opponents are militants, and more that he’s a bit of a David Alton.

With the Tories having a bit of a nightmare week for Mr Cameron’s ‘big idea’ of a primary to decide their candidate for Mayor of London, I suspect this result – showing that primaries might favour big money, but they also give a great opportunity for airing party splits and giving party establishments a smack in the chops if people are riled enough – will further put off those in the Conservative Party who see democracy as dangerous madness.

Meanwhile, I’m hugely enjoying another tale of poisonous Senate campaigns as I, Claudius airs again on BBC4, followed each evening by Up, Pompeii. Sample joke from the latter: “Where is Puberty?” “It’s where the Pubic Wars were fought.” Even the filthy jokes were cultured back then.

Comments:
This has been a very interesting contest to watch. There are lots of campaign clips on YouTube that make interesting viewing as well.

This result also highlights the growing strength of Howard Dean's allies in the Democratic Party. Democracy For America, the successor to Dean For America, strongly backed Lamont, raising funds and organising volunteers. With Dean as Chair of the party the grassroots movement towards a more aggressive anti-Bush platform seems to be consolidating.

With the democrats fighting more aggressively, and an increasing number of republicans distancing themselves from Bush & co, the mid-terms are going to be very interesting.
 
It's important to stress that, although Lamont is a multi-millionaire, he didn't buy the election - Lieberman outspent him by some way, with plenty of funds coming from outside the state.

As for Up, Pompeii, I have watched bits of it and, alas, have come to the conclusion that it's rubbish. Shambolically made and deficient in comedy. That the funniest parts are the character names says it all.
 
The Howard Dean-ish grassroots movement is indeed worth watching – I don’t know how it’ll do in a general election, but it’s certainly more lively and less up itself. Sen. Lieberman’s problems reduce in large part to taking people for granted, and being the ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ candidate is never endearing.

Thanks for the financial clarification, Will; I should point people towards your own analysis of the race a month ago, which led me to find a particularly insightful post on the Daily Kos as to why Sen. Lieberman has managed to become such a hate figure – essentially, he symbolises everything that’s gone wrong with the Democratic Party for two decades. There’s a damning point about ‘bipartisanship’; that it means both sides compromising, not surrendering to your opponents so you can ride their coat-tails and let your own side go hang (I paraphrase).

As for Up, Pompeii, I’d agree that it’s slapdash, but I do find its playing to the camera entertaining – though without Frankie Howerd, it would probably be unwatchable. Admittedly, I’m not bothering to record it, which isn’t a good sign…
 
It’s just started, and I can spot one of the things that’s made it feel not quite right. It’s the music - not bad, exactly, but I’m too used to the film and want Frankie singing something rousingly bawdy instead of the BBC conductor and four instrumentalists being hawled out of the bar to sound mock-imperial for thirty seconds.
 
The early polls suggest that ‘President Bush is rejected’ is playing more with the public than ‘Democrats split’. The Daily Kos, admittedly not the most unbiased of sources but good for polling data, reports voting intentions for the mid-terms as Democrats rising to 48% and Republicans dropping to 30%, while President Bush’s approval rating (after having ‘rallied’ to 39%) has dropped back to equal his all-time worst at 33%.

A comment on there also suggests the bumper sticker ‘Joe Lieberman: More than just a Centrist – a self-Centrist!’

Oh, and I must remember not to post when so tired I can’t spell ‘hauled’…
 
I know this is an older thread, but I felt the need to comment on the subject. I'm a liberal democrat (live in the US) and am also very activist politically. I'm one of those rare few who actually research candidates, issues.. I pay attention.

It's the reason I knew back in '04, that Howard Dean was a an up for sale politician, hand picked by Joe Trippi, for exactly that reason. Daily Kos is a con artist who, along with his partner Jerome Armstrong (convicted of securities fraud) have been working a payola scheme..

Getting to Ned Lamont, I don't hold anything against someone for being wealthy, but I do have a problem with hypocrites and liars. Lamont, who throughout the primary and run, pretended to care about issues like, Walmart's abuses of it's work force, who made noise about being against outsourcing, et al.. actually outsourced more than 50% of his own workforce. He pretended to walk the walk, yet it was found out that Lamont actually owns significant stock in Walmart, and he and his wife reap huge profits from corporations that are making a killing because they have Bush in their pocket.

Now, while this clashed with the public persona, bought and paid for by Lamont and his high powered supporters, it wasn't anything said high powered supporters didn't know about.. nor did they care. Their sole interest, whether we're talking about Trippi, or a slimeball like Kos, is power and influence.

While Lieberman has vote disappointingly on the war, and on a handful of other matters. His overall voting record has always been good. Whether we're talking about environmental issues, education, labor, civil rights, social justice issues... virtually all across the board.

It's the reason while, he lost the primary, he won the general election and retained his seat.

Not only don't Dean's supporters lack influence, what little they had (or had convinced themselves they had) is shrinking. It's for the same reason Dean lost so many primary races in '04. He's disconnected, and average Americans aren't stupid.. despite how popular that stereotype tends to be with some.
 
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